Lake Country Publications Sports Director JR Radcliffe provides tidbits and details from the Lake Country prep sports scene to the Wisconsin sports world at large. His weekly column presents exclusive interviews, commentaries and observations.
Jeff Budzien appreciates the Iron Bowl finish like everyone else, even if there is a tinge of sympathy for Cade Foster, the University of Alabama kicker who missed three field goals (one blocked) in a game that provided one of the most exciting finishes in college football history.
"It was a fun game to watch and I think the joy of watching a close game trumps the sadness of a field-goal kicker," said Budzien, who starred at Arrowhead before enjoying a decorated career at Northwestern University. "We're all kind of fighting the same fight. I never want to see a kicker miss a big kick like that. Maybe one kick is easy to stomach, but going 0 for 3 or 0 for 4, that's a sad deal. The good thing is I've been reading a lot from Alabama fans, and some of their fans are sticking behind him. It's kind of crazy some fans have given (Foster) death threats. The quarterback and linebacker have stuck up for him in a public forum, and that means a lot."
Foster's struggles led Alabama to turn to freshman Adam Griffith for a 57-yard attempt with 1 second on the clock of a tie game against Auburn on Nov. 30, a game holding extreme importance in the BCS National Championship picture. The kick was short, but more importantly, returned 109 yards for a touchdown by Auburn's Chris Davis on a play that sent No. 4 Auburn to a stunning 34-28 win over Alabama.
This is the life of a high-profile kicker. Foster, one of the nation's best NFL kicking prospects according to NFLDraftScout.com, simply had a bad day. Budzien fortunately hasn't had a day like that in his college career, and his only two misses field-goal misses this season (42 and 49 yards) came in fairly easy NU victories. He's made all 136 extra-point attempts in his career and was named the Bakken-Andersen Big Ten Kicker of the Year for a second straight season after sharing the honor last year.
Budzien is ahead of Foster on that list of kickers at NFLDraftScout, ranked fourth and given a grade that places him on the fringe of getting drafted. He'll likely have an opportunity to at least show an NFL team what he can do, but these are uncharted waters — and unpredictable ones for a kicker.
Of the 32 kickers currently starting in the NFL, only 13 were drafted. Though many hail from traditional football powerhouses, the variation of origin is far and wide, with representatives who played at such colleges as Missouri Western State, Georgia Southern, Montana, Drake, San Diego State, Louisiana Tech, Memphis and Bowling Green.
"I'm hearing great stuff from agents and scouts; I think now it's just a wait and see game," Budzien said. "I put some great seasons on film, and there are other kickers who have stronger legs than me, but if a team was in the market for a kicker that will make every field goal, I think I'm the No. 1 person on their board. It depends what a team needs, and it's something I'll find out."
Budzien, who played in two state-championship games with Arrowhead and won the 2007 crown with the Warhawks, led the nation with 23 field-goal makes this year, boasting the second-best percentage of any kicker with 20 attempts or more. And yet, he wasn't one of the three finalists for the Lou Groza Award, given annually to the nation's top kicker — an omission that drew the ire of Wildcats fans.
"After the Lou Groza, I learned not to expect awards or recognition," Budzien said. "(The Bakken-Andersen) is a big honor and I was still very thankful to receive it."
In addition to the Groza snub, Budzien's team has had its ups and downs. Northwestern struggled this season, dropping six games in a row, including two in overtime, to miss becoming bowl eligible for the first time since 2006 despite starting the year in the national rankings.
Still, Budzien did his part. He had the luxury of working with the same snapper (Pat Hickey) and holder (Brandon Williams) for all five years in the program. He planned to take them out for a steak dinner Wednesday night.
"We came in as freshmen together, and I bet we've had 75,000 reps together over the last five years," Budzien said. "It's become so automatic. I owe them a lot. Even at Arrowhead, I had to make a snapper change, so I'm pretty blessed. Most times extra points are missed, it's because of a botched snap and hold."
Budzien didn't start his career handling kickoff duties, meaning his on-field experience was limited to extra points and field goals. He said the extra attention he paid to extra-points as a result eased his ability to make every one. He played in the Gator Bowl last year, where Northwestern won its first bowl game in 63 years.
"I didn't realize until after the game the impact (that win had) on this university and the alumni who came through," Budzien said. "Just that camaraderie of the locker room and the team aspect is something that I'll greatly miss."
He may still get another chance in the National Football League, however. He just has to find the right opportunity, and a little luck doesn't hurt in the inexact science of identifying an elite kicker.
"I probably wouldn't say the top 32 kickers in the world are kicking for NFL teams," Budzien said. "There are some great kickers that aren't (on a team). There's so much overlooking in (college recruiting), maybe because people are developing still in high school and aren't at their full physical peak. Then there's a coaching philosophy; some high-school coaches think they should go for it on every fourth down and not give the kicker a chance.
"The Kohl's Kicking Camps in Waukesha and all over the country are a good vehicle for kickers to get noticed and recruited. Maybe 15 kickers a year get full scholarships and maybe 1 or 2 per year land permanently (on an NFL team)."
Volk wrapping his career
Budzien's classmate at Arrowhead, Jared Volk, is also wrapping an impressive college career at Northern Illinois.
The Huskies, ranked No. 14 in the nation, were scheduled to play in a fourth consecutive MAC Championship game Dec. 6 on national television. With a win, the team could be back in a bowl game after last year's appearance in the Orange Bowl.
The redshirt senior starting left guard lives with quarterback Jordan Lynch, who could be a Heisman Trophy finalist. Last year's team became the first MAC school to receive a BCS bowl berth, and this year's team comes into the MAC title game at 12-0.
The line has allowed only eight quarterback sacks, tied for second in the country, with an offense that racks up more than 540 overall yards and 310 rushing yards per game, part of a ridiculous 42.8-point scoring average.
Pictured: Jeff Budzien celebrates a Nov. 16 field goal against Michigan with holder Brandon Williams (Associated Press).
