The Monticello/Annandale/Maple Lake Moose it turns out, was like a candle in the wind.
Just as the whole state was introduced to them this spring, with a postseason run for the ages, they are set to be extinguished as a cooperative.
The Monticello School Board voted 4-1 Monday night to pass a recommendation from Monticello Superintendent Jim Johnson and Athletic Director Gary Revenig to dissolve the Monticello/Annandale/Maple Lake boys hockey co-op.
The move was brought about after the Minnesota State High School League denied MAML’s petition to stay in Class A for the next two-year competition cycle, pushing the Moose back up to Class AA, where they had played prior to the last two years. That put the program, and specifically Monticello, between a rock and a hard place.
Johnson told the school board Monday night that when Revenig first approached him about the subject, it was clear that the Monti athletic director was a bit frustrated with the position Monti had been put in. They would have to either dissolve the co-op (with the option of rejoining with Maple Lake), or move up to Class AA where they have historically struggled to compete.
“There’s not a win-win opportunity here,” Johnson told the board.
Revenig echoed a similar sentiment to the Monticello Times on Tuesday.
“I was disappointed that we had to make this decision,” said Revenig. “We’ve had a great relationship with Annandale.”
Revenig said that at the end of the day, the decision came down to what would be best for the Monticello students, athletes and families that he represents.
“It’s just the right thing to do to put them in a position where they can be successful,” he said. “We definitely are a Class A program.”
The enrollment threshold for Class A hockey is 1,245 students in grades 9-12. Monti, which was home to all but two kids on last year’s varsity team, has 1,061. One varsity player each came from Maple Lake and Annandale.
Under a new formula put into place for this season, co-op enrollment size is determined by taking the full population of the host school and combining it with half the student body from all other schools in the co-op. That means Maple Lake, which has just more than 300 kids, could join with Monti and stay under the threshold. With Annandale in the mix, the co-op goes well over the threshold.
Two years ago, Revenig petitioned the MSHSL to move MAML down despite enrollment size, due to Monti’s ongoing struggles in Class AA. In approximately 20 years of hockey, the Monti boys hockey program had never won a section quarterfinal game.
The state high school league agreed. But Revenig said the run that MAML has had the last two years seemed to take away from the leniency offered by the league.
“I was told that we had no shot because of our success the last two seasons,” said Revenig, adding that the sheer numbers (MAML would be nearly 300 kids over the enrollment threshold) don’t help their case either.
Revenig said after taking a lot of time to talk with a lot of people, including representatives from Annandale and Maple Lake schools and hockey programs, as well as youth hockey representatives in Monticello, varsity players, and coaches, it became clear that staying in Class A was the priority.
“I talked to several students, and they said their preference would be to dissolve the co-op and play in Class A,” said Revenig.
Moose coach Eric Nelson said he has tried to stay out of the process for the most part, putting his trust into Revenig.
“I take a backseat,” he said. “Gary has done a phenomenal job.”
Nelson added that he feels like it is a bad situation for everyone involved.
“Obviously it was disappointing,” he said, of finding out MAML had been moved to Class AA and would have to make this choice. “You hate to be punished for your success.”
The head coach, who was in his first year on the job this past season, said he wants the program to get to the Class AA level, but admitted it may not be ready quite yet. “It’s not about the wins and losses, but it’s about the thought of being competitive,” he said.
According to Revenig and Johnson, the decision to dissolve is one that nearly all parties are on board with. Revenig said that there has been some frustration from youth hockey parents in Annandale, but that all the school districts involved have been on the same page throughout.
“It’s been very cordial,” said Revenig. “Annandale’s been just first class through this whole thing.”
Johnson told the Monticello Times that Monti got a full endorsement of the decision from Annandale Superintendent Steve Niklaus, the longest-tenured Superintendent in the area.
“Steve was very clear,” said Johnson. “He said ‘If I’m in your shoes, I’m making the same decision.’”
Niklaus and Annandale Athletic Director Luke MacLean shared a similar sentiment to the Monticello Times via e-mail.
“We understand Monticello’s position as the host school. It has been a great relationship. We will be recommending to our school board to approve the dissolution. We wish Monticello and Maple Lake the best of luck moving forward.”
For the co-op to be officially dissolved, both the Maple Lake and Annandale School Boards need to approve it as well. That is expected to happen within the next couple of weeks. Once it is official, Revenig and Johnson will go back to the Monticello School Board with a recommendation to have Maple Lake join Monticello under the program name “Monticello Moose.”
Revenig pointed out that there are a number of other local co-ops that just go by the name of the host school, such as Delano and Buffalo. He added that it would also save Monti the headache of re-branding again should they need to dissolve with Maple Lake, which will be a possibility in a few years when Monti’s high school student body is expected to rise for a stretch.
According to Revenig, Annandale will begin to search for a new partnership, with Buffalo and Dassel/Litchfield serving as possibilities. The MSHSL did approve a petition this spring that would allow Ben Ward, Annandale’s lone varsity player from last season’s MAML team, to finish his senior season with the Moose, if he so chooses. Ward will have the option of playing for the Moose, wherever Annandale plays next year, or playing a different level of hockey (such as juniors) entirely.
One key point that Revenig addressed during his presentation to the school board on Monday night was that Monti has fantastic youth hockey numbers, so the school isn’t worried about running out of players for varsity hockey.
“I was told in the next two years we will have to be cutting at the high school level because our numbers will be high enough,” said Revenig. “We have huge numbers coming up in Monticello for youth hockey.”
Board members voted 4-1 to pass the recommendation Monday, despite two members making it clear that they wished they didn’t have to.
“It doesn’t sit well, it doesn’t feel good being that we’re having to make this decision,” said Jill Bartlett, before adding that she trusts the recommendation of Revenig and Johnson.
Board Chair Bill Spartz, who was the lone no vote, said he wasn’t fond of the MSHSL’s decision on the matter.
“We don’t get to make this decision. This decision was made for us by the state high school league,” said Spartz. “And I think that’s wrong.”
Revenig told the Monticello Times Tuesday that while he was also disappointed to have to make the decision, he believed that for the sake of Monti student-athletes, for the future of the hockey program, and even for financial reasons (Monti incurs significantly less travel cost in Class A), it was the only real choice.
“It was a hard decision, because you do feel bad for the kids from Annandale,” said Revenig. “But I am confident it was the right decision.”
Contact Clay Sawatzke at [email protected]