By MaryHelen Swanson—
Thursday night, April 12, the North Branch school board unanimously decided to accept an invitation to join the Mississippi 8 Conference and will be leaving the North Suburban Conference.
Superintendent Dr. Deb Henton received the invitation from James Johnson, superintendent of Monticello Public Schools in February.
Along with North Branch, others invited to join the Mississippi 8 (M8) activities conference include Chisago Lakes, Princeton and St. Francis. St. Francis has accepted also.
The conference already includes Big Lake, Buffalo, Cambridge-Isanti, Rogers, Monticello and St. Michael-Albertville.
If all accept the invitation it will become a conference of 10 schools. The North Suburban Conference has 11 teams.
North Branch joined the North Suburban Conference (NSC) in 2005-06. Member schools include Benilde-St. Margaret’s, Chisago Lakes, Columbia Heights, Cooper, Fridley, Irondale, St. Francis, St. Louis Park, Spring Lake Park, Totino-Grace, and North Branch.
For the Mississippi 8 Conference, it is proposed that there be two divisions: east and west.
North Branch would be in the east division along with Chisago Lakes, Cambridge-Isanti, Princeton and St. Francis.
In his letter of invitation Supt. Johnson noted that all the schools in the proposed M8 conference have high expectations for their students, are public schools where hard work, discipline and community pride are prevalent.
In addition the schools, all located outside the Metro area, have similar demographics.
Charts presented Thursday night show that the average travel in the NSC is 38.3 [corrected] miles and average enrollment is 1071 students.
The average travel in the M8 would be 42.4 miles. Average enrollment of those schools is 1184. North Branch high school’s enrollment is at 945.
Following coachs’ meetings and surveys, parent and booster club meetings and a student/athlete meeting, the North Branch administrative team concluded it would be a good fit for this school district.
Among the benefits is the fact that these are natural rivals and there would be competitive balance. As such, it is expected that there would be larger crowds and larger gate revenues. In addition, middle school activities are included.
North Branch families could be challenged with extended travel times, but inclusion in the M8 conference could increase exposure for students who might now spend more time on the bench.
There remains a possibility, however, that NB would not be in the same conference as Chisago Lakes if they choose not to accept the invitation.
North Branch would begin participation in the M8 conference with the 2013-14 school year.