AD: M10 worth a look

The Princeton School District has in hand an invitation to join a new Mississippi 10 athletic conference in 2013-14 and it’s an invitation really worth studying.

That was the word from Princeton High School Activities Director Darrin Laabs as he briefed Princeton School Board members on the proposal on Tuesday, Feb. 28.

“It’s better for the students, it will save money for both parents and the school district, and it will be a more competitive conference for our athletes,” Laabs said.

It appears the school board has taken Laabs’ advice. The board is in the process of scheduling a community forum designed to address questions pertaining to a switch in conferences and has set Tuesday, March 27 as the date that the board will vote on joining the new-look Mississippi 10 Conference.

Chisago Lakes, North Branch and St. Francis also received invitations to join the conference from the Mississippi 8 superintendents. Princeton’s joining the new conference is contingent upon Chisago Lakes, North Branch and St. Francis joining, Superintendent Rick Lahn said.

A proposed alignment with Chisago Lakes, North Branch, Princeton, St. Francis and Cambridge-Isanti in one five-team division and Big Lake, Buffalo, Monticello, Rogers and St. Michael-Albertville in another resembles a conference alignment Princeton sought prior to leaving the Mississippi 8 for the Granite Ridge Conference, which began play this school year.

But a two-division proposal wasn’t right for the Mississippi 8 in 2008 and a change wasn’t made, which resulted in Princeton and Zimmerman bolting for the Granite Ridge.

The Mississippi 8 became the Mississippi 6 and the situation became a whole new ball game, Lahn said.

Had the Mississippi 8 invited in more schools and moved to a two-division format, Princeton may have remained in the Mississippi 8.

“I can say with conviction, if they had done this before, Princeton would have never left the conference,” Lahn told school board members.

Laabs said he believes the move from the Mississippi 8 to the Granite Ridge “was absolutely the right move for us at the time with the information that we had.”

“But we now believe a lot has changed,” Lahn said.

Princeton had good relationships with the M8 schools, but night in and night out the Tigers were not competitive in many sports against the likes of Buffalo, Rogers, Monticello and St. Michael-Albertville, Laabs said.

We didn’t look like them anymore, Laabs told the board.

Laabs shared some enrollment data with the board.

In the Granite Ridge, Princeton is the largest school with 925 students, followed by Becker (722), Little Falls (654), Zimmerman (546), Albany (468), Mora (454), Foley (436) and St. Cloud Cathedral (434). In the Mississippi 10, Princeton would be the second smallest school in terms of enrollment. Buffalo leads the pack at 1,626 students. Then comes St. Francis (1,504), Cambridge-Isanti (1,367), St. Michael-Albertville (1,314), Rogers (1,164), Monticello (1,087), Chisago Lakes (1,057), North Branch (945), Princeton (925) and Big Lake (857).

Laabs also suggested that Princeton has taken a hit at the gate against the Granite Ridge teams, many of which he says didn’t attract a strong fan base to Princeton home games.

One example he shared with the board was the fact that a Princeton-Cambridge homecoming football game two years ago in Princeton attracted a $12,000 gate. All the home football games in 2011 failed to bring in $10,000 combined, he said.

When it comes to mileage for team buses, parents and fans, a move to the Mississippi 10 appears to be more cost-effective for driving. In the Granite Ridge, the Tigers face two schools in Albany and Little Falls that are 50 or more miles from Princeton and three other schools (Cathedral, Mora and Becker) that are more than 30 miles away. Princeton has short drives to Zimmerman (9), Milaca (15) and Foley (21). When comparing to the five schools in the new division, Princeton is looking at one long, 46-mile trip to Chisago Lakes and shorter trips to Cambridge (18), St. Francis (23) and North Branch (35).