Two issues that have concerned high school sports fans – conference alignment and “equal competition” – are on the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association Annual Meeting agenda April 16 in Stevens Point.
Representatives of state school districts will vote on removing the WIAA Board of Control authority in conference alignments. If approved, member schools will be responsible for their own conference affiliations.
The other vote is establishing a 1.65 multiplier, applicable to enrollments of private, religious and independent schools for tournament placement. Each 100 private school students will be counted as 165.
A review of state basketball tournament history shows dominance by private schools in the field – especially in the lower divisions. This difference is an issue with several End Stool regulars with a parochial school blocking their team’s path to state.
My nephew Jay, who just retired after five years as girls coach and more than two decades as assistant to Greg Jensen at Amherst, is philosophical about the private school inequity fans see.
“It comes down to playing well,” Jay said. “Playing good competition makes you a better team.” His girls went 6-1 against private schools, losing to Wisconsin Rapids Assumption and beating Eau Claire Regis, two state tournament qualifiers this year.
He also noted that the Central Wisconsin Conference has been stable through the years, while schools east and north have had a lot of instability in conference affiliation. The 18-team CWC is split into 10 small and 8 large school divisions.
The shakeup in conferences began shortly after I came to New London in 1964 as the Post-Crescent writer.
At that time New London was the west boundary of the Mideastern Conference – an eight-school league. Neenah anchored the south, Two Rivers the east and Clintonville and Shawano the north. Completing the annual rivalries were Menasha, Kaukauna and Kimberly.
It was a near ideal set up for travel and rivalries as many parents competed against many of the schools.
Neenah and Kimberly were at one of their peaks in basketball and Clintonville and Shawano had recently made the single class state tournament.
The Mideast had hallmark basketball coaches – Carl Bruggink at Clintonville, Rudy Ellis at Shawano, Jack Wippich at Kimberly, Ole Jorgenson at Neenah and Clem Massey at Menasha.
Neenah, Menasha, Clintonville and Kaukauna had powerful football teams in 1964. Larry Graves’ Bulldogs were sophomore dominated that year, but were strong in succeeding years – playing to a 13-13 tie with Division 1 talent-rich Neenah in 1965.
The Fox Valley Association was formed about 1970 and was an ideal conference for rivalries and travel – anchored by Kaukauna upriver on the Fox and Oshkosh West downstream. Between were Kimberly, Appleton West, Appleton East, Menasha, Neenah and Oshkosh North.
The split was not as accommodating for Clintonville and Shawano that became part of the original Bay Conference or New London that became a member of a conference it had little history with including Omro, Winneconne, Berlin and Ripon.
Dick Bennett moved down U.S. 45 from Marion to New London and turned the basketball program around in short order, losing in the sectional final in his last season, moving on to coach the Eau Claire Old Abes.
A major role in reorganization was played by the WIAA and that has continued through the latest lineup including 76 northeast Wisconsin schools in eight conferences.
The latest lineup actually is a non-conference as some schools are designated in a football conference and also in an all-other sports conference.
The 10-team Bay Conference is reduced to eight: New London, Seymour, Shawano and West De Pere plus Menasha, Xavier and Green Bay East and West. Waupaca is designated in football only.
The Comets are part of an Eastern Valley conference that combines Clintonville, Fox Valley Lutheran, Freedom, Little Chute, Denmark, Luxemburg-Casco, Marinette, Oconto Falls and Wrightstown.
The new lineups lessen travel time for New London and have some natural rivalries.
Waupaca and Clintonville fans are not as fortunate as road trips to Denmark, Luxemburg-Casco, Marinette and Oconto Falls are arduous, especially at night and in winter.
This column addressed the conference alignment issue several times and shares the concern of fans about fair play.
Costs, especially transportation, will continue to increase and local districts will consider those, in addition to other amenities, when considering conference affiliations.
Adopting the two changes is no guarantee the future will be problem or controversy-free.