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Rural/Urban plan for WIAA playoffs figures to be hot topic at Area Meetings

08/30/2017, 11:15am CDT
By Mark Miller

A positive for one school could very well be devastating for another.

In a nutshell, that pretty much sums up the proposed Rural/Urban plan being put forth by the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association for its boys' and girls' basketball playoffs.

The WIAA's Board of Control put forth the plan at its June meeting and plans to garner feedback on the proposal at Area Meetings held across the state in September. After gaining input from membership, and possibly tweaking the plan to some degree, the hope of the Board of Control is to put the plan in place in time for the 2018-19 season.

Schools are designated either urban/suburban or rural/town based on classification codes.

Many rural public schools likely will be in favor of the plan while some small, urban private schools are likely to voice strong disapproval.

Details of the plan are as follows:

Basketball Tournament Placement Model

a. Division 1 – Schools with enrollments of 1,200 or greater (no change from current format, 70 schools). 
b. Division 2 – Schools with enrollments of 600-1,200 (no change from current format, 91 schools). 
c. Division 3 – Schools less than 600 with classification codes city or suburban and schools of 450-600 with classification codes town or rural that are in excess of the 256 school enrollments in Division 4 and 5 (70 schools).
d. Division 4 – Schools with classification codes town or rural comprising 128 schools with the lowest enrollment sponsoring basketball after Division 5 is determined.
e. Division 5 – Schools with classification codes town or rural comprising the 128 schools with the lowest enrollment sponsoring basketball.
f. Cooperative teams are placed into divisional competition on the basis of the combined enrollment of the schools
g. Schools may be allowed to play up one division from where its enrollment would otherwise place it if an application is submitted prior to April 3 of a given year. This will not cause other schools to be displaced. 
h. A member school will be placed up one division the first two years of its eligibility for tournament play. 
i. Any member school appearing in a State Tournament will not be placed in a smaller-school division the following year even if a decline in enrollment would normally place team in the lower division. This also applies to any school who has chosen to play up in a higher division. 

That's a lot to chew on, but what are the practical implications? 

That depends on where your school is located. If your school is considered city or suburban, your team could very well be moved up a division or two. On the other hand, if your school is determined to be rural or town, your team could very well be moved down a division. 

The thought behind the change is twofold.

1) Some members of the Board of Control feel city/suburban schools have a distinct advantage over rural/town schools in terms of competition level/opportunities at the youth development stages;

2) Private schools in city/suburban areas have the ability to attract students from a large population base and across multiple school districts.

Private schools from urban Milwaukee and Racine have won multiple state championships at the Divisions 3-4-5 levels since the WIAA and the former Wisconsin Independent Schools Athletic Association merged in 2000.

This plan is an effort to level the playing field for rural/town districts that have run into basketball powerhouse programs at smaller, private schools. 

Prairie du Chien, a school of 341 students located in a rural area of southwestern Wisconsin, has made the WIAA State Tournament once in Andy Banasik's 24 years as head coach.

In 2002, Prairie du Chien lost to eventual Division 2 state champion Madison Edgewood by one in overtime in a sectional final. Edgewood is a private school located in an urban setting.

In 2011, Prairie du Chien lost another sectional final, this time to Lakeside Lutheran, a private school located in Lake Mills that attracts students from a wide geographical area.

"Parents have a right to make a choice on the education for their child ... I understand that," said Banasik. "But in 25 years at Prairie du Chien, I've never had an open enrolled kid or transfer student play in our basketball program. Parents in urban areas have a lot of choices for their sons and daughters, but in a place like Prairie du Chien and other rural areas, the choice is not there or is very limited."

Prairie du Chien currently competes at the Division 3 level, but would move down to Division 4 if the Rural/Urban plan passes.

"It boils down to a private vs. public school thing," Banasik said. "I have a lot of respect for people like Chris Zwettler at Edgewood and mean him or the school no harm. But they have access to well over 200,000 people in the Madison area and in Prairie du Chien we have a mere 5,000. It's not fair, but there is probably nothing that is totally fair."

