Rib Lake will keep co-op 11-man football through at least 2021 season
Rib Lake and Prentice will continue their decades-long football partnership at least for another year.
Members of the Rib Lake school decided to to finish out the current twoyear conference alignment cycle as an 11-man co-op team and keep open the possibility of looking at 8-man options for 2022 and beyond. With a conference schedule that includes significant travel times, the possibility of needing to invest in new uniforms and the growing number of 8-man football options in the region, board members last month had put off making a decision on the future of the co-op program with Prentice and invited former and current athletic directors Mike Wudi and Paul Yanko to the January 14 meeting to give the additional information and options.
Wudi outlined four basic options for the district including continuing as they are with an 11-man co-op program; keeping things the same for another year to buy time to explore options; switch to an 8-man co-op team with Prentice; or breaking with Prentice with each school having their own 8-man program.
Wudi said the concern with the current situation is that because of the size of the conference, there are two long trips for each of the teams to make each season. This year it was scheduled to be going to Webster and Hurley with Grantsburg and United supposed to come to Rib Lake.
“Those guys don’t want to travel further than we do,” Wudi said, noting Webster is a three-hour drive. Wudi noted that the major benefit of maintaining the status quo is that it is easier to schedule games within a conference and the eligibility to compete in playoffs. Negatives include not knowing conference affi liation after 2023. Wudi said scheduling when not in a conference creates headaches and could have the players traveling even further to play games.
Administrator Rick Cardey agreed, citing his time of serving as an athletic director and the challenge of trying to schedule games. “Anything beyond a conference schedule is a crapshoot,” Cardey said.
The second option of keeping the status quo through next football season will have the benefit of the conference schedule and providing more time for the district to explore the possible pros and cons of 8-man football.
If the district were to make the switch to 8-man football for next season as a co-op program, under WIAA rules they would be ineligible for playoffs and have many of the same issues with scheduling games because they would not be in a conference. They would have to wait until 2024 to be able to join a conference. Because the combined enrollment of the districts, a co-op 8-man team would never have playoff eligibility.
Breaking up the co-op and each school doing 8-man football gives the potential for reduced travel and playing against similar-sized schools. However, again there would be no possibility of conference membership until 2024 with the potential for no playoff eligibility through the 2024 season. In addition there will be costs for both districts as they divide their equipment.
“It would be a scramble,” Wudi said.
One of the issues board members had last month was with needing to purchase new uniform jerseys to comply with WIAA rules requiring the home jersey to be dark colored, the current jerseys are gold. Board members had been uncomfortable with investing in new uniforms if they would have to pay for uniforms again if the co-op split up.
Wudi said the district would look at options and talk with the WIAA to see if they could get a waiver given the circumstances. “We understand you don’t want to spend money for something you won’t be using in a year or so,” Wudi said suggesting there is room for creativity in interpreting the rulebook.
Board member Stacy Tlusty asked what the input of the coaches was in regard to the possibility of switching to 8-man football or staying 11-man. Wudi said in talking with school officials from Prentice that Prentice is very much in favor of maintaining the co-op. “They are a little apprehensive,” Wudi said of the coaches, noting they don’t have a lot of knowledge with 8-man football. He said they would like more time to make the transition in order to learn more about it and how it is played versus 11-man.
Tlusty said she felt the district was behind already in making the change. “The longer we wait, the longer we will have to be playing catch up,” she said.
Wudi raised the discussion point of how important being eligible for playoffs is compared to the benefits of being in an 8-man program. He said he favored waiting at least through next season in order to give more time for scheduling.
Tlusty questioned the interest in middle school football and how that would impact the number of players going forward. In 2018 and 2019, the number of middle schoolers was around 15 and 16 kids evenly split between Rib Lake and Prentice. In 2020, numbers were up but it was a flag football program and included sixth graders. Over the past three seasons at the high school level, the team size was 36 in 2018, 30 in 2019 and 32 in 2020 with about two-thirds of the players from Rib Lake. It was noted that these numbers are high compared to most 8-man team programs and that they could run into issues with playing time.
Tlusty noted that from what she has heard 8-man involves more running and less contact, which she said may appeal to parents and students. “It is a lot more running, especially for the referees,” Wudi said.
Cardey favored waiting at least another year to allow more time for planning and decisions about equipment.
Wudi agreed saying he was very leery of making a decision for next fall. “We are behind as far as scheduling,” he said noting that making such a quick transition would be very difficult.
“Option 2 is the most palatable,” said board president Steve Martin, suggesting staying with the status quo for right now. Cardey said they would continue to meet administratively and come back in the spring with more information and options for what the district could do beyond the 2021 season.
With the annual convention of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards going virtual this year, Martin asked for board input about some of the resolutions being put forward for a vote by delegates. The resolutions establish policy issues for the organization and its lobbyists to present to the legislature over the coming year.
Of the resolutions this year, Martin highlighted a few that he felt he wanted board direction on how to vote. First among these was a resolution for a 1% sales tax for technology infrastructure for the schools. Martin said he thought it was disingenuous to suggest that it would be a temporary tax.
“When has a tax every been temporary?” he asked.
“Once you are used to it, it is hard to get it back,” said board member Jackie Mohr.
Board member Jason Dananay questioned where the money would go and if it would be kept in the county where it was collected or spread statewide on a per pupil basis. Martin said he planned to vote no on that resolution. “I am not a fan of slapping another tax on taxpayers,” he said.
Martin also said he planned to vote against a resolution that would effectively prohibit Native American mascots and logos, but would support a resolution removing barriers to rehiring recently retired teachers.
In other business, board members:
_ Voted to not allow a booster club basketball tournament scheduled for February 13 over COVID-19 concerns. Mohr said she could not support allowing it at this time over concerns of bringing additional people from outside the area to the school. “We have done so well all year, I would hate to see us backtrack,” she said.
Board member Nicole Scheller agreed and said they cannot afford to become complacent. “Our main concern is education first and foremost,” Martin said, concerned about the number of people involved even if they limited participation to four teams. “I think it is too risky,” he said.
_ Approved a formal waiver to the hours and minutes of instruction requirement in state law. Cardey had asked the board to consider this as a safety net for the district if something arose during the remainder of the school year. He said efforts are to meet the state requirements.
_ Approved spending $11,000 to replace two pumps that date to 1981 and are part of the heating system which pumps hot water from the boiler at the middle school under the parking to the high school. Cardey said that in the time he has been with the district they have been rebuilt three or four times and that it was time to replace them. It was expected that it will take about five weeks for new pumps to arrive.