Parker vs. Craig

Janesville Craig’s Tegan Christiansen knocks the ball away from Janesville Parker’s Brody Lippens during the first half of their annual crosstown rivalry game on Aug. 25. Craig won the game 41-0, the largest-ever margin of victory in the Battle for the Monterey Rock series.

Some Janesville Parker teams aren’t just losing this year.

Many of their games aren’t even competitive, and the blowouts raise questions about the direction of the school’s athletic programs and the widening performance gap between Parker and Janesville Craig.

This year’s football contest between Craig and Parker, known as the Battle for the Monterey Rock, was indicative. Craig won the game 41-0, the largest-ever margin of victory in the series. For the season, Parker has lost its games by a combined score of 197 to 23.

The outcomes aren’t much better in soccer. Craig’s boys team beat Parker this month 11-1.

And given the Parker boys basketball team finished 2-21 last year, expectations aren’t too high for this season, either.

To be sure, Parker has some competitive teams. Its girls basketball team—while nowhere close to being the powerhouse it was during the Mistie Bass era—wins games. Girls volleyball, softball and golf also have had success, and not every boys program has been losing. The baseball team posted a 15-9 record last year.

But the overall direction of Parker athletics is worrisome, including the high turnover among coaches and the athletic director position.

Five coaches have resigned in the past year, Gazette reporter John Barry noted in his July 6 column. Parker also has had three athletic directors in the last three years.

One of the coaches to resign, girls track and field coach Kristin Collins, pulled no punches in blaming the administration for Parker’s performance slide. “Longtime coaches like (former girls basketball coach Tom) Klawitter that brought success were ran out because administration doesn’t care how our sports programs do,” she said. “It makes it tough for a coach if you’re not on the same page as the administration.”

That’s a damning accusation.

To be fair, it doesn’t explain (if true) all that is wrong with Parker athletics.

We asked Superintendent Steve Pophal for his opinion about discrepancies between the two schools’ athletic programs, and, not surprisingly, he doesn’t blame the leadership at Parker.

“I’d make the argument that you can flip-flop the coaches, the administration, the athletic directors between these two schools, and I can tell you it’s not about the adults. It’s about the difference in the demographics and size between these two schools,” Pophal said.

He makes good points about the demographics: about 1 in 3 Craig students qualify for free lunch, versus 1 in 2 Parker students.

Poorer students might not have the luxury to play after-school sports and instead must work. Their parents also likely cannot afford private clubs and additional training.

Another challenge facing Parker: It has nearly 400 fewer students than Craig. In having to draw from a smaller pool of talent, Parker starts each season at a competitive disadvantage.

Open enrollment exacerbates Parker’s socioeconomic challenges. Perception becomes reality as some students and their parents make athletics the deciding factor on whether to enroll at Craig or Parker.

To a great degree, demographics and enrollment trends are beyond the administration’s control, but Pophal is making a mistake to dismiss Collins’ concerns.

As for the community, it should resist encouraging an imbalance between its two high schools. Private benefactors should do what they can—perhaps by making more college scholarships available to Parker athletes—to help narrow the gap.

Winning isn’t everything, obviously. But being competitive should matter, and too many Parker teams aren’t.

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