In making the plan, some rather unfortunate consequences have developed.

While powerhouse programs at Whitefish Bay Dominican and Racine St. Catherine's remain in Division 3 and defending Division 4 state champion Destiny moves up to Division 3, many very small private schools face the difficult task of moving from Division 5 to Division 3.

The two-division jump means an intense increase in competition level for schools, some of which already struggle at the Division 5 level. That list includes ...

Chippewa Falls
McDonell Central Catholic (152 students)

Eau Claire
Immanuel Lutheran (108 students)

Green Bay
NEW Lutheran (118 students)

University Lake/Trinity (123 students)

Abundant Life Christian/St. Ambrose (124 students)

Eastbrook Academy (75 students)
Heritage Christian (165 students)
Salam School (151 students)
Young Coggs Prep (174 students)

Lourdes Academy (181 students)
Valley Christian (72 students) 

Sheboygan Christian
Sheboygan County Christian (97 students)

Newman Catholic (127 students)

For Valley Christian, which had a 19-6 team a year ago but last week lost returning starters Wesley Schiek (5-11) and Abraham Schiek (6-2) as transfer students to Oshkosh North, the plan could be crippling.  

"Our athletic department will voice our concerns at the Area Meeting, but I don't know how they expect us to compete at the Division 3 level with 72 kids," Valley Christian coach Eric Lehocky said. "I don't think it will be productive. I think it will deter kids from coming to us, which would obviously affect our school enrollment. It's concerning because we want to be able to succeed."

Valley Christian has won two of seven Division 5 playoff games the past five seasons and the thought of possibly lining up against Division 3 powerhouse programs from Appleton Xavier, Ripon or Waupun -- schools with enrolllments ranging from 491 to 548 -- isn't creating optimism for future success at the school, located a mere 200 yards from the Town of Oshkosh.

"We were not contacted or given a heads up on this proposal," Lehocky said. "It came out of the blue. It just puts us in a very tough situation." 

In addition to the unlucky 13 Division 5 schools that would move to Division 3, the following schools also would change divisions under the proposed Rural/Urban plan:

Moving from Division 4 to Division 3  ...
Aquinas, Destiny, HOPE Christian, Howards Grove, Kenosha Christian Life, Kohler, Lake Country Lutheran, Luther, Milwaukee Academy of Science, Milwaukee Collegiate Academy, Milwaukee Juneau, Racine Lutheran, Regis, St. Mary Catholic, The Prairie School, Winnebago Lutheran

Moving from Division 5 to Division 4 ...
Deerfield, Princeton/Green Lake

Moving from Division 4 to Division 5 ...
Abbotsford, Athens, Augusta, Clear Lake, Coleman, Coulee Christian/Providence, Crivitz, Edgar, Gibraltar, Johnson Creek, Living Word Lutheran, Spring Valley, Thorp, Webster, Williams Bay

Moving from Division 3 to Division 4 ...
Adams-Friendship, Amery, Amherst, Arcadia, Baldwin-Woodville, Barron, Bloomer, Brillion, Brodhead, Campbellsport, Cedar Grove, Chilton, Clinton, Columbus, Denmark, Dodgeville, Ellsworth, Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau, Kettle Moraine Lutheran, Kiel, Laconia, Lake Mills, Lakeside Lutheran, Lomira, Marshall, Mayville, New Holstein, Nekoosa, Northland Pines, Northwestern, Omro, Oostburg, Peshtigo, Platteville, Poynette, Prairie du Chien, Prescott, Richland Center, River Valley, Saint Croix Central, Saint Lawrence Seminary, Shoreland Lutheran, Somerset, Southern Door, Spooner, Stratford, Tomahawk, Two Rivers, Valders, Viroqua, Watertown Luther Prep, Wautoma, Westby, Winneconne, Wisconsin Dells, Wittenberg-Birnamwood, Wrightstown.   

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