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December 10, 2018

11/23/2018 9:52:00 AM
Highland football quickly becoming one of a kind

In a perfect world the body that governs high school athletics in the state of Wisconsin would have all the answers for the football problems that continue year after year.
That body would be the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) that a few years back developed a playoff system that unlike other sports they offer, not all teams make the field at the end of their season. Currently they sponsor seven divisions which moves to eight in all when the fairly new 8-man teams come into play.
Then, last year, the WIAA came up with a divisional plan that would place schools sponsoring football into eight team divisions based mostly on enrollment with distance a distant second. To play off that, the Wisconsin Football Association modified the plan and submitted it to the WIAA which, if accepted, would go into effect in 2020.
Sounds easy, right?
But as the families and supporters of Highland football found out last Wednesday, the issue is far from settled.
For 2019 the field is set, barring a school dropping the sport or modifying it to play a junior varsity schedule only. It is 2020 where the problem kicks in.
After many years playing in the Six Rivers football league the Cardinals have been shifted the Ridge and Valley. In the Six Rivers they played Belmont (99), Benton/Scales Mound (129), Black Hawk (99), Pecatonica/Argyle (216), River Ridge (171) and Shullsburg (117). Since the co-ops came into existence it has been much harder for the teams representing a single school to have a winning season. Black Hawk is an exception as they won the Six Rivers title the past two seasons and this year won the Division 7 state crown with a thrilling win over Edgar.
But this will be their last year as Black Hawk as they are planning to cross the state line and co-op with Warren, IL next season.
The plan for 2019 is to switch the Cardinals (82) and Belmont (99) to the Ridge and Valley where their opponents will include De Soto (152), Ithaca (130), Kickapoo/LaFarge (234), North Crawford (138), Riverdale (152), Wauzeka-Steuben/Seneca (198) and Wonewoc-Center/Weston (189). Teams in that league will play post season in Division 7.
So....onward to 2020.
The Wisconsin Football Coaches Association plan, which is sure to draw WIAA favor, shakes things up again after a year in the divisional play concept. They kept the same idea for size of school but changed the face of who will play who.
Highland's would return to the Six Rivers and would play Potosi/Cassville (192), Iowa-Grant (172), River Ridge (171), Southwestern (167) Black Hawk/Warren (Il), (160), Benton/Scales Mound (Il) (149), Belmont (99).
The Ridge and Valley would also see a facelift with Kickapoo/LaFarge, Boscobel, Wauzeka/Steuben, Wonewoc/Weston, Riverdale, De Soto, North Crawford and Ithaca.
So what is the problem?
A move to eight man football has entered the scene with Shullsburg already sure to make the move for 2020 and this past week the Kickapoo school board voted to go to 8-man football in 2020 with a decision of what to do about LaFarge still in the talking stages. Also, North Crawford and Wonewoc/Weston have been in talks to consider fielding teams at the 8-man level.
In the Six Rivers (2020 version) Belmont has approached Platteville, Mineral Point and Highland about a co-op situation. Platteville and Mineral Point have said no as they do not want to add an enrollment of nearly 100 to their numbers and play up a division. Highland is studying the request but those who attended the meeting last week voiced concerns, such as distance to travel for practice and how long the co-op would be in effect.
The distance between the two schools is estimated at 45 minutes which would mean late practices added onto an already long school day. It would also create a logistics problem for getting to and from games. Belmont did say they would travel to Highland for the co-op with their only request being a home game at Belmont for their annual Fair Day.
Officials with the youth football program which features an Iowa-Grant/Highland co-op said there are more kids playing at the youth levels on the Belmont teams than are on the IGH teams, causing them to wonder if it is a temporary program or long range. They see no value in combining for the mandatory two years then having Belmont withdraw.
One of the parents, with friends in Belmont, said three boys are considering open enrollment to schools with sustainable football programs because they want to be able to play the sport they love.
Belmont is also considering 8-man football if other teams do the same.
Highland has also been in talks with Iowa-Grant about a co-op situation but has done that more as a preventive plan than a request. Principal Josh Tarrell, athletic director Lynn Michek and head coach Mike Aide feel there are ample numbers for Highland to field an 11 man team for many years.
But will they have a place to play if the move to 8-man intensifies is the question they are faced with.
At present 8-man football has its own playoffs and qualifying procedure. If enough Division 7 teams go that route, dropping the 11 man numbers, Division 7 would be dropped in favor of the 8-man division. That scenario would develop a whole new set of dynamics for the WIAA and the teams in D7 fielding 11 man squads. Also, at present, 8-man teams from schools with over 200 enrollment in the high school are not eligible for the playoffs.
Besides Belmont and Iowa-Grant, Highland has been in subtle talks with Riverdale as a future co-op situation. But as of now the Cardinals will be a separate entity and remain an 11 man program. One of the reasons for that plan is there are 38 players considering playing next season which is most of the boys in the high school.
"Our program has always been one we are proud of and we want that to continue," said one of the parents.
The picture may become clearer after first of the year. For a co-op to be established the WIAA timeline is a school board decision in October, a vote by the gaining conference in November followed by an application to the WIAA by December 1.
Tarrell said there could be a lot of decisions or no decision.
"We have to do what is best for our kids to keep them safe," he said.
One of the school board members in attendance said "It is good to be in the position we are in at Highland. We are one program that is not being forced to make a decision."
Tarrell and Michek said there will be more meetings in the future to update the community on what direction football in the area is taking.
"We have always had football here and tons of community support," Tarrell said. "Kids here expect to play football."

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