Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Lois E. Johnson
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

MLWR sports cooperative struggling


Where Moose Lake/Willow River (MLWR) sports practices and games will be held was discussed by representatives from the Moose Lake and Willow River school boards who met on Tuesday, June 20, as the MLWR Athletic Cooperative Liaison at the Willow River School.

An immediate concern was volleyball. The Moose Lake members of the liaison suggested in a past meeting that all volleyball practices and games be held in Moose Lake, as five volleyball courts could be set up in the two new gyms.

Tony Andres, the athletic director for Moose Lake Community School, pointed out there are five courts for practices, when the bleachers are folded away, but only two for games.

It would be much easier for volleyball coach Beckie Jackson if all practices were held in one place, Andres pointed out. He said he was certain the liaison had made that decision in the last meeting, but it hadn't been decided where the games were going to be.

“I don't believe that we agreed to that,” said Willow River board chairman Dave Prachar. “If not, the games are here (Willow River School).”

“Let me know,” replied Andres. “What do I tell my coach? That's been her number one request. Practices begin in two months.”

After the reports, a wrestling program was discussed. Prachar explained the Willow River members brought the idea to the table. They also contacted the Minnesota State High School League to ask about how to set it up.

They were told they had to complete their survey and go through the process, said Prachar. The survey had been conducted, but there wasn't good participation.

High school Principal Greg Campbell told the group he will set up the survey online, where there would be better participation.

“I've had positive input that there are five students interested in the program,” said Superintendent Phil Johnson of Willow River. “We need other schools to participate, like the hockey program. It would be a winter sport, like hockey. In my opinion, we could set it up to start in March or April next year. We need to sit down with the Department of Education and say, 'This is what we have' and see how we can do it. Girls would be involved, too.”

In his report, head baseball coach Matt Niedzielski spoke about the baseball season and had an additional message for the liaison members.

“We need a baseball complex for the new school,” he told the group. “As the talking head for the program, I am making the point that we need to set aside money for not just a baseball field but a complex. We need two fields, one regulation field and one practice field. That could be a pasture with a fence.

“We also need indoor facilities. If the team doesn't practice hitting, we are at a severe disadvantage. We have a batting cage in Willow River, and we do use that. The girls need to use that for softball, too.”

The discussion turned to Moose Lake's future plans.

Prachar asked about Moose Lake's plans for the future of football and softball.

“We could pass a $3 million bond and do it all,” said Moose Lake board member Jamie Jungers. “But it won't happen for a long time.”

“I don't know how that would work on our end,” said Willow River board member Bruce Bohaty. “We want to be a partner," he said. “We want to share varsity game sites. If you were going to build the facility, your expectation would be to use that facility.”

“We already have the best football field and the best softball field in the area,” said Willow River Athletic Director Dave Louzek. “You can build the best track in the area.”

“We can have a softball field for the community,” said Moose Lake board member Kris Lyons.

Prachar asked for more clarification from the Moose Lake school board about its plans to complete the football and softball fields.

“I personally have a hard time spending a dime on our fields unless we have a commitment,” he said. “But those are good places to spend the money if we know that there is a future.”

Moose Lake Superintendent Robert Indihar said the cooperative is struggling. He went over past meetings and what had been said.

“We asked for help with the $15,000 that we will have to spend to resurface the track in 15 years, and you said that each school's facilities were the responsibility of that school. You told us to do what we needed to do. It is no secret what we are not able to invest in our fields. You have the opportunity to invest in your fields at this point. There are ups and downs in the cooperative.”

Bohaty summed up the discussion. “The cooperative is working,” he said. “Do we want to duplicate and compete for sports sites? Now, each school has facilities, and by doing this, we are both hopefully saving sports costs. Is the end game keeping the cooperative going long term? To survive on our own would be very tough.”

Jungers answered. “Some say not to get out of the cooperative, while others say, now that we have a new school, why not have everything there. It will be a tough sell to pass a $3 million bond referendum, even in Moose Lake. But it would be easier for the coaches. I think that the athletic liaison needs to meet to discuss this after your new superintendent takes office.”

Before the meeting ended, it was decided the two chairpersons of the liaison committees from each school, Prachar and Jungers, meet to discuss updating the bylaws of the cooperative. The suggested changes would be brought back for approval.


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