The Western Illinois football program has a proud tradition, most recently winning a national FCS championship in 2003. There's nothing wrong with the Leathernecks, though the team had a first-year coach this season, hasn't seen the playoffs since 2010 and no longer stands as a regular postseason powerhouse.
So it's easy to think Western Illinois is getting a steal with Franklin quarterback Sean McGuire, committed to play for Western next season. McGuire showed an elusiveness not often available to someone his size (6-3, 200 pounds), not to mention an accuracy that made him one of the state's premier passing quarterbacks, in the state-championship loss to Arrowhead on Friday.
But in Wisconsin, even when a quarterback shows all the attributes that a college program would perceivably desire, seldom to state prospects wind up starting for Division 1 programs.
"For (a college program) to invest in a scholarship, you have to have guys who can make you miss at quarterback," said Waukesha West assistant coach Jeff Trickey, whose prestigious quarterback camp will set up shop at 30 locations all over the country. "The 3-step, 5-step kid who's a really good athlete is nice, but nowadays they need that athletic-type lower platform athlete at quarterback. It's a combination of length and ability to move in a small space, those are key ingredients. Your ability to throw a football and make great choices comes next. That narrows the field, that height requirement and the overall athleticism in the lower platform."
In other words, even if a quarterback racks up legendary numbers, the odds are against a guy like Greendale's Josh Ringelberg (5-11, 183), a junior who set the Division 3 state-final passing record in a loss to Monona Grove with 270 yards, or Arrowhead's Johnny Duranso (6-1, 180), who would have set the D1 passing record were it not for McGuire's 250 yards in the same game.
Just a sophomore, Duranso has room to continue growing taller, and his tremendous performance in Arrowhead's state-championship effort (235 yards, three touchdowns) will certainly broaden his profile.
But then there's Appleton Xavier's Matt Ferris, who set the state record with 50 touchdown passes this season and stands 6-5, 175. And yet, Ferris has not committed to a Division 1 program and could wind up playing basketball on the next level. So the question again … what does a Wisconsin quarterback have to do to get a Division 1 program's attention?
"In the southern-tier states – California, Arizona, Texas Florida – they specialize their kids at a very young age," Trickey said. "They have much bigger high schools in most areas, which really holds back kids from being multi-sport athletes. If you're an athlete, you're year-round. It's spring football for you. Coaches can coach their kids virtually all year. If you don't, you're going to be behind at the quarterback position. It seems when we go out west and southwest, the quarterback position is identified much earlier; they take their better athletes in fifth, sixth seventh grade, and if the boy is really talented, he's going to start his progression of playing quarterback there."
The prevailing sentiment in Wisconsin pushes athletes to play multiple sports and not concentrate so heavily in one discipline all year, and Trickey also feels that's best for high-school kids. It doesn't mean there aren't excellent quarterbacks in the north, but when the kids in the south are playing year-round, the opportunities to be noticed are infinitely greater.
"They have more 7-on-7 tournaments in the spring and summer and can run them like practices," Trickey said, referring again to the opportunity for coaches to work with their kids almost year-round. "They're playing 7-on-7 and have seven coaches. There's a mindset of specialization (in warmer climates). They've got so many kids that they can find a kid with more length early on and make him a great quarterback."
Joel Stave of Whitnall stood at 6-5 and racked up big-time statistics in high school but settled for a preferred walk-on spot at Wisconsin – one that paid off when he emerged as the program's starting quarterback the past two seasons. Franklin's Lance Baretz, who preceded McGuire, also walked on at Wisconsin after a decorated career.
Muskego's Adam Schulz, a walk-on, was recently promoted to starting quarterback at Utah when starter Travis Wilson was injured.
Though it's an unscientific process, a look at the state's All State quarterbacks since 1999 reveals very few Division 1 prospects. Several were converted to other positions, such as Jared Abbrederis (Wisconsin), Justin Sinz (Purdue) and Johnny Eagan (Northern Illinois). Three played at North Dakota (Brent Goska, Trey Demler, Danny Freund). Brian Kuhtz of Waukesha North spent some time at Wyoming, and Brian Brunner of Hartford (All State in 2002) became Central Michigan's starter in 2008. Tony Stauss of Racine Horlick (1999) briefly started at Northwestern.
But beyond those names, only Stave and Tyler Donovan (2003 Arrowhead graduate) played a full year at quarterback in what can be perceived as a major college program. Donovan led Wisconsin to the 2007 Outback Bowl.
Cudahy's John Navarre, a 1999 graduate, joined the University of Michigan and set a new school record for passing yards in a season (3,331) and career (9,014) before getting drafted in the seventh round of the 2004 NFL Draft. Tony Romo, perhaps the most high-profile quarterback to hail from Wisconsin as the leader of the Dallas Cowboys, slipped below the national radar at Burlington High School (graduating in 1998) and attended Eastern Illinois.
There's another element in play, too, and that's how the quarterback position is recruited. Schools aren't likely to offer multiple scholarships at the position each year, unlike other spots on the field.
"What we're finding all over the country is that quarterbacks and their families do their homework," Trickey said. "They look at a USC or Alabama or a Florida State and see exactly who they have that position, if he's a redshirt, 5-star or 4-star. It's tough for even upper-echelon programs to sign 5-star quarterbacks two years in a row because they see what's there."
Trickey's camps (TrickeyWrightQBR.com) will include stops at Waukesha West, Verona, Wausau, West Bend and Green Bay, in addition to camps on both coasts. Trickey was inducted into the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2009.
Pictured: Sean McGuire delivers a pass in the state-championship game against Arrowhead. (Staff photo by C.T. Kruger)
In keeping with an annual tradition upheld by virtually all sports columnists, I present my Sports Things to be Thankful For, 2013 edition. My annual musings have an annual disclaimer: these aren't going to be the heartfelt, serious things most people are thankful for around the holiday season. Instead, these are things that maybe you take for granted, possibly because they fall well below the threshold of Things That Are Really Important In Life:
The Swing Offense. It's the subject of ridicule outside of Wisconsin, and even most fans of the Badgers basketball team will groan when the slow, calculated style of play is brought up in conversation. But there is a reason Wisconsin can be competitive with any team in America, essentially every year. Last year's Badgers team, despite a disappointing NCAA Tournament run, did beat Indiana and Michigan on its way to the Big Ten title game. No matter the level of talent on the team, Bo Ryan's system works, and I'm not sure Wisconsin basketball would be anything to get excited about without it.
