Litchfield and Dassel-Cokato schools grappled with a big decision to combine their wrestling programs for the coming school year. Another step toward that goal was taken recently as both school boards approved the decision.
Along with the school boards, the co-op has also been approved by Administrative Region 5A and the Wright County Conference. That means final approval is needed from the Minnesota State High School League, which could happen in a few weeks, according to Litchfield activities director Justin Brown.
Some parents who once opposed the co-op said they now believe it’s the right choice for the future of the wrestlers and the programs.
Dick Penk, a former Litchfield wrestler and youth program coach, said he appreciated the school board’s deliberative approach, because the community needed more time to think.
“I was at the landfill today throwing some garbage out,” Penk said. “A guy got out of the truck, and he looked at me and he said, ‘Are we going to be wrestling together next year?’ And I didn’t realize I had my wrestling T-shirt on and (replied), ‘We’ll find out tonight.’ I said, ‘We’re really excited.’ He says, ‘You got good little kids, we got good big kids.’ And (this made) me feel kind of good because (it) cemented a little bit of a relationship.”
Penk said he supports the co-op, but cannot speak for others.
“I hope that we think about the kids,” Penk said. “The adults will take care of themselves. But it’s the kids who will make the dreams that they will think about for years and years to come. ... I wish it said the Litchfield Dragons on (their shirts), but again, you have to be a realist, and you have to adjust with the times. I guess maybe it’s that time that we have to make a little bit of adjustment.”
Board Member Chase Groskreutz said if Litchfield continues co-oping sports teams with Dassel-Cokato — they currently have combined boys and girls hockey programs, as well as the boys swimming and diving team — the schools may need to discuss creating one symbol to represent the cooperative.
Discussions regarding the team’s identity have taken place, according to Brown.
“It takes time,” Brown said. “It takes input. Especially if you are (creating) one mascot. We are not there yet. We wanted to create some neutrality between the co-ops.”
Litchfield wrestling coach Dan Buker agreed that there is much to discuss regarding the co-op.
“There is so much right now to talk about in terms of going through roles and responsibilities within the staff,” Buker said.
Wrestlers have a two-month window to practice during the summer because most of the athletes play other sports, especially in the fall, Buker said. The wrestling season starts around the third week of November, so the faster the co-op forms, the sooner the wrestlers can begin building a rapport with each other.
Brown feels comfortable about the co-op moving forward.
“It’s about trying to give our athletes the best experience possible,” he said, “and I believe the co-op agreement is the best-case situation to be in.”