By Greg Bates
GREEN BAY – After having its football program go a combined 3-82 in its last 10 seasons, Green Bay West is trying to get its student-athletes on a more level playing field with its competition.
Back in October during the season, West athletic director Jon Tomaszewski filed an application with the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) requesting the football program return to the Bay Conference.
For the last two seasons, West has played in the Fox River Classic Conference (FRCC)-South Division and has a record of 1-17.
West is a member of the Bay Conference for every sport except football.
“The struggles have been there in terms of being competitive, having numbers and we’ve been slowly building that up during the year even though the results didn’t speak very favorably,” said Drew Brusoe, who recently wrapped up his first season as the West football coach. “Being in the FRCC in the South Division is a little bit more lenient, because if we play our best game, we can be competitive with certain schools. I just think from an enrollment standpoint, we’re slowly getting back up there — I think the enrollment just went back over 900 — but you pair us against Manitowoc, you pair us against the Sheboygan schools, all those other schools are 20-30% bigger than us at the minimum and that’s a lot of extra bodies. To be inclusive, because every other sport is in the Bay Conference, where all the ADs know each other, all the head coaches, everyone has a proper operation to communicate.”
Brusoe wants his program to have a home for the long term.
“It’s just frustrating that East and West have kind of been the filler teams, where, oh, well, put them here, we’ll just deal with it,” Brusoe said. “It’s kind of frustrating, but at the same time, you’ve got what you’ve got on your schedule and you’ve got to work with it. I think from the Bay perspective, it was kind of make it a little more streamlined of a process in terms of communication, competitive equity, across the lines.”
Tomaszewski filed the paperwork with the WIAA to try and give the state high school governing body something to chew on. West was one of 14 schools statewide to request moving into a different conference.
“We just knew that there was going to be a lot of movement that was taking place and we were just trying to find a place for us that we thought would be fitting for where we’re at with our program now,” Tomaszewski said. “We want to be more proactive than reactive in the whole scenario.”
In mid-December, the WIAA’s Conference Realignment Task Force released a draft plan for its football-only conferences. What the WIAA has proposed would be a major shakeup in the landscape of prep pigskin around the state.
The WIAA’s proposal includes a 24-team conference named Fox River Area that is comprised of local teams that are currently in the FRCC South and North divisions and mix them in with schools from the Fox Valley Association (FVA). The teams are broken into three groups based on enrollment, noted Tomaszewski.
Fox River Area Group 1 includes Appleton East, Appleton North, Bay Port, Fond du Lac, Green Bay Preble, Neenah, Oshkosh North and Sheboygan North. Group 2 has Appleton West, De Pere, Green Bay East, Hortonville, Kaukauna, Kimberly, Manitowoc Lincoln and Sheboygan South. Group 3 includes
Ashwaubenon, Green Bay Southwest, Green Bay West, Menasha, Notre Dame Academy, Oshkosh North, Pulaski and West De Pere.
Tomaszewski doesn’t think having West taking on FRCC and FVA schools is the answer for his school’s football program.
“If you put us in a conference against West De Pere and Kaukauna and these meat-grinder schools that have well-built programs, then I can understand being one of these underclassmen kids and you go out and you lose a football game by 70 points, that’s not fun and I’m probably not going to do that again next year,” Tomaszewski said. “I think it’s an important crossing road for us that we encourage the WIAA to look at other things besides enrollment to build competitive equity, otherwise we could see our numbers continue to go in the opposite direction, decrease.”
West is coming off an 0-9 season in which it was outscored 485-33. The Wildcats allowed 73 or more points in a game on three occasions.
Despite the rough season, numbers in the program actually gradually increased with every game. Brusoe had 27 players in grades 9-12 for the first game of the year. When the Green Bay East game was played in Week 7, the roster was up to over 50 kids.
Brusoe and Tomaszewski know the West players are excited for next season, but getting a more level playing field could be the difference in whether kids stay on the team or not.
“Our goal is to always be competitive,” Tomaszewski said. “I don’t think anybody here at West is just happy with existing. I think we want to grow the program and see it improve and have some success. Now do I think that means success as in winning state championships? No. But having success and being competitive in games and maybe making playoff eligibility and things like that.”
Tomaszewski reiterated that he hopes the WIAA reconsiders where it will put West for football.
“I don’t think that the best way to look at teams is just strictly through enrollment, though, like the WIAA did with this initial plan,” Tomaszewski said. “I think you’ve got to look at other factors between these teams. You’ve got to look at how much of the population is economically disadvantaged at your school. I think that makes a difference, especially for our kids. They maybe can’t afford to play pee wee football, because they can’t afford the equipment fees and stuff that goes along with those whereas kids in Bay Port or Kimberly can afford those things. They already come into high school with a lot more playing experience than our kids do. Different factors like that that I think impact competitive equity, so I think we need to encourage the WIAA to look at those as well when they’re making these realignments.”
The WIAA’s Conference Realignment Task Force will conduct a meeting in Stevens Point on Jan. 12 in which any school that is impacted by the plan will have an opportunity to speak to board members and share their thoughts on if it’s a good fit or not.
Tomaszewski will represent West at the meeting. He doesn’t think getting West into the Bay Conference is an option any longer, but he’ll be able to offer his thoughts.
“In initial talks with the WIAA, they seem open to reanalyzing how these 24 teams in the FRCC and FVA are aligned,” Tomaszewski said. “Now it’s kind of between the 24 teams to kind of come to an understanding on how we want to divide up.”