Aaron Rodgers. Now is the time to really appreciate what the Green Bay Packers have with their quarterback, with the team in a tailspin after his collarbone injury. It's created a malaise over the state's football scene, but at least we know (with our limited volume of evidence) that the team really does have a player who can turn a mediocre squad into a great one. I never want to hear anyone complain about Rodgers holding onto the ball too long again on the heels of games where interceptions played a huge role in the loss.
Elite area football. For fans of prep sports, Level 3 and Level 4 football games are about as entertaining as it gets. The community turnout, the level of play and the setting of football in late October and early November creates the best atmosphere of the season, right up there (in my estimation) with state wrestling, sectional basketball and state boys volleyball. In the area, teams from Oconomowoc, Mukwonago, Arrowhead and Lake Country Lutheran all reached Level 3, and Pewaukee and Sussex Hamilton were capable of getting that far with tough Level 2 matchups against Catholic Memorial and Homestead, respectively. It's fun to be a prep football fan in the coverage area.
2011. With each passing month, I'm starting to think there may never be another year than this one, when the Packers opened the season with a Super Bowl victory, then went 15-1 in the 2011 regular season (before a 2012 playoff exit). It was a year when the Brewers enjoyed a 96-win season and run to the NLCS, and both Wisconsin and Marquette made the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament. It feels as though the Wisconsin sports scene has been a little snake-bitten since then, with Rodgers' injury among the more recent disappointments.
The Bucks' struggles. As a local sports fan, I obviously don't want to see a team start off as poorly as Milwaukee has in the NBA, besieged by injuries and offensive ineptitude. But despite the contrarian in me, I really just don't see how it benefits Milwaukee to have lukewarm success this year, and I subscribe to the prevailing idea that a bad season means the Bucks will dramatically improve next year after adding from a loaded draft class. We saw last year how hollow a playoff berth can be, and there simply is no better way to become an upper-tier NBA team without a superstar-quality talent. They don't have that now and they're not going to get it on the free market. I don't know if the franchise's intention was to struggle this season, but I really think ultimately, that will be a positive outcome.
Great photography. Newspapers have been an evolving business, particularly in the last decade, but even as quality camera equipment has become more accessible, I'm really proud of the photographers we have on staff and think they set us apart from what can be obtained elsewhere. Guys like Scott Ash, Peter Zuzga, C.T. Kruger and Todd Ponath have helped make our prep sports coverage far more meaningful and colorful to our readers, and they have the awards to back it up.
Carlos Gomez's Gold Glove. I admit it, I truly believed the voters for the Gold Glove awards would give the center field honor in the National League to Andrew McCutchen of Pittsburgh. The awards have become a punch line among baseball fans, routinely awarded to questionable selections who possess the best offensive acumen (so much that it has become a running joke when a player "has the offensive numbers" to win a Gold Glove). McCutchen, who ultimately won National League MVP, probably has a higher national profile than Milwaukee's Carlos Gomez, even though Gomez's highlight-reel catches have provided insight into his magnificent defense, and he even had his best offensive season to boot. Fortunately, the rise of defensive metrics has helped voters become more informed, and when Gomez won the award, it gave Milwaukee its first Gold Glove since Robin Yount in 1982. It was totally deserved for a player that gave Brewers fans something to watch during a terrible 2013.
Expanded replay. I believe the game of baseball will be better off when baseball institutes its expanded use of video replay next year, even if the system has a clunky implementation with a stupid challenge system. Eventually, this element will be crafted to integrate properly into Major League Baseball, and it will add virtually no extra time to the game time.
Returning home fakeouts. For whatever reason, it has become a popular tradition for servicemen and women to return home from military service earlier than expected, then stun loved ones who had been brought onto the field at a sporting event under alternate pretenses. ESPN recently compiled a music video chronicling a number of these occasions, including fathers who disguise themselves as catchers during ceremonial first pitches at baseball games or as mascots at basketball games. My son was born almost two years ago, and I swear something must have changed in my brain chemistry when he arrived, because those videos pretty much get me every time. There's just something special about marrying two things that bring us so much emotion: family and sports.
"Jump Around." It took me a long time to warm up to this Wisconsin Badgers football tradition, perhaps because it started so recently (1998) and featured a song that didn't really have any distinctive link to Wisconsin or the Badgers community. But it has become one of college football's great moments when everyone at Camp Randall Stadium jumps in concert to the House of Pain song before the start of the fourth quarter. It's an experience you just have to see for yourself.
Pictured: Students jump up and down to the song "Jump Around" during the fourth quarter of the Wisconsin Badgers win over Purdue on Sept. 21. (Photo by Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)
This story first appeared in July of 2012 in the Mukwonago Chief as the No. 1 moment in the "Mukwonago Moments" series chronicling the best athletics moments in MHS history. For the first time since this game was played, MHS will suit up in a Level 4 football game Friday against Franklin for a berth in the state-title game.
So many iconic movies possess the same storyline. Star player gets hurt, backup leads team to glory. Consult "Varsity Blues, "Friday Night Lights" or "Any Given Sunday" for examples.
How often does reality meet the fairy tale? In 2004, the Mukwonago football team had no particular desire to find out, but in a Level 4 football game against Menomonee Falls with a massive crowd watching, there was no time to blink. Several times before, the Indians had reached the state semifinals, but no Mukwonago team had broken through to reach the state championship game in Madison.
Quarterback John Witte, the leader of Mukwonago's triple-option offense, left the game in the first quarter with an ankle injury. Senior Matt Bird was suddenly on the spot.
