Monday was Day One of fall sports practices in Minnesota, with workouts beginning at schools from border to border. Day One is always a big day, but nowhere was it bigger this year than for the Titans of Tri-City United.
If you have never heard of Tri-City United, that’s understandable. It’s a brand new school, a consolidation of Montgomery-Lonsdale and Le Center. The school district is located between the Twin Cities and Mankato, and Day One was filled with new things: New nickname, new school colors, new logo (a powerful image of a hand gripping a lightning bolt), new teammates and an entirely new identity. There are no more Le Center Wildcats or Montgomery-Lonsdale Redbirds. Everybody is a Titan.
“It’s a brand new school so everything’s different,” said senior football player Ryan Iverson. “It’s exciting, it’s a new atmosphere.”
Classmate and teammate Austin Buss agreed, saying, “ I really feel like what we start this year is going to be the standard for the future. That’s what we’re trying to accomplish here.”
The cornerstone of the new district is a spectacular new high school. An elementary school in Montgomery was replaced with a state-of-the-art building for high school students; it’s a beautiful, open, light-filled building that is packed with technology and is being rushed to completion for the first day of classes on Sept. 4.
“I think it’s great,” Iverson said. “The school we were in here in Montgomery was a 1936 building, it was old, it was run-down, no air conditioning. And this is state of the art.”
FALL TEAMS KICKED OFF the season Monday with introductions and instructions. Le Center and Montgomery-Lonsdale had cooperative teams in girls basketball, wrestling and all spring sports during the 2011-12 school year, so many of the athletes were already familiar with their teammates.
“The first day is really about trying to get a routine established, getting to know the kids, getting the kinks out, that kind of stuff,” said cross-country coach Brian Fogal. “Le Center never had cross-country so we haven’t gotten many kids from Le Center. But the new setup, with where everything’s located, the logistics, that’s the hardest thing right now.”
Fall sports at Tri-City United are football, volleyball, girls tennis and girls and boys cross-country. The Titans will compete in the Minnesota River Conference.
The football team held a morning workout Monday at the old high school in Montgomery (which is being converted into an elementary/middle school), with the day’s second practice to be held in Le Center. The cross-country team drilled at the new high school, the tennis players were on courts in Le Center and the volleyball team practiced at the old high school in Montgomery.
The trio of communities – marked by peaceful, tree-lined streets and manicured lawns and surrounded by rolling farmland – form a line that runs southwest from Lonsdale (population 3,692), where it’s less than 12 miles to Montgomery (2,950) and a similar distance from Montgomery to Le Center (2,495). The new high school is expected to have a 2012-13 enrollment of around 550 students.
Titans activities director Greg Feddema said voters in the Montgomery-Lonsdale district had previously approved the construction of the new high school before a vote to consolidate the two districts was held. That took place in June 2011. Voters in all three communities approved the merger, even though it meant Le Center would no longer have a high school.
“It’s a challenge for any small town to lose their high school,” Feddema said. “I really do think our superintendent, Matt Helgerson, and our administrative team has communicated very well and been very honest with everyone about what to expect, what this construction project was going to be all about and what we wanted to do in regards to athletics and things like that.
“I think last Thursday, when we had an open house, opened some eyes for the public. The high school is very nice, the facility is state of the art, and that will help. Our next challenge is to, just like every school district, try and improve test scores and make sure that the academic rigor is there. Those things aren’t quite as tangible as the physical building, but obviously more important.”
MONDAY’S PRACTICES WERE well-planned by veteran coaches. “The first day, we just try to get everybody on the same page, teach the drills and later on we’ll know what we’re doing and they can jump into the drills,” said football coach Ken Helland, who coached in Le Center for 12 years and is a 33-year veteran. “The first day is the first day; we just kind of have to get through it. We get to know the kids a little bit more and teach them what we want done so later in the week we can get into the drills a lot faster.”
Girls tennis coach Phil Murray (the school does not have a boys tennis team) has taught and coached in Le Center for 25 years. Of the merger he said, “The kids are great with it, it’s the adults who struggle. And teachers struggle because for a lot of them there’s a change. The kids have really been good and I don’t expect that they’ll ever be anything but good. They’re a lot more resilient than we think they are.”
Volleyball coach Becky Madison, who has been on the Montgomery-Lonsdale volleyball staff for five years and is beginning her fourth year as head coach, helped mold the future by having players from both schools play Junior Olympic and summer volleyball together. That’s now paying off as the Titans open practice.
“I feel like a lot of them have kind of found their niche and they’ve made new friends,” Madison said. “It’s fun to see them interact with each other and give different girls a hard time. They’re starting to really forge friendships.”
Some athletes admit to being a little nervous about new classmates and new routines, but there is also a strong sense of excitement for what the future holds.
“I think we’re going to have a lot of new traditions,” said senior tennis player Beth Steinborn. “This is our only year going there, and we’re going to start a whole bunch of traditions.”
Junior volleyball player Alyshia Angileno said, “It’s really weird seeing how things are now, from being here last year. It’s so different than everything last year, but it’s a good different.”
It certainly is.
--To see a photo gallery from Tri-City United, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 3
*Miles John has driven: 247
(*During the 2012-13 school year)
--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn