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Work begins on formation of athletic programs at new Sheyenne High School in West Fargo

WEST FARGO -- Drive down Veterans Boulevard south of Interstate 94 to 40th Avenue South and it's hard not to spot large piles of dirt and earth-moving machinery.

It's an indicator of progress and also the first signs that the countdown to the opening of the new West Fargo Sheyenne High School has begun.

Construction on the $13 million project officially started this spring, and so has the planning phases of how athletic programs will be divided between Sheyenne and the existing West Fargo High School.

The current Sheyenne Ninth Grade Center is being expanded on to become Sheyenne High School, which will be fully operational in the fall of 2014.

A planning committee made up of West Fargo school administrators, parents and coaches has been conducting preliminary meetings to discuss the logistics of how the split between the schools will be conducted and how athletic programs will be phased in at Sheyenne.

West Fargo activities director Curt Jones is a member of the committee and said nothing has been finalized in regards to the concrete start-up years for varsity sports programs at Sheyenne and that the transition will be a work in progress.

"We want to make sure that if we are going to start a varsity program at Sheyenne that there are adequate numbers to provide a safe environment for those kids," Jones said.

What has been finalized is the boundary line that will divide the two schools, which is I-94. Any students living north of the interstate will attend West Fargo. Any living south will go to Sheyenne.

All freshmen will continue to go to school at Sheyenne until the 2015-16 school year, which is the first year seniors will attend Sheyenne High School.

The freshman class attending the Sheyenne school next year that live south of I-94 will be the first graduating class of Sheyenne High School.

Beginning next fall, Sheyenne athletic teams will start to split off from West Fargo in certain sports.

"The sports that we have talked about for next year at Sheyenne are going to be our volleyball teams, our football teams and our basketball teams, because right now we have ninth-grade programs in those sports at West Fargo," Jones said. "We don't have enough kids to make up separate ninth-grade teams in the other sports."

Until Sheyenne has the numbers to sustain varsity athletics, it may be possible that students living south of I-94 could participate in both Sheyenne and West Fargo athletics. For example, a junior girl attending Sheyenne during the 2014-15 school year could be on the Sheyenne junior varsity volleyball team in the fall, the West Fargo girls hockey team in the winter, and the Sheyenne varsity track team in the spring.

For sports and activities that do not have sufficient numbers for both schools to have varsity teams prior to the 2015-16 school year, students assigned to Sheyenne will participate in separate freshman, sophomore or junior varsity teams as numbers allow. There will be only one varsity team for such sports. Those will be housed at WFHS.

Sports and activities that don't have numbers sufficient for varsity teams at both schools by 2015-16 and beyond will become co-ops.

Possible transferring between the schools has also been discussed by the committee.

Prior to 2015-16, gifted athletes south of I-94 that do not have a varsity team to participate on while at Sheyenne may be given the option to transfer to WFHS and finish their athletic and academic careers at the school pending a district application process, including coaching staff and administration from both schools. Jones said the gifted-athlete transfer policy has yet to be approved.

West Fargo football coach Jay Gibson, who serves on the planning committee, also identified numbers as being the key indicator for how the athletic programs at Sheyenne our established.

Gibson teaches at the Sheyenne School and said of the 52 football players who will be freshmen at Sheyenne next fall, 17 live south of I-94. That's not exactly a healthy number to make a team, considering of the 17, five will need to be linemen, two need to be running backs and so on.

Gibson acknowledged the numbers may change in the fall, but he still thinks football will be a tough sport to phase in.

"We want to do the split, because we want the kids to have their own identity," Gibson said. "But I as a football coach am not going to take a kid that weighs 120 pounds and make him an offensive or defensive lineman just because he's the toughest kid on the team, because he is not big enough.

"We have some logistical problems in football. With the numbers we need, it will be tough to split."

Jones and fellow West Fargo athletics staff member Tonya Vetter drafted a projected phase-in model for each athletic program with yearly breakdowns through the 2015-16 school year as well as future participant numbers broken by the south and north divider.

The model doesn't indicate any varsity sports at Sheyenne until the 2014-15 school year, but Jones said that may be altered if certain sports like cross country and track and field show strong numbers early at Sheyenne.

"Right now it's just a forecast," Jones said. "We're kind of like the weathermen right now so we may be right on or we may be way off. It's something that is going to have to be a work in progress as each sports season gets done."

Unlike the split that occurred in Fargo when Fargo South and Fargo Davies divided, Sheyenne has not planned to field a varsity football team with no seniors on it. In the 2014-15 season, Sheyenne is projected to have ninth-grade and junior varsity football teams. Davies fielded a varsity football team in 2010-11 that had no senior athletes.

West Fargo and Sheyenne students also won't be schooled under the same building as sophomores and juniors like Davies and South students were before Davies officially opened its doors last fall.

"The parents have been very adamant on dividing and getting things done as soon as possible, and if that's their wish you got to give it to them," Gibson said. " ... I was really glad that I got to be on the committee so I could listen to everyone's points of view, because a parent's point of view is going to differ from a coaches' point of view. We are trying to help everyone and trying to make this thing work."

Jones said the planning committee has received valuable advice from former Fargo Public Schools activities director Ed Lockwood, who oversaw the Davies-South split. North Dakota High School Activities Association Executive Secretary Sherman Sylling and West Fargo Public Schools human resources director Robin Hill have also helped.

No mascots or school colors have been selected for Sheyenne High School, but Jones said a logo, mascot and color scheme could be decided on later this spring.

Mix is a sports reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.