Fixing (maybe) what is (maybe) broken

While the bigger news from the WIAA was the three-seasons-away institution of the shot clock in basketball, bigger news may be reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Before private schools joined the WIAA and before the growth of small charter/choice schools in the Milwaukee area, basketball teams from small towns and rural areas won state titles almost every year.

If a proposal presented to the WIAA Board of Control on Thursday wins favor, that would again be the case in Divisions 4 and 5.

Board member Luke Francois of Mineral Point presented to the board a plan he crafted that he thinks could solve the issue of competitive equity in boys and girls basketball, a matter that has been simmering in the southwest corner of the state for the past few years.

The board did not approve the divisional placement proposal but did give it initial review and consideration and plan to make a topic of discussion at area meetings in September. The board did, however, vote to convene the basketball coaches advisory committee soon after the area meetings to discuss the plan’s merits. That group usually meets after the conclusion of the season but is being asked to meet earlier so that the proposal can make its way through the committee process and back to the board in time for its January meeting.

“Every proposal starts somewhere and this was the first opportunity that we’ve had to come together as a group and for me to lay out some of my best thinking with some of my counterparts and colleagues in front of the board,” Francois said. “It was an opportunity for us to poke some holes in it and ask some questions and clarify what the plan was.”

If the plans wins approval, it would take effect in 2018-19. Francois’ proposal called for it to have a two-year trial period.

Francois’ plan uses the designations given to each school by Department of Instruction, which categorize a school as city, suburban, rural or town, to place schools into divisions.

Here is how Francois’ plan would work.

*Division 1 – Schools with enrollments of 1,200 or more.

*Division 2 – Schools with enrollments of 600-1,200.

*Division 3 – Schools classified as city or suburban with less than 600 students and schools of 450-600 enrollment that are classified as rural or town but weren’t placed in Divisions 4 or 5.

* Division 4 – The 128 rural or town schools with the lowest enrollment after Division 5 is determined.

* Division 5 – the 128 rural or town schools with the lowest enrollment.

“In Mineral Point, the contention was that the geographical draw in the I-43 corridor in just a 10-mile radius drawfs the entire draw that Mineral Point would have in all of Iowa County, just from the number of kids who could potentially travel to or attend that school district,” Francois said.

“The whole idea of urbans playing urbans and rurals playing rurals is to try to have a similar geographical draw and similar opportunities for kids in like-minded classification codes, which would be rurals and towns urbans and suburbans.”

“You can drive 45 minutes down the road and the experience in basketball in one community can be vastly different, suburban-urban, than it is in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, which is more rural.”

Under this plan, a great majority of schools in southeast Wisconsin would play in no lower than Division 3 regardless of their enrollment.

The proposal didn’t make a positive first-impress on board member Eric Coleman, an administrator in Milwaukee Public Schools.

“I think it creates segregation,” he said. “I’m not against it being presented to the association, so that everyone can hear the information so that it’s not confined to a small group of people and let them come to their own decision. But as far as me, I don’t like it. I don’t agree with it.

“I think the bigger issue is a race thing. Certain pockets, certain schools feel that the private schools from southeastern Wisconsin, specifically Milwaukee that have predominately African-American players are keeping them from winning state tournaments, so if you take them out of the equation, it increased their chances of winning the gold ball.”

Leave it to a Milwaukee Public Schools bureaucrat to immediately play the race card.

The proposal created more than hour of discussion before a motion was passed to convene the members of the basketball coaches committee following the area meeting.

Initially, Francois asked the board to adopt the plan pending approval of a majority in two of three groups: coaches advisory, sports advisory council and advisory council.

Kenosha administrator Steve Knecht was one of the board members who said he wouldn’t support the plan without more time to review it.

“I think we had a lot of good discussion because it’s good to hear different points of view from different people from different parts of the state on what real problems there are,” Knecht said. “I don’t see it currently as a problem the way basketball is set up … What we’re going to put out there, it’s good to get the feedback. I didn’t want to act on anything today other than to get it out there for people to see.”

This proposal is aimed right at the private-school athletic factories of La Crosse Aquinas (state Division 4 baseball champion and state Division 4 girls basketball runner-up), Madison Edgewood (state Division 3 girls basketball champion), Appleton Xavier (state Division 3 boys basketball champion), Eau Claire Regis (state Division 6 football champion), Manitowoc Roncalli (went to state in Division 4 boys basketball), Chippewa Falls McDonell Central (state champion in D5 softball and state in D5 girls basketball), Marshfield Columbus (ditto), Stevens Point Pacelli (D4 softball runner-up), Wausau Newman (D4 girls volleyball champion), Oshkosh Lourdes (D3 girls volleyball runner-up), Waukesha Catholic Memorial (D2 girls volleyball and D3 football champion), Green Bay Notre Dame (D2 girls volleyball runner-up and D3 football runner-up), Lake Mills Lakeside Lutheran (state in D2 girls volleyball), Milwaukee’s Divine Savior Holy Angels (state in D1 girls volleyball) These schools and others (Burlington Catholic Central and Whitefish Bay Dominican) are accused of recruiting public-school students, which they deny and which in turn is never believed.

As with anything, though, trying to kill one bug (the previous paragraph) will kill others. Most Wisconsin private schools are not athletic factories, and yet a 100-student Christian school will be in the same class as schools six times its size, and will be accordingly crushed early in the playoffs. It’s also not clear whether this proposal will include another small-school bugbear, charter schools, which are public schools generally in large metro areas. (Milwaukee Destiny was last year’s state D4 boys basketball champion, one season after Milwaukee’s Young Coggs Prep won the D5 title.)

There is also an argument to be made about whether or not in the era of open public school enrollment this should matter. Students now go to schools other than in their own school district of residence for sports reasons. Whether this is bad or not depends on whether you believe where a student lives should force that student to attend that school regardless of reasons that shouldn’t be the case.

One wonders if the solution to the private-school problem is to simply separate them out — to have, for instance, three public divisions and two private divisions at state. That doesn’t eject public schools from the WIAA, nor does it separate them from playing public schools in the regular season; it would simply group the schools that appear to play by different rules. (For instance, girls volleyball powers play out-of-state tournaments, which public schools rarely do for resource reasons.)

It will be interesting to watch the reaction to this proposal over the next school year.

 

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