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Granton’s final shot appears near

If you’re a Bulldog fan these days -- the Granton School District type -- the view is not so bright. Athletic programs at the small school in the village tucked along the Highway 10 elbow may be at their end, doomed by a lack of students interested in participating, and neighbors who aren’t willing to put their own athletes at a disadvantage to help. Sad though it may be, it’s likely the reality, but hopefully not one that will translate into the loss of even more students.

A look back through the pages of this local newspaper finds that Granton athletics once thrived, despite the school’s always smallest-in-the-pack status. There were boys basketball conference titles, athletes qualifying for state events, and rosters full enough to man varsity and junior varsity teams. Now, in a prime example of how participation has eroded, the 2019-20 boys basketball team has nine players total in grades 9-12, and two of them are foreign exchange students. When the Bulldogs head to Bangor for their WIAA playoff game on March 3, might it be their last one ever? The district Board of Education will be deciding soon.

Granton has reached out to its neighbors again, as it has multiple times in recent years. The district has had past cooperative programs with Neillsville, Loyal, and even Greenwood, for volleyball, softball, track and field, cross country, football and wrestling, which have at least kept opportunities alive, but few students have shown interest. Neighboring districts’ willingness to help has penalized them with placement in higher divisions for post-season play, and with only an athlete or two from Granton coming out, the price is not worth the gain. One after another, the co-ops have begun, then fizzled. Those doors look now mostly closed. Loyal, for example, has indicated it is not interested in a full high school co-op program for all sports at this time, though it would consider a junior high venture. That won’t be much help.

But you cannot blame neighbors for not taking Granton in, just for the sake of giving a student or two a chance to play a sport. That’s a noble notion, surely, but neither Loyal nor Neillsville nor Greenwood nor anyone else should potentially degrade their own athletes’ experiences just for the sake of being nice. If there was any indication that Granton’s participation numbers might increase, it may be worth a neighbor’s risk. Such is not the case.

In committing to keeping its own tiny school open all these years, Granton families have shown a remarkable willingness to support something in which they strongly believe -- a local education. However, that also means there will always be a limit on what the school can offer, and the athletic program may be the latest casualty. Especially in this day of public school open enrollment options and private school vouchers, a district that cannot afford as much as a neighbor may well lose students. And that is the real dilemma Granton faces now: if it cuts athletics, will even more students leave? How fast might the snowball roll?

Granton has a difficult choice to make. This is a unique one, since it’s not purely a matter of money. If the local residents could just pass a referendum to save sports programs, they probably would, but this is something dollars won’t fix. The only thing that might save Granton’s athletics now is a partner, and with those understandably unwilling, it’s likely just time to face the facts and focus on what opportunities it can still provide.