Waconia explores switch to new Metro West Conference

In the 1940s, it was common for high school football games to be played between Chaska and Waconia. In fact, the schools even played for a little brown jug that to this day sits on a shelf at Waconia High School.
Of course, the schools currently play in different conferences so it would appear that the traveling trophy will stay on the shelf for the foreseeable future. However, a recent decision by the Waconia School Board might mean that the Wildcats and Hawks could be renewing their gridiron rivalry in just a few short years.
At its regular meeting on Monday, April 8, the board gave its blessing for Waconia to formally apply for membership in the newly-formed Metro West Conference, which will begin play in the 2014-15 school year.
The Metro West Conference will include Richfield (current enrollment 872), Chaska (1,157), Bloomington Kennedy (1,180), St. Louis Park (1,200), Robbinsdale Cooper (1,427), Chanhassen (1,527), and Bloomington Jefferson (1,543). Whether via an application process involving interested schools or a placement process involving the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL), the new conference will likely receive one or two more members before it starts in 2014-15. Waconia, New Prague and Spring Lake Park are among the possibilities.
According to Activities Director Dave Kuehn, Waconia’s interest in moving to the new conference is related to several factors, a main one being “growing pains” related to the district’s past and projected growth.
Waconia currently resides in the Wright County Conference, where it has been for more than two decades.
In the early 1990s, Waconia had the second smallest enrollment in the conference, which had eight or nine members at the time. A decade later, Waconia had the largest enrollment, a distinction it still holds.
The MSHSL reclassifies schools every two years based on their MDE enrollment minus Free & Reduced Lunch percentage reduction. The current enrollment for Wright County schools (as of October 2012): Waconia (1,035), Orono (909), Hutchinson (797), Delano (724), Mound Westonka (617), Dassel-Cokato (586), Holy Family (507), Glencoe-Silver Lake (486), Litchfield (486), Annandale (464), and New London-Spicer (390).
“The Wright County Conference has served us very well for 24 years” but we feel we are outgrowing the conference, Kuehn said. Based on enrollment projections, Kuehn estimates that by 2017-18, the majority of Waconia’s sports will be competing against the largest schools when it comes to section play, schools like Chaska, Chanhassen, Eden Prairie, Minnetonka, Shakopee, the Bloomington schools, Edina, Richfield and others.
One can see the growing divide on Waconia’s sports schedule, where Waconia’s conference opponents are located to the west while its non-conference opponents and other teams it plays for competitive reasons are located to the east and northeast. Kuehn said the trend is similar for Waconia’s youth sports teams, as well.
In addition to making the switch for competitive reasons, Waconia would benefit from the proximity of the schools in the Metro West Conference.
Currently, Waconia travels an average of 33.8 miles for conference competitions, the longest trip being to New London-Spicer, which is an 85 mile one-way trip. In the Metro West Conference, Waconia’s average trip would be 25 miles, with Robbinsdale Cooper being the furthest out (33 miles one way).
Other considerations involved with a conference switch could mean more levels of play for certain sports, additional activities (including tennis, lacrosse, and one-act play), the need for more facilities (more levels and activities equates to a need for more space), additional extra-curricular positions for coaches and directors.
It was also noted that some schools in the Metro West Conference do not have school-based seventh and eighth grade programming, so if accepted, Waconia might keep those levels in the Wright County Conference.
Kuehn told the board that discussions about switching conferences began approximately four years ago and the majority of Waconia’s coaches are on board with a possible change. Kuehn noted that there are a lot of variables that will be in play regarding membership decisions for the Metro West Conference but he is hoping by this summer to have an idea of what the conference is looking for in terms of new members.
In the meantime, Wildcat football fans can savor the presence of the little brown jug their team earned over Chaska so many years ago.

Contact Todd Moen at [email protected]