By Chad Koenen


Last week the Henning School Board briefly touched on a subject that has been a lightning rod in this community in recent years—the potential for future co-op pairings with the Battle Lake High School. 

Near the end of last Monday’s school board meeting, Henning School Superintendent Barry Olson informed the school board that he would likely bring a resolution to the school board on Feb. 8 to begin formal talks about future pairings with the Battle Lake School District. 

Currently, just girls and boy’s basketball, as well as volleyball, are Henning-only and Battle Lake-only sports, while the remaining extracurricular activities are paired with Battle Lake and Underwood (with the exception of football in which just Henning and Battle Lake make up Otter Tail Central. Underwood fields its own volleyball, girls and boys basketball and football teams). 

The resolution that was discussed, which has yet to be formally introduced to the school board and doesn’t mean future pairings will be a certainty, raises more than a few alarm bells about the future of Henning Hornet athletics, as well as our school district as a whole.

It’s no secret that the number of participants in boy’s basketball are down substantially this season. Just eight people dressed for the boy’s basketball game on Friday night, while numbers for both the girl’s basketball and volleyball teams remain strong. If the numbers remain low for boy’s basketball, Henning High School may not have a choice but to seek future pairing opportunities with another school district. 

Unfortunately, under the proposal discussed last week, there may be no differentiating between the sports that have a healthy number of participants and those that are struggling to field a C-squad, JV and varsity team. Meaning, even the sports that Henning and Battle Lake can field on their own, could be paired to form a new co-op. 

One topic that was briefly touched on was if Henning and Battle Lake were to pair for all sports, there would be a cohesiveness associated with everything being red and black and under the Bulldog name, rather than some sports being Bulldogs, while others are Hornets and Battlers. Quite simply, we think this is a wrong approach to take. 

While the point of extracurricular activities is to try to win the game, there is a lot more that goes into being in athletics that can help student-athletes for the rest of their lives. The lessons of being a part of a team, working hard and having a chance to do something with their friends, will have a far greater impact on high schoolers than whether they win or lose a game. 

Pairing with another school when the numbers don’t show the need, will probably make the situation of a lack of athletes going out for a sport worse by requiring one school to travel 20 minutes to the other for practice each day. If you went out for sports to be a part of a team, but were not an outstanding athlete, would you want to drive 20 minutes in the middle of January for practice at another school?

Each time we pair with another community, whether that is a school or regional branding, we lose a part of our community identity that we will never get back. Once we pair for all sports, we will never get the Henning Hornet name back in quite the same way. 

We saw this fall what happens when fans aren’t allowed to attend games, as Henning has essentially been a ghost town after 6 p.m. On game nights, in previous years, this town was typically busy with people filling up with gas, going to the grocery store, eating out before and after a game and just walking around town. Businesses are closing earlier because less customers are in town and that is bad news for all of us. 

At best, pairing would cut the number of games we have in our community in half. At worst this could be a preview of what could come should our unique identity continue to be slowly taken away in favor of a more regional approach. 

To be fair, a resolution to formally discuss future co-op opportunities with Battle Lake has not been actually introduced to the school board, and could ultimately be rejected by either Henning or Battle Lake before it even begins. 

We just hope during the discussion next month that the school board only discusses co-op opportunities where teams cannot be fielded on our own—not take an all or nothing approach that could limit future opportunities for Henning and Battle Lake students. If a pairing is needed due to a lack of numbers of athletes, that is one thing, but pairing just for cohesiveness or ease of scheduling, is something different altogether.