After voting down a proposed soccer co-op between Belgrade and Manhattan last year, trustees unanimously approved it the second time around Monday at the Belgrade School Board meeting.
The three-year cooperative passed by a 6-0 vote, but there is one more hurdle to clear. The Montana High School Association still has to give its stamp of approval.
“I can’t imagine they would deny it. But they could,” Belgrade Activities Director Toby Robinson, who turned in the paperwork for the co-op Tuesday, said. “I guess that they have the right to do that.”
Belgrade’s soccer programs have seen a decline in participation in recent years, thus former Activities Director Rick Phillips proposed a co-op in April of 2020. But there were questions from the public as to the team name and color scheme of the uniforms if the schools combined.
Belgrade will retain its logo, colors and name. The only change would occur during the postseason when the teams would be listed as “Belgrade-Manhattan” in game day programs.
The other stumbling block was raised by parents who were concerned athletes could possibly take starting positions away from Belgrade players.
“You’re never going to ease those concerns, and they’re viable concerns,” said Robinson. “But what’s the alternative? We canceled half the season for the girls, so right now we just need to be able to build our program and the way to do that and compete is to have more kids involved in our program.”
Following several injuries on varsity this past fall, Robinson was forced to cancel the remaining portion of the JV schedule midway through the season. Many of those athletes had already been swinging up to the varsity, and it became paramount to protect the health of those players.
“It becomes dangerous with the amount of playing that they’re doing. We’re sending girls up to play varsity that have just played a half of JV and competing against girls that just rolled off the bench and stretched out, and they’re only playing varsity,” said Robinson. “So we’re sending fatigued kids out there to play, which is detrimental to their health. Obviously we want to be able to compete, but we can’t do that with the way that we’re doing it.”
Robinson said he’s expecting just under a dozen athletes from Manhattan — six boys and four girls — to show up for tryouts. They would boost the number of athletes for both programs into the low 30’s.
“Thirty-six is our ideal number that we would like to have for both programs,” Robinson said. “So we are approaching that 36 with the co-op.”
Belgrade does not offer soccer at the junior high level, but the Gallatin Valley does have club opportunities for players. Still, Robinson is unsure of how many freshmen will show up for tryouts Aug. 13.
“When you’re dealing with all the clubs in the valley you don’t really have a breakdown of how many are Belgrade kids,” said Robinson. “We don’t have that information.”
A strong turnout will allow coaches to truly begin building their programs in what will be Belgrade’s third season in Class AA.
The co-op will be reevaluated after three years, said Robinson.