"I had always been ready," Bird said. "I had always known there was a chance I would go in. I had seen some time earlier in the season, so at no point did I feel I wasn't ready. We were deep at every position; that was something we had going for us."
Two weeks later, Mukwonago was state champion. The Indians (14-0) defeated Marshfield, 17-6, behind a remarkable individual effort from Witte, who shook off the effects of the preceding week's injury to rack up 132 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Mukwonago had its place in history, but it's hard to look at that championship game without thinking of the 15-14 grinder at Waukesha North one week earlier.
Bird of a feather
Menomonee Falls brought its own undefeated record into the Division 1 semifinal, but it came in knowing quarterback Henry Lau would not play. Mukwonago's advantage in that department lasted only through the first part of the game before Witte found himself rolled up by the tenacious Falls defense.
"I should have thrown the ball away instead of trying to make something out of nothing," Witte recalled. "Falls did a great job of collapsing on me, and I rolled my ankle pretty bad. I couldn't finish out the game."
Neither Witte nor Bird was envisioned to start the year at QB by the coaching staff.
"Brad Fehly was the quarterback at the beginning of the year, but we had to fortify the defense," said coach Keith Hensler of a player who had earned All Conference mention at cornerback the preceding year. "Witte had been doing such a great job for us. The offense just moved when he was in there. Matt kind of stood up and became a leader for the rest of that game. He gave a speech (at halftime). We decided as an offensive staff, we were going to go back to basic stuff the rest of the game and let Matt settle in there and see what he could do."
Bird had been used on passing downs throughout the year, but this wasn't a passing team, using the running abilities of Witte, Scott Perkins and others. On his first snap, Bird fumbled the ball. He threw an interception in the second quarter to Spencer Schultz that set up a tying score, and Falls took a 14-7 lead into the break.
Most movie scripts involve the backup struggling on his first few opportunities. This game was no different.
"I just remember it being such an up and down game," Bird said. "The emotions were so high. In coach Hensler's tenure, they had made it to the semifinal game three times before that. We wanted to do it for him and the coaching staff that had been there for so long. I just remember you'd have guys stepping up trying to calm people down."
Menomonee Falls missed a field goal before halftime and never got within the Mukwonago 44 in the second half.
"The defense had been lights out all year," said Perkins, who finished the game with 93 yards on 17 carries. "We didn't really get going (on offense) until the Waukesha West game when we put 35 up on them (in week 7). Up until then, our offense was just coming along, coming along."
It took until the fourth quarter for Mukwonago to drive into position to tie the game. But Perkins was stopped short of a first down inside the 1-yard line on fourth down, giving the ball back to Falls.
No matter, as Jeff Trinka finished off a safety on Falls running back Ryan Gorecki on the next play, pulling MHS back to within 14-9 and returning possession to Mukwonago.
"That was one of the special things about our team; we never went into a game or a play or series thinking that weweren't going to do what we were supposed to do," Perkins said. "It's one of the reasons we got so far, that confidence. It wasn't just an individual. Everyone had it."
Bird only finished 2 for 5 for 18 yards passing, but that wasn't his sole contribution. On second and 17 on the ensuing possession, Bird scrambled for 20 yards and a first down to the Falls 33. Backup fullback Pat Wright - replacing Perkins as he worked through his own leg and ankle ailments - rushed 21 yards to the 2-yard line.
On the next play, Wright deferred to Matt Gregory.
"That was probably the best play of my life, and all I had to do was hand off the ball," Bird said.
Gregory was into the end zone, and Mukwonago had a 15-14 lead. The Indians were able to wear down the clock and hold on.
"We always say that was a state championship game," Bird said. "Falls was the best team we played. If you play them 10 times, you're going to split. We were lucky enough that day. I remember feeling this weight off my shoulders. I felt like if we lost, it would have been me letting the team down.
"It was a life changing game. It's something I'll never forget."
Pictured: Matt Gregory scores the winning touchdown for Mukwonago in the 2004 Level 4 win over Menomonee Falls (file photo)
There's definitely a catch to being the best.
For Hamilton girls basketball standout Mackenzie Latt and her family, these have been a trying few days. Word came out Nov. 1 that Latt, the all-time leading scorer in the school's history and the cornerstone of the team's consecutive Greater Metro Conference titles, would be moving with her family to Michigan and spending the remainder of her senior year at Gull Lake High School in Richland, Mich.
It goes without saying that the change will be a big blow to the Chargers' chances at a three-peat. The 6-1 forward, who recently signed a Letter of Intent to play basketball for Davidson University in North Carolina next year, was named first-team All State last year in Division 1 in 2013, averaging 19.2 points per game and 6.2 rebounds.
If Latt were just another player, her family's relocation (father Scott accepted an executive marketing position after 2 1/2 months out of work) may not make a ripple. Instead, the Latts have heard some strong opinions.
"Mackenzie has been so selfless," said her mother, Dee, who served on the Hamilton coaching staff for five years. "She said, 'Now my brother (freshman Chris) can get into a new situation right away, and I can help his transition. It's only half a year for me and I'm gone either way.' It's not that she wants to leave Hamilton; she's played here all her life. It's a difficult thing. She has friends and family in the program. She's heard from people that think she's being selfish. She said, 'It's not even about me, it's so much bigger than me.'"
There are wrinkles to the story that make the circumstances cloudier. Hamilton will be under a new coaching regime this year, led by head coach Bill Scasny, after former coach Dan Carey accepted a position with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee women's basketball program. Scasny, a veteran coach who guided Divine Savior Holy Angels to seven WISAA and two WIAA state-tournament appearances, was chosen over a number of candidates, including Dee Latt and Vance Forrest, both assistants under Carey.
It's hard to tell if the coaching situation had played out differently whether the Latts could have explored makeshift ways to make everything work. But that's not fair to either side. Hamilton moved in the direction it felt best for the program as a whole, and Scasny's experience makes him a superb choice for any program. Meanwhile, it wouldn't have changed the fact that Scott Latt needed a job, and it would have been a lot to expect the family to live separately purely to preserve Mackenzie's role on the basketball team, even if it's technically feasible.
