Area schools, WIAA talk conference realignment

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Eric Schmoldt
Saturday, April 19, 2014

Control of conference alignment is staying in the hands of the WIAA Board of Control.

In a vote that—understandably—took a back seat to the proposed enrollment multiplier at this week’s WIAA membership meeting in Stevens Point, a proposed amendment to return the authority of determining conference affiliation to the membership fell by a vote of 400-26.

A WIAA press release spelled out the existing policy, which “requires a member school, or schools, to petition or declare a request for conference realignment at the area meetings. The executive staff is responsible for identifying a realignment plan. The staff proposal is then presented to the Board for first consideration before final action is taken following a 40-day appeal period.”

While the private-school multiplier was most newsworthy for the state, and it will continue to be over the next year as the situation unfolds, the alignment matter is significant locally.

Several programs in southern Wisconsin, led by Orfordville Parkview Athletic Director Shane Suehring, have let the WIAA know that they are interested in shifting conferences.

WIAA Associate Director Deb Hauser traveled to Edgerton on April 9 for a Rock Valley Conference principals’ meeting. Also included in the listening session were some of the RVC athletic directors, including Suehring and Walworth Big Foot’s Tim Collins.

“It’s very, very early in the whole process,” Hauser said in a phone interview this week. “I met with (them) just to begin to listen to what the concerns are. Really reached no conclusions at all, but we’re beginning to explore the concerns.

“It appears, from what I gathered from the principals, they’re looking to decrease the enrollment disparities, even if it means they might have to travel a little bit further.”

Parkview has the lowest enrollment in the Rock Valley Conference, officially listed at 293. Big Foot is the largest team in the South Division at 515. In the North, enrollments range from 498 at Evansville (which grows to 602 when it co-ops with Albany in some sports) to 703 at McFarland. Thus, when Parkview faces McFarland in crossover meetings, the Vikings face a program with an enrollment well more than twice their own.

“With a smaller enrollment, we have smaller participation numbers than everyone else,” Suehring said in an interview last fall. “It’s not just football; we have some other sports where we’re affected, as well. We enjoy the conference itself, but it is harder for us to compete in a lot of sports when some of these large schools are putting 70 kids out for football, where programwide, we’re about 35 this year.”

Suehring didn’t return multiple voicemails late this week.

“Shane was invited (to the principals’ meeting) because he’s been working very hard on it,” Collins said. “He came with a number of proposals, and it was pretty much just a listening session. (Deb) took some suggestions, and we threw some other people out there that may be involved.”

Indeed, this potential realignment would have a ripple affect far beyond the Rock Valley.

In January, the WIAA wrapped up a massive realignment in the Green Bay area that affected 76 schools in eight conferences.

Hauser wasn’t ready to predict such a major project in this region, but programs from two other conferences—Trailways and Southern Lakes—have also expressed interest in changes.

“We also know that Delavan-Darien wants to come into the Rock,” Hauser said. “We’re hearing some rumblings up in the (Trailways) that Johnson Creek and Deerfield may be interested in being a part of the Capitol.

“So it appears that this might unfold to be a little bit larger than perhaps Shane thought when he made the request for Parkview to go elsewhere.”

Delavan-Darien is the smallest member of the eight-team Southern Lakes. Enrollment at Delavan-Darien is listed at 756. The next smallest school is Elkhorn at 857, while the largest, Lake Geneva Badger, sits at 1,421.

“I just feel that we’re a much better fit (in the Rock Valley),” Comets Athletic Director Craig Lodahl said. “We could have eight teams where we would basically go anywhere from 550 students to 750 students in a school, instead of where we’re at, at 750 all the way up to like 1,400 with Badger.”

The trick is to create the best possible situation for schools in terms of both enrollment and travel distance.

Also, the Southern Lakes, after having seven members, is happy to currently sit at eight. But Delavan-Darien routinely faces the larger Rock Valley schools in postseason play.

“That’s who we compete against in postseason play because that’s the size school we should be with,” Lodahl said. “It’s something that hopefully we’re pushing forward on and making headway.”

Indeed, with the Green Bay area realignment in the rearview, area officials are happy to at least see discussions begin locally.

That said, don’t expect to see changes overnight.

“I just have no idea (how long this could take),” Hauser said. “As we approach summer, it becomes a little more difficult to get people together. But we’re still hoping to have some meetings yet in May, and we’ll just get a sense for where people are.”

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