Emerson-Hubbard’s proposal to cooperate in every sport with Pender Public Schools was rejected by the PPS school board at Monday’s April meeting.
But the door does remain open to combining forces in some sports, and more of that will be decided at a special meeting that was set for Wednesday, April 25.
That date is no accident. The Pender board wanted to make an effort to have more information available to students in both districts who have expressed interest in option enrolling based on the outcome. The Nebraska School Activities Association (NSAA) has a May 1 deadline in place that any student leaving a district without changing their physical address must meet, or they lose 90 days of eligibility to compete at the varsity level.
For example, a student who does not make it onto that list in time would miss varsity competition for all of the fall sports season and about a month of the winter season.
“I really feel like we need to. That’s at least one good neighborly thing we can do is say ‘this is what we will do’ at least a few days before the deadline,” board member Dan Wichman said.
Whether E-H will accept a so-called “buffet style” of cooperating in a limited number of sports remains to be seen, but superintendent Lindsay Burback attended the meeting in Pender after E-H’s own regular April meeting ended and indicated that her district does not have a plan B. Deep needs exist for E-H in girls high school sports especially, most notably volleyball and basketball.
Among the sports mentioned as potentially on the table for a co-op for Pender were volleyball, cross country, girls and boys golf, girls basketball, wrestling and track and field at the high school level, and football in junior high. Junior varsity football was also discussed as a possibility that would carry with it some challenges but might benefit both schools.
Due to a missed deadline back in early November, there is no way for the schools to co-op in high school football for the next two seasons. But the NSAA has no major restrictions on teams sharing a junior varsity squad for competitions. There are contact limitations, and the varsity squads will meet in the same district.
“There are definitely challenges,” PPS activities director and football coach Andy Welsh said. “But I think it can be done.”
Emerson-Hubbard board member Terry Daum attended the meeting and during a public comment section said he wanted to set the record straight on one point, which is that the E-H board did not vote to reject a co-op with Pender in football ahead of the deadline. It didn’t survive a committee that included personnel who he noted has since resigned their position.
More time to gather information
Pender superintendent Dr. Jason Dolliver told the PPS board he felt it was important to gather more information from students, parents and coaches of any potential co-op sports — particularly for girls basketball and volleyball that will see limited numbers join their forces but will likely be forced up a classification — before making a recommendation on whether Pender should make a proposal to E-H.
“I want to be able to look at whoever asks me this question and say, ‘Yes, we did what we think is right for our school,’” Dolliver said.
He will spend the next two weeks attempting do that, he said, involving as many impacted members of the teams as he can.
The board spent more than three hours on the topic of E-H’s request Monday night. The results of a community survey were presented by Dolliver at the start of the meeting, which was compiled by Welsh and other staff members. It did not show strong community support for an across-the-board cooperation in sports. Of 233 respondents, 48 percent rejected the idea, while 22 percent said “yes” and 30 percent said “yes but only in areas of need.”
Of 212 responses regarding what Pender patrons would not negotiate on with a co-op, the Pendragon mascot that is the only known of its kind nationally led the way with 182 saying it should not be on the table. There was not a limit on the number of non-negotiables, and others receiving high votes were school colors (151), where games are played (126) and which school would be the lead in dealing with the NSAA (119).
There were 62 respondents who listed areas of need, and junior high football (45) and high school football (43) were by far the highest mentioned. On the low end was girls basketball (10) and high school softball (11).
A cooperative agreement that Pender has been in for two seasons already with Wisner-Pilger, Bancroft-Rosalie and Lyons-Decatur NE in softball was said to be off the table by the Pender board. Because it already has the maximum four teams, no others can join the co-op which currently plays under the Wisner-Pilger Lady Gators moniker. It was stated at the meeting that those schools may be open to rebranding similar to how the baseball co-op involving E-H, Pender, Bancroft-Rosalie and Lyons-Decatur Northeast is done as the Thurston-Cuming County Thunder. Pender would remain involved in that.
It became clear to the board members as the night wore on that there wasn’t enough information to present to the E-H board as a formal response, and the special meeting on April 25 will be a chance to carve out those possibilities.
Board member Matt Heineman said the time has come to make sure that E-H knows where exactly Pender stands on the full range of options, and it’s important that happens at the next meeting. Even if it’s not what the E-H community is hoping for, he said it will have been thought out and studied from all angles by Pender.
“If we say we’re sorry but girls basketball is off the table, we’re doing that as a board having talked to the parents and students. If it is in the best interest of our girls to stay independent, and if that answer is yes, then I don’t think we need to be afraid to say that,” Heineman said. “I’m being very general. I think it’s okay to do that, if that’s the answer we come up with.”