Many sports teams have a co-op with other schools, but how does it work?
All the girls were packed tightly into Panera. It was the first game of the season, and everyone was getting to know each other over their meals. They were all from different schools, talking about their homework, teachers, catching up and getting to know each other. Everyone excited for the first game of the season. It was sophomore Eva Larson’s third year with the girls’ hockey team, and she always looked forward to the team dinners before every home hockey game.
“I love being apart of the co-op because you are able to make such good friends from other schools and meet people that you probably wouldn’t meet otherwise,” said Larson. “I think the team dynamic is different because you get to hear stories from many different schools.”
Co-ops, formally known to the Minnesota State High School League as co-operative sponsorships, are formed when at least two schools join in one sports team. This winter, co-ops play a huge role in Minnehaha athletics. In fact, four of the winter teams are co-ops: girls’ and boys’ hockey, wrestling and dance. In addition, Minnehaha has one male swimmer, junior Andrew Karpenko, who practices with the Blake-Breck co-op, and he joins them for meets, but he competes as an individual.
Emily Kennett, the assistant to the athletic director at Minnehaha, talked about the reasons that schools usually start co-ops.
“Co-ops start when one school may not have enough players to start a team,” she said. “They might reach out to a school that they have either worked with in the past or is in the same conference. When a co-op begins, the schools need approval from all of the schools in the conference and approval from all of the schools in the section. That way schools can’t create co-ops just to have a team with a lot of good players so that they can dominate the conference and section.”
Kennett explained that forming a co-op can allow students to compete in a sport, but it can also change the nature of the competition.
“When you create a co-op, sometimes it can bump you into a higher class because it takes into account the size of all of the schools that are involved,” she said.
For example, the SMB Wolfpack football team, which won the Class AAAA state championship on Nov. 23, is a co-op that combines athletes from Blake, Minnehaha and St. Paul Academy. If Minnehaha had had its own team, it would have competed in Class AAA, which includes schools with enrollments between 311 and 552 students; Class AAAA is for schools with enrollments between 553 and 1016. According to MSHSL rules, a co-op team’s enrollment is determined by taking 100 percent of the largest school’s enrollment (in this case, Blake) and adding 50 percent of the other schools’ enrollments. For SMB, this adds up to 899. Forming a co-op is necessary because none of the three schools could field adequate football numbers on its own; of the 66 players on the SMB roster this year, 30 were from Minnehaha, which may be a large portion of the co-op, but it would be a small football roster on its own.
Another aspect of co-op teams is that one of the schools serves as the host school, which means that they hire the coaches, provide facilities, develop the schedule and carry out other administrative tasks.
Girls’ hockey is the biggest winter co-op, consisting of five schools: Minnehaha Academy, DeLaSalle, Gentry Academy, St. Agnes and Providence Academy. The team is called Minnehaha United because it unites so many schools and is hosted by Minnehaha. There are 17 girls on the team, but only four from MA.
The boys’ hockey team is one of the average size co-ops, consisting of only two schools: DeLaSalle and Minnehaha Academy. This co-op is also hosted by Minnehaha. There are 18 boys on varsity, and 16 are from MA.
For many co-op athletes, the social side of the experience is often the most memorable. Junior John Diem, who has been playing with the boys’ hockey team since his freshman year, said that his favorite memory being with the team has little to do with playing hockey.
“[The team was] juggling a soccer ball before a game,” he recalled, “and one of the players kicked the soccer ball onto the ice three times in a row, each time causing the refs to stop the game on the ice.” He said he enjoys being a part of the co-op because it gives him the opportunity to make new friends from other schools.
The Spartan Dance team is also formed from two schools: Minnehaha and St. Paul Academy; SPA is the host school. There are 14 girls on this year’s team, with nine girls from Minnehaha. Junior Jenna Frazier started on the dance team in 9th grade.
“Our team sleepovers are super fun and bonding activities,” Frazier said, adding that being part of a co-op team is “a nice opportunity to meet other people from schools nearby, and I also think it helps the team numbers a lot because if it was just us, we wouldn’t have high enough numbers.”
Minnehaha has one wrestler this year, sophomore Dason Thomas. He is joining almost 30 wrestlers at Totino Grace in Fridley, which is a half-hour drive from the Mendota campus. His parents provide his transportation to practice.
“It’s a great experience, and the team has multiple state-ranked wrestlers for me to practice with,” Thomas said, “but it’s tough getting up for some of the 6 a.m. practices.”
Thomas, who wrestled with the Minnehaha-DeLaSalle Knighthawks co-op last year, said he enjoys his new teammates.
“We blast music in the locker room and jump around, just having fun,” he said.
Those times before the big game are the days the players will remember in years to come. They will remember hanging out with the team, talking over their meals.
“One of the things that I really like about [co-ops] is how students are able to build relationships with peers from other schools who they wouldn’t normally have the opportunities to interact with at that level,” Kennett said.
When Kennett was a student at Minnehaha, the only co-op was the girls’ swim team.
“The co-ops are completely different [now] than when I was in school,” she said. “It’s really cool to see … student athletes from [all over] who otherwise would be rivals of each other build friendships and relationships with each other and work together on the same team. I think it is an incredible opportunity, and it provides our student athletes with space for them to grow that much more.”