A new football co-op between Menno and Scotland received state approval Wednesday to start play later this year but it will have to play 11-man football.

The South Dakota High School Activities Association Board of Directors approved the proposal for a cooperative but did not approve an appeal to move down from an 11-man football classification to Class 9AA.

The appeal was based on three Scotland students who put the school over its 56-male threshold for playing nine-man football. Those students included one who has severe disabilities and attends school in Sioux Falls, another who has not been physically in school due to COVID-19 and another high school student who was counted despite never attending classes after transferring in and later left Scotland to pursue a GED.

The schools’ combined male ADM was 58.042 and because of the math, the co-op needed all three Scotland students removed from the ADM count to fall below the nine-man threshold. The appeal got considerable discussion but died for the lack of a second when it came time to motion for a vote by the eight-person board.

The program, which will go by the name Scotland/Menno and does not yet have a nickname, will hold games and practices in both communities. The football cooperative was approved for the 2021 and 2022 seasons, but all SDHSAA football cooperatives must run for four years, meaning the co-op is on line to run through the 2024 season.

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According to documents submitted to the SDHSAA Board of Directors, Scotland anticipates having 19 participants in high school football for grades 9-12 in the upcoming season and in two years, anticipates just 13 participants in high school football. Menno projects 13 participants in grades 9-12 and 16 players in two years.

Menno Superintendent Tom Rice and Scotland Superintendent Tim Hagedorn both said they were confident when planning the co-op that their average daily membership numbers would be low enough to keep them in nine-man football and were surprised to see themselves over the line for 11-man play.

“Class 9AA will be a shock for us because previously (as Scotland alone) we were at 9B,” Hagedorn said. “To go from 9B to 11-man is a shock for us.”

The 2021-22 school year will be a one-year classification cycle, meaning the classification could change reconsidered in a year.

Both Scotland and Menno indicated that they would not be able to continue offering football if not for the cooperative. Menno/Marion has spent the last eight seasons in a co-op, which ended in part because of the travel distance between the two communities for practice of around 60 miles roundtrip.

Rice said Menno has a large class of incoming juniors, with 16 students but just five of them play football. After that, he said both schools will average about eight boys a year, putting their male ADM average around 48 for the foreseeable future.

“Menno does not receive open enrollment,” Rice said. “What you see in fifth and sixth grade is what you get in the high school. Our numbers will not be huge by any means in the future. … If we have to play 11-man, we will do it, but we will be back here in a few years.”

The SDHSAA has a grace period rule that allows nine-man schools that climb above the 11-man threshold to stay in the nine-man division if they can show that they will return below the line in enrollment. But SDHSAA Assistant Executive Director John Krogstrand explained that rule really only applies to established football co-ops, not a first-time program like Scotland/Menno.

It is possible for Scotland/Menno to play nine-man in the 2021 season and declare themselves ineligible for the postseason. Rice said he would take the topic back to the co-op committee between the two schools, but doesn’t foresee Scotland/Menno following that path.

Rice said the co-op was sold to constituents as a nine-man opportunity, and couldn’t say if the co-op would be in jeopardy by playing one season of 11-man. Scotland has a tradition of 11-man as recently as the early 2000s, while Menno has never played 11-man football on its own. The 11-man change will result in Scotland/Menno needing to find a new conference, as they planned on playing in the nine-man Great Plains Conference.

“The plus side for everyone involved is two more kids get to play on every snap,” Rice said.