Nobody needs to tell anybody these are tough times.
They are particularly tough, if not devastating, for sports at all levels across the country.
The WIAA’s decisions in regard to high school sports were understandable, probably inevitable, but still were met with great disappointment, especially for those involved. Cancellation of the basketball tournaments, in particular, wiped out what almost certainly would have been the Beloit Turner boys’ first trip to state and very likely the Elkhorn boys’ second straight.
Even if the WIAA basketball tournaments had been played, it would have been without fans and no Kohl Center for the boys.
There’s a good chance, too, they would have brought less-than-pleasing results.
Turner’s very good 22-4 boys team most likely would have been paired in the Division 3 state semifinals against undefeated Racine St. Catherine’s, which beat the Trojans by 40 points (71-31) during the regular season.
St. Catherine’s boys would have been coming out of what some area coaches dubbed the “all-recruiting sectional”—St. Catherine’s, East Troy, Greendale Martin Luther and St. John’s Military Northwestern Academy.
Placed amid that group, a very good Lake Mills team became an innocent victim, just as the L-Cats had in football.
Of course, nobody admits to recruiting, but …
It’s common knowledge that open enrollment has set up some teams in recent years to have multiple boys basketball starters who live outside their districts.
Meanwhile, beyond obvious COVID-19 concerns, the WIAA has other issues it needs to soon address. No. 1 might be the private schools’ impact on tournament play, particularly for football and basketball.
The WIAA has made some attempts to address the private schools’ placement in tournament divisions, only to wind up back at Square 1—that all member schools should be treated equally and placed in divisions the same way, via their actual enrollment. All the while, the small private schools with high-level boys talent have been taking over the lower divisions that supposedly were designed for small-town schools.
Football coaches stated publicly this past fall that it would be a travesty if Waukesha Catholic Memorial wound up in Division 4. When that’s where Catholic Memorial landed, the coaches were emphatically proven to be right. With talent that carried them to second place in the powerful Classic Eight Conference, the Crusaders steamrolled their way to a state championship with 65-0, 39-0, 47-14, 42-7 and 35-0 wins.
Fond du Lac Springs has placed similar ownership in the lower football divisions by making 18 playoff appearances since the private schools became WIAA members in 2000, winning 75 postseason games and eight state championships. Whitefish Bay Dominican and Racine St. Catherine’s have had similar dominance in boys basketball.
In each of those cases, it was a school from a significantly populated area, where the abundance of talent obviously is superior—thus stealing the thunder from potential state champions in small towns. And for some time, that situation has been begging for the WIAA to take action, to find a way to place the private schools in higher divisions (where they really belong) and provide a level playing field for all involved.
At the same time, the WIAA needs to take notice (if it hasn’t already) of what’s going on in the so-called alternative schools (public or private), particularly in the Milwaukee area. Those schools are operating with small enrollments, pulling in Division 1 (maybe even NCAA Division I) boys basketball talent and taking it to the small-town schools at WIAA tournament time.
A current, but not isolated, example is Milwaukee Academy of Science, a school with an enrollment of 243. The Novas had a 20-3 season, were No. 3 in the Division 4 state ratings and on track to challenge top-ranked Cuba City (24-0), possibly the best team in coach Jerry Petitgoue’s long and ultra-successful tenure with the Cubans. Thanks to the WIAA’s cancellations, it didn’t get that far.
Just a note, though, to indicate the Academy’s strength: Two of its three losses were to notable state powers—66-56 to Glendale Nicolet and 75-68 to Milwaukee King, which had an unbeaten regular season.
While it’s at it, the WIAA might examine open enrollment’s overall impact (or lack thereof) on sports. It wouldn’t hurt, either, to review the five-division basketball tournament structure.
Shortly before he retired, WIAA executive director Doug Chickering told this writer that the association would never dismantle the eight-team Division 1 state tournament, because “that’s our showcase.”
Not long after he retired—BOOM!—that “showcase” became history, to the dissatisfaction of many, some of whom said: “They ruined the state tournament.”
Maybe it’s time to consider a return to the old ways.
Tough decisions for tough times.