Coon Rapids leaves Class 6A football for the next two seasons, meaning the 32-team bracket modeled after the NCAA basketball tournament, is busted.
The long-struggling program petitioned to drop to Class 5A in hopes of generating more success on the field and more interest in the sport.
The Minnesota State High School League did not force another team to move up to Class 6A — the state’s largest by enrollment — leaving a 31-team field and the need to assign a first-round bye to one of the four top seeds.
The bye won’t go to the team considered the overall top seed. Each 6A team receives a No. 1-8 seed in one of four sections. From there, the teams are matched up in an overall bracket randomly chosen by the league.
“It wasn’t an easy decision or process,” said Kelley Scott, former Coon Rapids activities director. “We want to get back to 6A. But right now, we don’t look like a 6A school. Our kids are just not coming out for football.”
Coon Rapids won its most recent playoff game in 2010. Since then, the Cardinals have gone 0-6 and lost by an average of 25 points. Yet those numbers aren’t the most concerning.
An enrollment of 1,647 puts Coon Rapids at the cutoff line for 6A. And retention is a challenge, Scott said, now the school’s assistant principal.
“Last year we had about 15 percent turnover, roughly 300 kids, from Day 1 through the end of the year,” Scott said. “Those kids don’t participate in activities. Most metro area schools have at least four levels of football and some have five or six. We have three.”
Progress took another blow as Greg Malling, who left Wisconsin powerhouse Hartland Arrowhead for a rebuilding job at Coon Rapids, departed after one season. Curt Wallrath, new Coon Rapids activities director, said the football program will use the time to grow.
“The kids are looking for a sense of pride again,” Wallrath said. “We want to build the numbers up.”
While Coon Rapids temporarily departs 6A, St. Michael-Albertville makes its debut. The Knights fulfilled their promise as a rising power by winning the Class 5A Prep Bowl in 2015.
Another challenge awaits. Placed in the Metro North subsection, the Knights face state tournament semifinalist Blaine and defending champion Totino-Grace.
“We are excited about this move up for us and are anxious to see how we do,” Knights’ coach Jared Essler said. “We will approach this the same as past years; trust our preparation process and go into each game feeling like we control the outcome if we play up to our ability.”
Replay at the Prep Bowl?
A final decision on use of video replay in the football state tournament semifinals and Prep Bowl is expected at the high school league’s October board meeting.
Guidelines already have been established to review turnovers and scoring plays. Other reviewable instances include plays in the last two minutes of the first half that affect the clock, and other plays in the last two minutes of a game, including whether a player was inbounds and if a pass was caught or intercepted.
Longtime coaches square off
There is one sight neither Brainerd’s Ron Stolski and Becker’s Dwight Lundeen have witnessed even with a combined 103 years of high school football coaching — each other on opposite sidelines.
That changes Oct. 6 when Brainerd travels to Becker.
Lundeen said the game became a shared goal for the longtime friends when the two programs were placed in the North Central district. Stolski, entering his 56th season, is tied for first all-time with 371 victories. Lundeen’s 348 wins rank third.
“I think it’s a great thing,” said Lundeen, who begins his 47th season. “We have talked about it over the years and now it’s going to happen.”
Stan Nelson’s day
Anoka has designated Sept. 29 as Coach Stan Nelson Day in honor of the longtime Tornadoes football coach.
Former players and assistant coaches are invited to attend a party from 3-6 p.m. at the Anoka American Legion.
At 6:30 p.m. at Goodrich Field, a plaque dedication will take place before Anoka plays Woodbury.
Event organizer Mike Clark said Nelson’s first quarterback, Chuck Wennerlund, will drive Nelson in a golf cart through a gauntlet of former players.
Nelson, 96, served in Word War II as a communication officer on a landing craft taking 250 men at a time to Omaha Beach on D-Day.