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Loyal cool to request for full sports co-op with Granton

Loyal’s Board of Education may be willing to work with neighboring Granton to combine junior high athletic programs over the next few years, but is leery of taking on a full high school cooperative agreement and risking sending its teams to higher divisions for postseason playoffs. Board members said last week they are sympathetic to Granton’s struggle with declining athlete numbers and the possible end of their sports programs, but is it the best thing for Loyal’s athletes to take on players from another school?

The Loyal Board at its Feb. 12 monthly meeting discussed Granton’s request for a possible full cooperative program for all sports programs. Granton’s athlete numbers have dwindled to the point where it can barely field teams, and it is looking to neighbors for a possible co-op venture that could give its students opportunities to play. No formal talks have yet been held, and Loyal took no action last week. Loyal district administrator Mark Lacke said a main impact of co-oping programs with Granton would be the addition of Granton’s enrollment for post-season competition. Loyal has about 155 of its own high school students, which places it in the lowest division for WIAA playoffs. If the schools were to co-op, Granton’s enrollment of approximately 63 students would be added to Loyal’s count, pushing a combined program into a higher division.

“It would put us up a division in football, basketball, softball and baseball, so our kids would be playing against bigger schools,” Lacke said.

Loyal currently co-ops with Greenwood for cross country, with Greenwood and Neillsville for wrestling, and with Neillsville for golf, but otherwise fields its own teams in football, volleyball, boys and girls basketball, track and field, softball and baseball. While Granton still has a co-op agreement with Neillsville for football and cross-country, it has its own programs for boys and girls basketball and baseball. It has no offering for various sports such as wrestling or softball. The programs it does still offer are barely surviving, with the boys basketball program, for example, having only nine players this year in grades 9-12.

Loyal’s Board members are expressing concerns with putting Loyal’s athletes at a competitive disadvantage,

“I want to protect our students, but in the same breath, I don’t want to deny opportunities for any student. My heart is really split.” -- Loyal Board member Jen Kadolph especially since there is no guarantee that Granton would send more than an athlete or two for a sport.

“We’re all committed to Loyal. I think we have a stellar program here for all of our athletes,” said Board member Jen Kadolph. “I want to protect our students, but in the same breath, I don’t want to deny opportunities for any student. My heart is really split.”

Board member Tom Odeen noted that Loyal and Granton have tried combined programs in the past for football, softball and volleyball. Granton at first sent over several athletes, but then the numbers fell, and the co-ops were not renewed. He suggested the schools start at the junior high level “to see if they can’t build interest and get more participants.”

Odeen said it isn’t fair to Loyal athletes to have to face tougher playoff opponents just to give a few Granton students a chance to participate.

“You want to help our neighbors, but is it a win-win situation for both schools?” Odeen said. “It’s a hard decision. Not that (winning) is the most important thing, but certainly that’s the struggle.”

Board President Dan Zimmerman said Loyal could consider a joint junior high program and “seeing if something could build from there.”

If Granton is serious about that, he said, the boards from each district would have to meet and talk about how such a program might work.

“The ball is in their court at this point, so to speak,” Zimmerman said.