"We almost had to move when (Mackenzie's older sister) Danielle was a senior (two years ago)," Dee said. "He (Scott) had accepted a position in Baltimore, and at the 11th hour (circumstances changed). Two years later, we find ourselves in the same spot. He was offered this secure position, and we just have to take it. You take everything else out of the equation, and we need to have income."
Both Dee and Mackenzie were emotional in describing the situation. This is not something they considered lightly, not a move to respond to the coaching climate at Hamilton and not some way for Latt to increase her profile as a basketball player. If this was a family driven by those motivations, it seems logical Mackenzie's career would have started at a school with a greater track record of success. It may be hard to convince everyone of this, but this wasn't a basketball-driven decision.
Though it's a disappointing reality, Hamilton athletic director Mike Gosz came away with the same impression.
"It was a shock; I had absolutely no inclination this was going to happen," Gosz said. "I didn't know (Scott) was out of a job. When I got call from Bill on Thursday night, I was kind of in a mild state of shock. You don't want to believe it. Aside from her being a tremendous basketball player, she's just a great kid. You're losing a great family, good people in this community. I just wish she could stay for her senior year, but I understand the family component of it, obviously. You have to respect that. I assured them whatever I can do to ease the process through the transition, lean on me. My goal is help her be eligible on Day 1 (in the new school)."
Gull Lake certainly doesn't have a bad program, but it's not as if the Latts were looking around the Midwest for a powerhouse. The school made the move to Class A — the biggest schools in Michigan — two years ago and has been bumped from the infant rounds of the postseason the last two years. The squad went a respectable 13-7 last year and took third in the SMAC East. The team last made the state tournament as a Class B school in 2010, falling 72-39 in the quarterfinals.
Was there a possibility of Mackenzie staying behind somehow while her family relocated? It's been done before. But ask yourself: if your family were suddenly leaving in the next few weeks, or if someone asked to live with you starting in two weeks for the next several months, how easily could you make that transition? In this case, these are the final months Mackenzie gets to spend with her family before leaving to attend college on the coast.
"We just didn't choose to (split our family)," Dee said. "I wonder what people would say if they were faced with that situation. Mackenzie is older and more mature than a typical senior who would be kicking and screaming (as her family moved). It's not that she's not disappointed, but she won't say to us that she's not going."
It's true: Latt is one of the most mature high-school kids you'll find, and she has been since she started as a freshman for the Chargers. In three seasons, Hamilton went 54-17, and she scored 1,135 points — breaking the old school record midway through her junior year. She was at her best when the program won its first-ever conference title in a season finale win over Divine Savior Holy Angels in overtime two years ago. But more than that, she's an eloquent kid who adores the program and her place therein.
She's helped Hamilton become one of the state's best girls basketball teams. She's also strong enough to handle the scrutiny that comes with this change.
"I've been really blessed with some great experiences at Hamilton and as a Charger," Mackenzie said. "I've been a Charger my whole life. I have a lot of special moments from being able to play with my sister, being able to have my mom as my coach, building relationships outside of my blood family ... It's really hard to leave that. We've had some great moments."
I get the outside perspective. There are assumptions to be made. A coaching change, a parent who doesn't get the job, and a star player suddenly weighing his or her options. But this isn't a vendetta or helicopter-parent in action. It's a no-win situation.
The official confirmation of "Edward C. Rux Stadium" could not come at a more appropriate time.
As the Oconomowoc High School football team, with a record at 10-0 after Oct. 25, prepared for the WIAA playoffs, word came down from the Oconomowoc Area School Board that the stadium would be named in honor of the legendary coach, a WIFCA Hall of Fame inductee in 1999 who led the team from 1967 to 1999. He won 10 conference titles, reached the playoffs 12 times, and led the Raccoons to one state-championship appearance in 1987, a heartbreaking 3-0 loss to Fond du Lac.
The naming was designed to coincide with the improvements to the stadium, scheduled as part of the Athletic Fields Forever campaign. Assuming all elements go smoothly, the stadium will have a new track and artificial turf in time for the 2014 kickoff. A group of OHS alumni contacted several of Rux's former players in a campaign to raise the funds that would equate to the cost of naming rights, with the intent to name the stadium after Rux.
It's a nod to the good old days, which is important for a program that is slowly but surely finding the good old days on its own. From 1986 to 1988, Oconomowoc did not lose a regular-season football game, a feat that was never accomplished again at the school … until now.
The milestones have piled up, and as the outdoor athletic fields undergo improvements under AFF, the glossy shine seems to be rubbing off on the athletes themselves. Though success has touched all the sports at OHS, nothing quite galvanizes a community like a successful football team, particularly in Oconomowoc where city and small-town living seem to so perfectly co-exist.
Success across sports
For two straight years, Oconomowoc has won the Wisconsin Little Ten "All-Sports Award," and the school has a head start on this year's as well, with two conference champions, three runners-up and two third-place finishers among the 2013 fall teams.
Among them: the football team, which won the conference title for the first time since 2002, won a playoff game for the first time since 2001 and also topped Wisconsin Lutheran for the first time since 2001. On Homecoming before a mammoth crowd, that game became instantly cemented in legend when the Raccoons defeated the Vikings, 84-82, a game that made national headlines and shattered the previous state record for combined point total by 33 points.
It will surely serve as the signature moment of Oconomowoc’s turnaround until the school captures a state title. The school has just two state titles in the traditional WIAA sports since 1998 (Brad Blersch in wrestling in 2005, Courtney Walden in pole vault in 2010), with no WIAA team titles since 1981 (though the team does have two team titles in the fledgling wheelchair division of the girls track and field meet behind solo racer Melanie Watson, as well as a non-WIAA sailing title). Sophomore cross-country runner Marlie Houston headed to the state meet Saturday with a very strong chance to add to that mantle, and the football team is showing it belongs in the title conversation.
