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Granton facing choice of co-op with neighbor or no sports

Through discussions over the past few months on the sports situation at the Granton Area School District, it has become clear that student options for sports in the future may be down to just co-oping or no sports. With the situation clear on that front, it’s now a matter of figuring out what any potential co-op would look like and how participation from students, parents and school staff are needed to make such a co-op successful.

In its meeting on Feb. 10, the Granton School Board gave an update about the progress its special committee has made in searching out its options before the WIAA issued April 1 deadline on sports decisions for next year. As of the meeting, the committee had reached out to members of the Loyal School Board to discuss a potential co-op.

“The panel had a discussion with some of the Loyal Board members,” said District Administrator Scott Woodington. “On Friday, I gave Mark (Lacke) the enrollment numbers. They wanted to know those … looking at overall enrollment numbers, they are definitely wanting to have that discussion. We have not made any decisions, we will wait until after their (Loyal) meeting to make the decision.”

Woodington was asked by some of the parents, coaches and residents attending the meeting about the details involved with a co-op with Loyal, in particular, Loyal’s own sports numbers and how long a co-op would be expected to last. Woodington said though Loyal’s sports numbers weren’t shared, all co-op agreements are now limited to one-year terms.

“We didn’t get into numbers (of players), but we know they’re not increasing,” he said. “They’re looking at the number of enrollment (from Granton) to see the effect if they would go up a division. All the co-ops are one year. The discussions I had (with Loyal) we’re looking at longterm, looking at our enrollment long-term.”

For the people in attendance at the meeting, a longterm commitment to a co-op was just one of a few desires they had if the district was looking to co-op. In the past, they said a co-op would get off to a good start, but just a few years in it would end, leaving the Granton athletes no choice but to start over the process of getting to know a new set of teammates and coaches from another district.

“In the past we have made a commitment for two years,” said Cheryl Steinbach. “We should have been talking four or five years, talking long term. Because in the past it’s been, ‘OK, now we’ve got you baited, and now the co-op is ended you have to make a choice, come here or no sports.’” Though the Board agreed that there needed to be a long-term commitment to a co-op if there was going to be a chance at success, they said with the WIAA limiting coop agreements to one-year terms, the district would have no power keep a co-op going for longer than the agreement. An informal, written agreement between Granton and Loyal was proposed to make sure a co-op would last, but even that type of agreement has its shortcomings.

“We can’t keep future school boards in a future commitment,” said Board member Paul Knoff. “We can get something written down, it’s something to look at, but the only way it’s going to work is if you get the youth up to high school persons all working together.”

A youth through high school program for sports was also something discussed at length and was an idea that was spoken of positively by both Board members and residents in attendance.

“It needs to start lower,” said girls basketball coach Jason Strey. “Work with a smaller group and get the kids to know each other by the time they’re in high school. Then it’s not so much of a co-op.”

Though there have been attempts in the past to try starting up some youth programs for sports such as basketball and baseball at the middle school and elementary level, the Board and people attending the meeting said participation numbers in even these programs have been in decline.

“(A middle school co-op), we can explore that,” said Knoff. “Middle school boys, it’s difficult. We have four or five sixth-grade boys and three seventh, soon-to-be, eighth-graders (willing to play). With grades, probably the numbers are lower than that. This year, girls are doing the same thing. The middle school basketball team, we have a mix of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders, it’s questionable we will have enough for a team.”

With low numbers of students participating in sports at all levels, it was asked if nearby schools like Loyal would even be willing to try to make a co-op last. Granton has had a problem in the past of sending enough athletes to keep a co-op together, said Board president Theresa Hasz, and with the sports situation becoming more dire in Granton, the number of athletes willing to participate may be even lower than ever before.

“We can talk co-op all we want, but how many of our students will actually go?” asked Hasz. “It will make or break a co-op right away.”

Having spoken with current coaches at previous meetings about interest from the players in co-oped sports, the Board knows the number of participants from Granton would drop if the team joined another school. For many of these athletes, who have participated in co-oped sports before, there are fears of not being allowed to play and being ostracized by other players. “I’m really scared,” said student-athlete Megan Walter, who plays girls basketball. “We couldn’t get shots off (earlier this year), and now we’re getting some shots off. Does a school want players from a school that doesn’t win? Will we be players for more than two minutes or will we be sitting on the bench?”

“If we do co-op, we need to make sure our kids get a chance to play instead of being just strictly bench warmers,” added Caroline Walter, Megan’s mother. “If we co-op, I’m afraid my kids are not going to have that chance, we want them to have that chance to play. Who will stand up for our girls? It happened in Neillsville.”

The Board said to make sure Granton athletes have representation in a co-op, they will require a coach from the community to be involved with each sport. Having a liaison should give the Granton kids someone familiar to talk to, even when the rest may not be familiar.

“We’re not going to demand that half of the home games will be at Granton,” said Knoff. “We want the co-op to work for games and practices. We will definitely have a Granton staff member in our community who will be a coach, someone our kids are familiar with.”

In investigating this latest opportunity for sports, Knoff said it is important that parents, students and the community try hard to support athletic participation in a co-op. With participation numbers looking the way they are, he said, this may be the school’s last chance to offer sports.

“If we do this, we all have to work together to make it work as a unified party” he said. “If we don’t do something, will this be something we can offer here? We want kids who want to play to get the chance to play. That’s what we’re up against.”

“We can talk co-op all we want, but how many of our students will actually go? It will make or break a co-op right away.” -- Granton Board President Theresa Hasz