Packer football team will move to Class AAAA in the fall

Published 2:24 pm Wednesday, April 12, 2023

After years of playing bigger schools like Owatonna, Rochester Mayo, Rochester Century and Rochester John Marshall in the postseason, the Packer football team will be playing against schools their own size this fall after being reclassified as a Class AAAA school based on an appeal by Austin.

Austin would’ve been the smallest Class AAAAA team in the state, but after looking at the school’s free and reduced lunches and past records, the Minnesota State High School League granted Austin’s request to move down a class.

“You have participation numbers and ours have been struggling as of late,” said Austin head coach Ed Schmitt. “In our last section game, I think Century probably had 50 plus players on the sideline and I think we had 32. Those numbers play a factor into the appeal process.”

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Austin’s section will now include Byron, Faribault, Kasson-Mantorville and Winona.

The Packers will play those four teams in the regular season, but Austin’s other four regular season opponents won’t be named until the schedule comes out.

Schmitt, who is entering his fifth year as Austin’s head coach after a long run as an assistant, has experience coaching against Section 1AAAA teams in the past and he knows there will be plenty of competitions. However, those teams will likely not be as deep as what Section 1AAAAA offered.

“It’s nice, but I’m not advocating to go to AAAA because we’re going to roll through the competition or anything like that,” Schmitt said. “It’s more about the numbers. When we lose a player to injury, it might not be fun for one of our sophomores to go against a senior from another school who is a dominant player. This is good for the program and it will get us going in the right direction.”

While putting together deeper postseason runs could draw more kids to try out or stick with football in Austin, that’s not what Schmitt has on his mind. He’s hoping this gives the Packers a chance to continue to build the character of their student-athletes while learning life lessons.

“Hopefully kids get an idea of who I am as a person and coach and they’re willing to try something that they love,” Schmitt said. “I don’t view success as wins and losses, we’re just trying to make them better people.” 

Austin wasn’t the only area school who had its football team change classes as Albert Lea, Stewartville and Red Wing will all move down to Class AAA. Rochester Mayo moved up to Class AAAA. Blooming Prairie’s football team also moved back down to Class A after being in Class AA for the past two seasons.

The MSHSL evaluates school’s classifications every two years.