HIGHWOOD – After seven successful seasons, the future of the Geraldine-Highwood athletics co-op is uncertain. The Highwood school board voted 2-1 in July to end the co-op, citing distance between the schools and the toll that the time spent travelling takes on student athletes.
If the co-op does dissolve, both schools will face an uphill battle just to field teams next year with expected enrollment in the teens to low 20s.
That’s the backdrop on which the Rivals football team started fall camp earlier this week. And while the news is at the forefront in the minds of administrators and community members, the players are pushing aside the unknowns and focusing on what’s in front of them.
“We really have to take the approach that we can only control this year and we’re only together for this year,” said Rivals coach Brandon Gondeiro. “And we have the opportunity to do some good things. We have to stay positive and stay in the moment and live life in that moment. If you don’t it will pass you by.”
And what a moment the Rivals are living in. The team returns 11 upperclassmen, including four all-state players in JR Spencer, Mavrick McKinley, Joey Hale and Zeke Davison. Coaches around the state point to Geraldine-Highwood as a 6-Man championship contender.
“We bring most of our core back, so we’re probably a step ahead of everybody else and we just hope that carries on through the season and that experience will pay off,” Gondeiro said.
“It’s our senior year,” added Davison. “I think everyone is ready to just lay it all out there. Injuries always play a role, but I think we’re all healthy and getting stronger.”
The Rivals will face a tough test out of the gate with a road game against Wibaux to open the season. The Longhorns ended the Rivals’ season in the first round of the 6-Man playoffs a year ago, and the team is looking forward to another shot.
“I think we definitely fell short of our goal last year,” Hale said. “We came in with a really good feeling, but Wibaux was good, you have to hand it to them. We look forward to the first game with them.”
No one on the field at practice knows what the future holds for the highly successful program. There have been meetings, petitions and polls with split opinions about whether the co-op should continue. Applications for co-op renewal will be submitted to the MHSA in November, so there will likely be no clarity until after the season.
But the players have never known a different jersey than the blue and black of the Rivals and believe the schools are better together than apart.
And they plan to prove it on the field.
“It’s a rallying point to show the communities that we work together and it’s worth it to go all the way to Geraldine when you (have) guys like this on your team,” Davison said.
“They go to school in Highwood or Geraldine, but as far as extra-curricular activities and putting on a uniform, they’ve been Rivals for seven years now,” Gondeiro said. “That’s a part of who they are. So the important thing is to realize that they need to rally around each other and control this year and then go out and try to hang a trophy on the wall.”