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High school football: Zero Week means an early start for JCC, Luverne, Pipestone Area

JACKSON — Zero hour is coming quickly for a few area high school football teams.

Whereas most squads await Aug. 29 or Aug. 30 season openers, a select few will begin on Aug. 23.

Why? Well, basically it’s because they’ve experienced difficulty finding compatible dancing partners.

The Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) calls the scheduling aberration “Zero Week,” and three Southwest Conference programs are using it in 2013. On Aug. 23 — a week before most teams play in earnest — New Ulm will travel to start the season at Luverne, Pipestone Area will travel to play St. James and Jackson County Central will go to St. Louis Park.

JCC head coach Tom Schuller, no stranger to Zero Week, says the practice brings about some odd partnerships. One year, the Huskies played Fergus Falls, and another year, Hill-Murray. Last year they played a school from Minnesota’s far north, Virginia.

Thankfully, Virginia traveled to JCC that season, leaving the Huskies to save on gas expenses.

Altogether, 22 teams statewide are playing Aug. 23 games in 2013. The option has been in place since 2011, and the goal is obvious — help teams that have holes in their eight-game schedules find similarly challenged opponents. Participating schools move their conditioning schedules up a week before the rest, then get a bye week when they otherwise would have a game to play.

This fall, Luverne’s bye falls on Aug. 30. Pipestone Area’s bye falls on the final week of the regular season, Oct. 16. Jackson County Central’s bye is Oct. 4.

JCC fell into this Zero Week year because West Central, S.D., which it had been counting on for a Week Six game, was assigned a different game by South Dakota officials. JCC was unable to find a replacement for Week Six, so it requested a Zero Week date from the MSHSL.

Zero Week can hit anyone. One of the 22 teams experiencing Zero Week this year is the Caledonia Warriors, who are the three-time defending Class AA state champions. The Warriors have won 26 consecutive games and 40 of their last 41, and head coach Brent Schroeder was quoted in the Rochester Post-Bulletin on Monday as saying, “I think it’s kind of a bummer, to be honest. We ask a lot of our kids already, and now we’re taking away another week of their summer.”

Schuller takes a slightly different approach.

“We’ve played some long-distance opponents. It’s been an ongoing problem for us ... We might have gotten caught playing only seven games. And our kids wanted to play eight games,” he said.

During the “open” week, minimum contact is allowed at practices. “It’s similar to a bye week in the NFL,” said Schuller.

But the veteran JCC mentor says he still intends to research the mandates to be certain he’s fulfilling his obligations correctly. He says the Huskies will probably go out and watch another football game on the open date, and on the other days have a less physical week of practice.

As for now, the Huskies participated in two practices on Monday, with more scheduled for later this week.

Doug Wolter

Doug Wolter is the Daily Globe sports editor. He served as sports reporter, then sports editor, news editor and finally managing editor at the Daily Globe for 22 years before leaving for seven years to work as night news editor at the Mankato Free Press in Mankato. Doug now lives in Worthington with his wife, Sandy. They have three children and seven grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He also writes books on fiction. Two of his stories, "The Genuine One" and "The Old Man in Section 129" have been distributed through a national publisher.

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