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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Ely, NER football teams merge for season

Keith Vandervort
Posted 8/26/21

ELY- The football field here at Ely Memorial High School suddenly looks a lot less lonely as a last-minute agreement with Northeast Range High School in Babbitt means that the Timberwolves and the …

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Ely, NER football teams merge for season

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ELY- The football field here at Ely Memorial High School suddenly looks a lot less lonely as a last-minute agreement with Northeast Range High School in Babbitt means that the Timberwolves and the Nighthawks will  field a combined team this year.

The agreement, announced on Wednesday after the Timberjay’s deadline, still needs to be approved by the school boards of both ISD 696 and ISD 2142, but athletic directors at both schools said Thursday that they have the support of their superintendents and administrations.

The Timberwolves welcomed six NER players to the practice field Wednesday, as the combined team prepares for its first game on Friday, Sept. 3 when they host Carlton.

“What it all boils down to is that Northeast Range didn't have enough participants to field a team, and we were able to work something out very quickly, with the help of the Minnesota State High School League, that will allow Northeast Range students to play football this year in Ely,” ISD 696 Athletic Director Tom Coombe said. “Given our numbers and theirs, we were heading in the direction of an eventual merger, but this sped things up.” 

Northeast Range High School Athletic Director Aaron Donais added, “I’m glad for our students who want to play football to have the opportunity to play in a safe and competitive manner for this season. I’m thankful for the open-mindedness and support of both the administration and coaches of our schools to make this arrangement possible on such short notice.”

In a letter sent to Ely football families on Wednesday, Coombe wrote:

“Because of extremely low participation numbers, Northeast Range is unable to field a team this fall.  Over the last several days, we have been involved in discussions with Northeast Range officials, the Minnesota State High School League and area (athletic directors) ADs, and we are moving forward with a cooperative agreement that would allow Northeast Range students to play football in Ely this year, and hopefully in future seasons as well.”

“Our varsity schedule will remain the same, but because of enrollments we will be forced to play 11-man football and move up to Section 7A for the postseason,” Coombe added. “This is not uncommon.  Just last year, Carlton/Wrenshall played a Nine-man schedule and moved up to 11-man for the playoffs.

With the agreement in place, the Timberwolves have an open date on their schedule on Oct. 15, the date Ely and Northeast Range were scheduled to play each other.

“It is a longshot, but we will look to see if there is an 11-man, Class A program that has an open date the same day,” Coombe said.

Look for more coverage in the Sept. 3 print edition of the Timberjay.

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