Superintendent appreciates UMN Crookston’s willingness to maintain Ed Widseth Field for the Pirates in the wake of decision to end Golden Eagle football program, but knows a discussion on a long-term strategy for football and track and field facilities needs to take place

    Crookston School District Superintendent Jeremy Olson and members of the Crookston School Board and his administrative team, even before the University of Minnesota Crookston last week announced that they were ending the Golden Eagles football program, were poised in a few weeks to launch a discussion encompassing the future of all school district facilities and properties.

    That conversation would no doubt have included a discussion on the long-term home of Pirate football, but Olson tells the Times that, given UMC’s announcement and the fact that the Pirates play at Ed Widseth Field on the UMN Crookston campus, the discussion might be a bit more extensive than it would have been otherwise.

    In announcing that it was suspending its NCAA Division II football program, UMN Crookston Chancellor Mary Holz-Clause said she’d spoken to Olson about the decision, and said that the Crookston campus would maintain the the football field and facility for as long as the Pirates want to play football there.

    While Olson says he appreciates the gesture, he also realizes that the University more than likely won’t be interested in investing any money in Ed Widseth Field if the Crookston campus no longer has any real use for it.

    “Where the Pirate play football going forward into the longer-term is definitely going to be something we look at,” Olson said.

    The shared use of Ed Widseth Field over the years has for the most part been a positive partnership between the University and school district. But over the years, when the field has been pounded by persistent heavy rains, both the Pirates and Golden Eagles had to play “home” games in Grand Forks. The Pirates had to host a “home” playoff game in Grand Forks one year, and this past season, the Golden Eagles played their final three “home” games at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks because Ed Widseth Field was deemed not playable. (The Pirates did play their season-ending home games at Ed Widseth Field, but it was a muddy, sloppy mess.)

    The track that encircles the football field has led to the most consternation in recent years. The University has no track and field athletic program, so interest in investing the dollars needed to repair the track has been minimal from the U of M perspective. The Minnesota State High School League deemed the track not fit for section high school meets, so the Pirate track and field teams – numbers-wise, the Pirates’ largest athletic program – haven’t hosted a “home” meet for several years.

    Instead, their “home” meets have taken place in East Grand Forks.

    With school board chair Frank Fee largely spearheading the effort, the school district three years ago launched a facilities-related initiative focused on a trio of ballot questions for district voters to consider. One sought to build a new bus garage, another sought to add a second gym and other new spaces to Crookston High School, and another question sought to build a football field and track complex on CHS property. Voters soundly defeated all three measures.

    But, last month, district voters just as enthusiastically voted in favor of a revised bus garage/transportation facility proposal, as well as a ballot question seeking to extend a current operating levy for another decade.

    So where does the conversation go from here?

    “It’s an important discussion, for sure,” Olson said.