Hermantown's status as a Class A boys hockey powerhouse increasingly has become a contentious topic.
And, with the Minnesota State High School League getting ready to realign sections for another two-year cycle, the parent of two former Hawks players and one current one will make his case at tonight's Hermantown School Board meeting that the program should opt up to Class AA.
Scott Pionk says Hermantown has outgrown Class A, despite the fact that its MSHSL enrollment of 629 is well below the cutoff of 1,245, above which schools automatically are placed in the larger classification. In fact, at last year's state tournament, Hermantown was the second-smallest school in the Class A field, bigger only than Thief River Falls.
Pionk nonetheless says: "There's no question where we belong."
His argument stems from the Hawks' unprecedented success.
Hermantown has qualified for the past nine state tournaments, appearing in eight consecutive finals from 2010-17 and winning titles in 2016 and '17. During that stretch, the Hawks won their 27 section playoff games by a combined score of 196-21.
They haven't lost to a Class A opponent in the regular season since Jan. 11, 2013 (St. Cloud Cathedral). In 2015-16, with six future NCAA Division I players in the lineup, Hermantown defeated eventual Class AA champ Wayzata. A year later, the Hawks edged Grand Rapids, which also went on to claim the big-school state crown.
More recently, against four Section 7A foes this month - Duluth Denfeld, Greenway, Hibbing-Chisholm and Proctor - Hermantown's varsity and junior varsity compiled an aggregate score of 72-3 over eight contests, according to Pionk.
He doesn't rattle off these numbers to embarrass anyone. But, Pionk contends, Hermantown's dominance has helped erode the competitive landscape of prep boys hockey in the Northland as small schools struggle to compete.
"We don't even play those (small-school) teams in peewees and bantams," Pionk said, noting Hermantown is Class AA through bantams. "That's probably my biggest (issue). They're off-limits. They're not nearly as strong as us."
Instead, "we're playing Minnetonka, Wayzata, Edina, White Bear Lake on a regular basis," he added.
Also expected to talk in support of a move up at tonight's meeting are Denfeld coach Dale Jago; Ted Peterson, the former Proctor coach who remains close to the area's hockey scene; and Duluth Amateur Hockey Association president Brett Klosowski.
They will speak during the "recognition of visitor business" portion of the meeting; the topic is not on the agenda.
Pionk admits his views almost certainly reside in the minority among the Hermantown community. He simply wants the decision-makers to have all the information.
"They need to be made aware of the plight of the rest of the schools that we're playing against," Pionk said. "I don't think they realize the dire straits that some of these towns are in, and really how powerful we are all the way down our program. Nothing is going to change. They need to know that."
The deadline to announce an intention to move up is Friday. However, that isn't likely to happen.
"Right now, we're not going to move up," Hermantown athletic director Beth Clark said. "We're comfortable where we're at. We want to get together after the season and talk about this for the next two years."
Shortly after he was named Bruce Plante's successor in the spring of 2017, and again last winter, Hawks coach Patrick Andrews indicated that joining Class AA was inevitable. When he was hired, Andrews said it was "just a matter of when." A year ago, he said "that will happen." The coach did point out, however, that it's not solely his decision to make. And he's been resolute that Hermantown won't be pressured into anything but will do what's in the best interest of the school.
Andrews last week said he preferred to withhold comment on the topic until after the season.