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A Hail Mary

We find ourselves torn between the two sides of the debate over whether the Colby School District should discontinue its co-op cross-country team with its neighbor to the north. Listening to arguments from parents on either side of the issue, it’s hard to deny the sincere desire of everyone involved to do what’s best for their kids.

Right now, unfortunately, it doesn’t appear as if a “win-win” is possible. If the school board votes next month to end the co-op for the next two school years, two dedicated Abbotsford runners will find themselves without a team. On the other hand, if the board votes to renew the cooperative, the team will not be as competitive as it could be if it were allowed into Division 3.

Of course, much of this conundrum can be attributed to the rules established by the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Association. The WIAA says co-op teams need to combine the student populations of both high schools to determine which division the team competes in. In most situations, this makes sense. Being able to draw from the students bodies of two high schools should theoretically give a co-op a similar competitive advantage to a single high school with roughly the same enrollment.

However, as cross-country parent Craig Oehmichen pointed out at Monday night’s meeting, this isn’t the case with Colby and Abbotsford at this point in time. The draw from other fall sports, such as football and swimming, can significantly deplete the number of students available for the cross-country team. With Colby hosting the team, recruitment of Abbotsford kids apparently becomes more difficult.

At this point, our best guest for a solution is to have the two Abbotsford runners open-enroll into the Colby School District and request a waiver of the WIAA’s one-year moratorium on participation in varsity sports for transfer students. On its website, the WIAA has a waiver request checklist that spells out what is required for a transfer student wanting to continue competing in sports.

According to the form, a lot of weight is given to “extenuating circumstances,” which are defined as “an unforeseeable, unavoidable and uncorrectable act, condition or event which results in severe burden and/or involuntary change.” The WIAA says it will consider how much of the situation is beyond the control of the student or parents.

“Denial is made when it appears this student’s situation has come about largely as a result of choices, decisions and/or actions made by the student or his/ her family.”

If the Colby school board votes to discontinue the co-op — despite pleas from the Abbotsford students and their parents — we’d say that definitely qualifi es as “extenuating circumstances” as defined by the WIAA. The waiver process also requires support from athletic directors in both school districts, along with letters from the students and their parents describing their reasons for needing a waiver. The WIAA also accepts “supplemental documentation” when considering the request, and we’d hope that letters from the cross-country coach, school board members and others could bolster the waiver claim.

To borrow a term from another sport, this waiver process may be a bit of a “Hail Mary” pass for the two students involved. The open enrollment period for the 2020-2021 school year runs from Feb. 3 to April 30, so the families would have to decide during those three months whether they want to move their kids out of Abbotsford and into Colby just so they continue running cross-country. And, at that point, they likely won’t know for sure if the WIAA will allow them to run if they transfer.

This scenario assumes that the school board votes to dissolve the co-op. If they instead vote to renew it, we wouldn’t blame them, but they could likely expect some backlash from Colby’s cross-country parents. Unfortunately, there are no perfect solutions here, unless the WIAA decides to act in the best of these two students, who have a clear and compelling dedication to the sport of cross-country running.

The Tribune-Phonograph editorial board consists of publisher Kris O’Leary and editor Kevin O’Brien