Menno, Scotland progressing toward football co-op in '21

Menno/Marion running back Treyton Sayler breaks away from the Hanson defense during a game on Aug. 21 in Alexandria. (Nick Sabato / Republic)

MENNO -- Less than a week after wrapping up the 2020 football season, Menno appears on the verge of finding a new co-op partner.

Menno announced on social media last Friday’s 30-26 loss to Irene-Wakonda would be the final game as part of the Menno/Marion co-op, and on Tuesday, the school held a meeting with parents and players to discuss a potential partnership with Scotland.

A long-lasting friendship between Menno Superintendent Tom Rice and Scotland Superintendent Tim Hagedorn sparked talks between the schools the last two years, with dwindling participants and an adequate traveling distance being the main advantages of the co-op.

Without strong opposition, decisions on the co-op could move quickly, despite Scotland opening up the Class 9B playoffs against Irene-Wakonda at home on Thursday.

Both superintendents are hoping to have school-board approval next month in order for the South Dakota High School Activities Association to consider the co-op -- a mandatory four-year agreement that automatically renews each year -- in January in order to be eligible for the 2021 season.


“When I came, our athletic director said this is looking like it may be it (for the Menno/Marion co-op),” said Rice, who also served as an assistant coach. “I said we needed to see what we could do to go other places. The mileage was huge. It was never a player issue, but the co-op was having a hard time finding coaches that would stick and stay.”

Menno/Marion made three playoff appearances in eight seasons as a co-op, but netted five wins in the last six seasons. Although on-field success was limited, travel concerns began to mount and it also led to a struggle in finding coaches.

Roundtrip travel between the two schools is nearly 60 miles on a daily basis and players traveling to practice often did not get home until 7:30 p.m., a concern reiterated by parents during Tuesday’s meeting.

In the proposed co-op with Scotland, total travel -- which would be split evenly in days and cost between the schools -- would be trimmed to 28 miles roundtrip.

“It is proven, the longer these kids are on the road for a co-op, the less time they get to practice on the field and spend that time together,” said Hagedorn, who helped create the Potter County co-op while at Gettysburg. “There’s a lot of Scotland people in Menno and Menno people in Scotland.”

Scotland has had a bit more success in recent years, going 38-35 in eight seasons under head coach Ryan Robb -- who Rice recommended to be the head coach of the co-op multiple times during the meeting -- including back-to-back winning seasons the last two years. But lack of participation continues to be a shared struggle with Menno.

Both schools have a similar male-only average daily membership, with Menno (22.3) and Scotland (24) only combining to field a total of 30 football players last season. The numbers in younger grades are increasingly concerning.

Menno currently has no more than nine boys in third-through-eighth grades, while Scotland has three boys in this year’s seventh-grade class. Scotland could not field a middle school football team this season, while Menno does not have any current freshmen playing football.


The co-op would play in Class 9AA and has already secured membership with the Great Plains Conference if approved. The relationship would also create a middle school team for kids in sixth-through-eighth grades.

“We would have to tried to keep it going as long as possible (without the co-op), but you’d be putting kids at risk,” Hagedorn said. “When you put kids at risk, they’re not going to like the sport and some of them don’t come out. After you get beat up, who wants to go out? For the middle school, we had 10 kids, but most of them were sixth-graders. I’m not putting sixth-graders against eighth-graders.”

Menno has discussed co-op opportunities in the past, while Hagedorn said Scotland had brief discussions with Bon Homme at one time, but felt it would not be an equally beneficial relationship.

Even though the agreement would be for an SDHSAA-mandated four years, the hope would be to create a long-term relationship. At the end of each season, the football co-op committee, composed of superintendents, principals, athletic directors and one board member from each school will review the agreement.

“You want the ride to last as long as possible and be as positive and productive as possible,” Rice said. “We’re trying to create something that people care about.”

Scotland-Menno co-op details

  • Each school will host two games. Playoff games will be rotated.

  • Each school will pay two varsity coaches apiece, but there will be one head coach, who will evaluate assistant coaches each year. Two middle school coaches will be hired and the schools will split the cost.

  • All revenue will be split evenly and each school will provide transportation for practices and away games. Coaches must obtain a commercial driver’s license to drive the practice bus.

  • Each school outfits players with helmets and pads. Schools will split costs for uniforms.

  • Both schools can have up to four cheerleaders and one advisor. Cheerleaders must purchase uniforms. Each school’s pep band will play at their own home games.

  • Each school will have their own homecoming, but there will be one senior night.

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