Pawns in a chess game.
That’s been the status of Janesville Craig and Janesville Parker football for more than five years now.
Stay in the Big Eight Conference. No, wait. Let’s move them to the Badger South Conference. No, that doesn’t seem to make sense, either, so let’s try the two city schools in the newly-created Badger Large Conference starting in 2020.
Okay, we finally have a home for the two schools.
Or do we?
Recently, Sun Prairie Area School District officials proposed yet another shift for Craig and Parker football starting in 2022. With the addition of Sun Prairie West in 2022, Sun Prairie officials want their two city schools to go to the Badger Large and have Craig and Parker move back to the Big Eight.
Good grief. They haven’t even played a game yet in the Badger Large.
So despite dominating Big Eight football for the past 25 years, the Cardinals want out of the conference in 2022 because half their games might not end with a running clock anymore.
“Taking our enrollment and splitting it between two schools, it will be difficult for both schools to compete in the Big Eight Conference for football,” the Sun Prairie letter read.
I can guarantee there’s nobody outside of Sun Prairie feeling sorry for either school. Sun Prairie was the state’s largest high school in 2019-20 with an enrollment of 2,447. In the fall of 2022, when Sun Prairie East and Sun Prairie West debut, administrators predict each school will be home to 1,300 to 1,350 students. Parker’s enrollment two years ago was 1,311 and certainly shows no signs of going up.
“When the time comes, we will certainly speak out against that proposal,” Craig athletic director Ben McCormick said. “I understand Sun Prairie’s philosophy behind the proposal and that fact that they’re simply looking out for their student-athletes, but a lot of it is based on enrollment projections six, seven years from now. I have a hard time believing Sun Prairie’s enrollment numbers are going to go down (or) ours are going up. That has not been the trend.
“This proposal involves more than 50 schools when you consider the other schools and conferences involved. It just doesn’t make sense, especially for a school like Beloit.”
Under Sun Prairie’s proposal, Beloit Memorial would move to the Southern Lakes in football starting in 2022. With a 2019-20 enrollment of 1,651, Beloit would easily be the biggest school in the Lakes. In what universe does that make sense? And if Sun Prairie is worried about enrollment numbers declining over the next decade, why would they build a new state-of-the-art high school for $164 million?
I consider Sun Prairie West like an expansion team in any professional sport. Expansion teams take their lumps the first couple of years before finding their footing.
And despite boundary rules being in place in Sun Prairie for high school students, I’d bet the farm that the good athletes will continue to go to Sun Prairie East because that’s where many long-tenured, successful coaches are. School choice would seemingly gives one an option to do that, and what kid doesn’t want to go play for Brian Kaminski (football), Rob Hamilton (baseball), Jamie Olson (softball) or Jeff Boos (boys basketball)? Maybe Sun Prairie West becomes a liberal arts or fine arts school, which is perfectly fine, but the successful programs will already be in place at Sun Prairie East.
Clayton Kreger is not only Parker’s athletic director but the head football coach, as well. He’d like to first see what life’s like in the Badger Large before hopping back into the rugged Big Eight.
“I think right now the Badger Large is the best fit for us,” Kreger said. “Sun Prairie has been very good about letting us know for some time that this (proposal) was coming, but in talking to Ben (McCormick), we just don’t think it’s something we can get on board with. We love the Big Eight, but the Badger Large is a new opportunity with new schools to compete against.”
Time will tell how the other schools and conferences that would be affected by Sun Prairie’s proposal feel about it. The WIAA has a new Conference Realignment Task Force that helps handle such proposals, and it just went through its process for the first time this past winter.
The intent of the new conference realignment process, according to the WIAA, was to apply a more formalized method for member schools to request relief from conference affiliations.
The WIAA Board of Control still has final determinations of all conference alignment decisions.
Hopefully in due time if the proposal reaches its desk, the WIAA calls checkmate on Sun Prairie.