Last spring was perhaps a turning point for Oconomowoc. On the heels of the wrestling team winning its first conference title since 1998 – another return to glory for a program that once owned the WLT – Oconomowoc won spring titles in girls soccer, baseball, boys track and field and softball. The boys track team, which never had a chance to compete on its own track after it fell below proper quality conditions, was ranked as high as No. 2 in the state and came into the state meet as a potential winner. The 2013 senior class produced six Division 1 college athletes.
And now, there is football. Regardless of how 2013 plays out, the team has made a name for itself under fifth-year coach Ryan McMillen and given the community yet another reason to believe in the direction of the program.
Wisconsin Lutheran has asked the WIAA to seek realignment from the Little Ten, citing (reasonably) travel concerns. The domino effect of any change could alter the landscape of Milwaukee-area athletics, since it's never as simple as merely removing one team and replacing it with another. Several leagues could be affected, and with the unfriendly travel conditions in the WLT, it seems entirely possible that the conference's days are numbered as a whole.
Should Oconomowoc wind up elsewhere, perhaps an expanded or re-drawn Classic 8, the school will have yet another challenge against some of the state's premier athletic programs, including some very close geographic rivals. At this point, OHS seems more prepared than ever to take that potential scenario head-on.
The school already has a state-of-the-art field house and a community that supports its athletics. With the improvement in success rate and the improvement in facilities, Oconomowoc could be one of the best things going in a Waukesha County that collects championships like candy on Halloween.
When the Raccoons gaze upon the new-look Edward C. Rux Stadium, they'll have reason to think about the storied past, all the while adding chapter after chapter to the present.
Pictured: The Oconomowoc High School football field, shown in April of 2012, will be undergoing changes in the near future. (Photo by Todd Ponath)
Correction: The initial version of this article omitted Courtney Walden as a past state champion. Walden won the 2010 pole vault in girls track and field.
I'll admit it, there is one aspect of this year's WIAA football grouping process that threw me.
When the groupings were initially made early Saturday morning, the Division 2 field placed Homestead and Kimberly — possibly the two best teams in the state — in the same pod, then made a switch that swapped North Shore champion Homestead (9-0 overall, 7-0 in NSC) with Messmer/Shorewood (7-2, 7-0 in Midwest Classic), placing the former in the "northeast" and the latter in the "southeast."
Then, the move was switched back. Initially, the WIAA believed it had made a mistake by not equitably dividing undefeated conference champions, but upon further review, the initial placements had been correct. The language at issue in the WIAA precepts reads as follows:
"Each 32 team division will be divided into four geographical sections (A, B, C, D) of 8 teams each with priority given to having an equal number of conference champions in each section. In addition, undefeated conference champions (8-0, 9-0) will be identified. An attempt to equitably divide them throughout the geographical groupings shall be made."
I've always considered "undefeated conference champions" to mean "undefeated teams that also won their conference championship" (as in the "8-0, 9-0" example) but the WIAA clarified early this week in saying that simply meant "undefeated in conference." It sure seems like the WIAA realized that after first interpreting it differently. With the swap, each pool would have had one of these undefeated-overall teams, even if it betrayed the geography to a small degree. Without the swap, Messmer/Shorewood's pool (fronted by top seed Waukesha West and No. 2 seed Waterford) did not have an undefeated-overall but did have two conference champs, including a Messmer/Shorewood team that swept the Midwest Classic.
Though perhaps not central to the machinations of dividing the teams appropriately is the fact that Homestead's "northeast" pool can be perceived as significantly more talent-loaded than the "southeast." The swap would have been logical but did not fall in line with the process of constructing the bracket. If the WIAA looked at making the move with the idea that it made for greater subjective balance to swap Homestead and Messmer/Shorewood (there's no indication this was precisely what was being discussed), the WIAA was smart to reverse course and avoid that precedent.
Because here's the thing: despite the complaints that get levied against the WIAA each year, with the process called a "joke" and unfair toward someone in the draw, the process is the same every year. The WIAA can justify every move with its own regulations (though perhaps the language could stand to be tightened a bit), purposefully avoiding a situation where it uses anything other than conference records to compare teams. We all know that's not a true indicator of team excellence, but in the interest of creating an objective process, this is what the WIAA and coaches association has agreed upon.
Nobody is saying that Messmer/Shorewood, with an enrollment that lands it in D2 despite playing in a league full of smaller schools, could defeat Homestead, one of the favorites to win the Division 2 title. But in the eyes of the process, these two teams are 7-0 and should be treated as equals. When the regions are drawn, sending Homestead (which is north of Messmer) north and keeping Messmer/Shorewood south is part of fulfilling the ideal of dividing league champs.
The natural reaction — every year, despite our best efforts to educate — is "that's stupid." Why shouldn't the WIAA look at Homestead, realize it's one of the best in the state, and keep it from playing another of the state's best in Kimberly so early, especially when the difference in geography is so negligible? The answer: because it's unreasonable to expect the same treatment can be given across the board.
In Division 5, a team that has been among the top-ranked in the state all year (Stratford) is only a fifth seed. Could anyone in Milwaukee properly assess how to better divide Stratford, Colby, Marathon, Arcadia, Mondovi and Amherst? These are some of the state's very best at their level, but most Milwaukee-area prep football fans couldn't name one player on any of those teams.
With the breadth of teams and only so much information available in the world of varsity football, there's no such thing as an expert who can objectively look across the state and give each team an "eye test," even if we're just talking the best teams in the state. Without a committee of minds who know the merits of each team (because one cannot possibly exist), there's no possibility for a subjective evaluation for everyone. Even if you feel confident in saying Homestead and Kimberly should be separate, is it fair if you can't speak with the same level of confidence for D5 teams? It's unreasonable to expect the WIAA to know every team at every division, and they acknowledge that with their system.
Neither state poll can be trusted to give anyone a proper indication. I say this as an AP voter; I do the research necessary to make an informed opinion, but I'm obviously no expert on telling the difference between St. Mary Springs and Edgar. I couldn't tell you even on a bigger level if the Big 8 out of Madison (which does not play nonconference games) is better as a whole than the Classic 8. Thus, out goes the "strength of schedule" argument. We can take an educated guess which team is better, but that's not enough to group brackets differently.
The system we have now, in its second year, is infinitely better than its predecessor. Now, the WIAA only has to give us pods of eight, and the eight coaches in each group can make the subjective evaluations (which is why not every conference champ is given a top-four seed). Prior to now, the WIAA also used its objective measures to seed the top four teams, then paired matchups based on geography. The end result was a number of unfair opening-round or Level 2 matchups. This way, at least, the units of eight are seeded appropriately.
So please, before lashing out at the system for being unfair or biased, consider all the angles. Consider that the system is responsible for 224 teams, and no proper subjective measure works across the board to more fairly distribute the talent. It's really not that bad of a system.
Derek Schell's cell-phone battery died three times that day.
The former Catholic Memorial standout basketball player and current hoopster for Hillsdale College in Michigan was suddenly a national story, and it had nothing — and yet, plenty — to do with the game he loved. Schell penned a column that ran Oct. 7 on Outsports.com, revealing to the world that he was gay. In the process, he became the first openly gay Division II basketball player, according to the site.
"The initial reaction was overwhelming but amazing," Schell said. "I received hundreds of emails, texts and various messages and calls. The outpouring of support came from random strangers, people I haven't spoken with in awhile, and of course, my loved ones.
"I actually didn't realize (I was the first D2 basketball player) until Sunday night, the night before the article came out. I thought about it and finally asked the editors if this was the case, and it turns out I was the first. It added to the excitement because I knew I was doing something pretty big."
Schell, who was the point guard for one of the state's finest prep basketball teams in the past decade when CMH stormed to the 2010 state championship, said his love for basketball has been rekindled.
"I didn't like basketball for awhile in college," he said. "It was part of my 'act.' I finally realized when I came out that this game has helped build the person I am today in immeasurable ways. I think now I care less about outside things and just focus on enjoying every second of our season, because I know it will be over soon."
'My world didn't fit who I was'
In the column, the New Berlin native Schell, 22, articulates his personal struggle with finding his identity as a high-school student.
"I became part of a group of people from whom certain things were expected, including being honor roll students and varsity athletes," Schell wrote. "My friends, my parents, my sister, my teachers — everyone expected me to be an all-star, to help lead the basketball team to a state championship and to date a pretty girl. I wanted people to accept me and to embrace me, so I let those expectations take control. I hid who I was so that I wouldn't let other people down. It was much later that I realized that the problem was not that I didn't fit into my world the way that I wanted to. The problem was that my world didn't fit who I was. It fit the guy I was trying to be, but it didn't fit Derek."
Schell said he didn't pattern his published revelation after other athletes who have come out in recent years, with NBA basketball player Jason Collins among the most high profile.
"I obviously thought about how I wanted to write the article in terms of the central message, but writing it was easy in terms of letting my life flow onto the page," Schell said. "I find writing pretty therapeutic, so after getting my initial thoughts and messages down, editing it and organizing it was secondary. I didn't look to emulate anyone else's story because I wanted it to be my own and have people connect to me specifically. I had some help from my best friend and the editors at OutSports to touch it up near the end."
Schell talks about his struggle as it relates to his faith, his family and his teammates.
"Three years ago, I vowed to never tell my secret," he wrote. "But since then, I have learned that I don't have a secret. I eventually told my family, the three absolute rocks in my life. Although it was difficult at first, the process of acceptance and maturation in their understanding of my new-found happiness has proved me right in thinking I have the best support system that anyone could ask for."
Schell said his teammates, to whom he spoke in a one-on-one setting, universally offered respect and empathy.
"They all respected me and recognized that nothing had changed and I was the same teammate and friend that I was before," Schell wrote. "Despite attending a conservative college, I have been accepted for who I am by those on my team and others close to me. Eventually, I was so tired of living my life in fear. I was mentally exhausted."
To the point
Schell played in all 27 games last year for Hillsdale, averaging 1.9 points per game and dishing out 36 assists. He led Catholic Memorial with 21 points in a 60-48 win over Southwestern in the 2010 Division 2 state championship game, earning All-Tournament honors after a season that included a first-team All Conference selection.
Schell's lasting recollections from that run include leading the conference in scoring, earning All-State accolades and beating eventual Division 1 champion Arrowhead to lock up the league title.
"I remember a specific practice where we got so competitive and heated; that passion for winning became a drive to win everything," Schell said. "We wanted to win every drill, every game. It turned into a group of senior-led guys letting nothing stop them from being champions. I remember winning the game to go to state (against Whitefish Bay) and hugging my best friend T.J (Bray) and us both saying, 'We did it. Time to make our dreams come true.'
"And obviously, jumping up and down when that final buzzer went off ... I dreamed of that moment since I was five years old and it was so much better than I ever imagined."
Schell knows his decision to make his sexuality public will provide encouragement for other athletes putting up the same facade.
"I draw so much inspiration from that," he said. "In doing this, part of me hopes that this sort of thing doesn't have to be a news story in the future. If younger athletes could come out at an earlier age, and homophobia in sport could diminish, the sports themselves would prosper even more. Elements of acceptance, pride, and unity could be even stronger and encourage involvement in sports, which I think are essential in development in teens. I have received many messages of people who see me as a role model and now may finally be open with their families or teammates. If I can even make one person's life easier by doing this, I consider it worth it."
Pictured at top: Catholic Memorial’s Derek Schell (right) drives for the basket against Arrowhead’s Andy Fox in February of 2010.
Changes reflect Thursday outcomes (updated Oct. 18).
As we head into the final week of the 2013 prep football regular season, I take one last stab to see how the top three WIAA playoff divisions could lay out. For more on my process, see last week's version of Bracketeering.
After playing out the remainder of the season's outcomes, the 224-team playoff field includes every team in my scenario with a winning or .500 conference record, which amounts to 216 teams, leaving eight openings for teams with the best overall winning percentage (5-4 in all cases).
There are 12 teams not already in the playoffs with 5-4 overall records, so four teams must be weeded out to give us the overall field of 224. The next tiebreaker is winning percentage of conference opponents beaten, and that drops two teams out (Random Lake and Wisconsin Dells have beaten foes with a combined 1-9 league record) but leaves four teams tied for the final three spots with 3-18 marks, including Martin Luther, Osceola, Stevens Point and Brillion.
The next tiebreaker considers record against the playoff field. Stevens Point and Osceola both have 1-4 records against playoff teams in my scenario, while Martin Luther and Brillion are both 0-4. The final tiebreaker to determine team No. 224 (either Martin Luther or Brillion) is conference record of all teams beaten, and Martin Luther has the edge. The team's two nonconference wins have a 5-8 league record, and Brillion's have a 2-11 mark.
So many matchups can alter that situation. For example, East Troy plays Whitewater in the Southern Lakes. Currently, I list Whitewater as the winner and getting in with a 5-4 overall record. But if East Troy wins, neither team goes to the playoffs and another spot is open (in this case, for Brillion).
On the other side of the coin, there are a number of matchups between one team already destined for the playoffs and another that needs a win to get in. Suppose Delavan-Darien upsets Waterford in the Southern Lakes (giving both the necessary credentials for qualification), or Racine Horlick surprises Kenosha Indian Trail in Week 9. Appleton East could beat Wausau West and get into the playoff field. Those are extra teams who would make the field that aren’t accounted for in my scenario. In other words, teams on the fringe (like Martin Luther) are cheering for the favorites throughout the state, while teams who want to move to a lower division are cheering for Appleton East and Racine Horlick because their enrollments will slot them in the top division and push a lot of other teams down a spot.
Speaking of which, a look at the cutoffs:
Last teams in Division 1: Superior (1418), Messmer/Shorewood (1404)
First teams in Division 2: Kimberly (1386), Hamilton (1386)
Last teams in Division 2: Slinger (936), Greendale (926)
First teams in Division 3: Monona Grove (912), Pius XI (873)
Last teams in Division 3: West Salem (537), Two Rivers (531)
In my current scenario, Lake Country Lutheran and Blair-Taylor (193) are the top two teams in Division 7. If the two schools are tied straddling the divisions, The enrollment as of the third week in September at the two schools would be used to break a tie.
These are the teams who will be most impacted by the aforementioned "surprise' outcomes throughout the state. Once the WIAA has its 32-team groupings in seven divisions, it proceeds to group them into regionals of eight teams (and coaches seed 1-8 from there). Here's a look at some potential matchups?
(1) Appleton North (9-1) vs. (8) Milwaukee Washington (6-3)
(4) Manitowoc Lincoln (6-3) vs. (5) Fond du Lac (4-5)
(3) Germantown (7-2) vs. (6) Messmer/Shorewood (7-2)
(2) Menomonee Falls (8-1) vs. (7) Milwaukee King (7-2)
(1) Sun Prairie (9-0) vs. (8) Stevens Point (5-4)
(4) Superior (7-2) vs. (5) Green Bay Preble (6-3)
(3) Hudson (8-1) vs. (6) Wausau West (6-3)
(2) Bay Port (8-1) vs. (7) Eau Claire Memorial (5-4)
(1) Arrowhead (8-1) vs. (8) Milwaukee Morse-Marshall (5-4)
(4) Madison Memorial (6-3) vs. (5) Middleton (6-3)
(3) Oconomowoc (9-0) vs. (6) Mukwonago (6-3)
(2) Madison LaFollette (8-1) vs. (7) Verona (5-4)
(1) Franklin (8-1) vs. (8) Milwaukee Hamilton (3-6)
(4) Lake Geneva Badger (7-2) vs. (5) Oak Creek (6-3)
(3) Milwaukee Marquette (6-3) vs. (6) Milwaukee Pulaski (4-5)
(2) Kenosha Indian Trail (8-1) vs. (7) Milwaukee Riverside (3-6)
I’m operating with the goal of dividing the conference champions equitably, which is something itemized as important in the WIAA procedures. But it’s darn near impossible, and the major problem is that the Division 1 schools from the clear northwest part of the state (Stevens Point, Hudson, Eau Claire Memorial, Wausau West, Superior) do not contain any league champs.
I tried including GMC champion Menomonee Falls in the northwest, then tried including some Madison-area schools, but I would up simply sending northernmost Madison school Sun Prairie as the lone representative from the region to the northwest quadrant. It’s ugly, but the three remaining regions do have two league champs each (Arrowhead/Oconomowoc, Franklin/Badger) or three (Menomonee Falls/Milwaukee King/Messmer-Shorewood).
One alternative that will surely upset some people would be to have Sun Prairie nestled more naturally with Arrowhead, putting two of the state’s best teams in the same group of eight. It’s hard to imagine, however, how the northwest pod will ultimately include any conference champs (though many good teams will be in the mix).
I’m very interested to see how this works. Throw in the fact that Badger is a tri-champ, Oconomowoc has a tough battle with Watertown and Falls must defeat Marquette for the GMC title, and you realize how unsettled this picture really is as it relates to the division of conference champs.
(1) Kimberly (9-0) vs. (8) Slinger (5-4)
(4) Green Bay Southwest (7-2) vs. (5) Cedarburg (7-2)
(3) Oshkosh North (9-0) vs. (6) Menasha (7-2)
(2) Ashwaubenon (9-0) vs. (7) Watertown (7-2)
(1) Menomonie (9-0) vs. (8) Waunakee (6-3)
(4) DeForest (8-1) vs. (5) LaCrosse Central (7-2)
(3) Holmen (9-0) vs. (6) Marshfield (6-3)
(2) Hortonville (9-0) vs. (7) Merrill (6-3)
(1) Homestead (9-0) vs. (8) Milwaukee Madison (4-5)
(4) South Milwaukee (7-2) vs. (5) Greenfield (3-6)
(3) Whitefish Bay (7-2) vs. (6) Wauwatosa West (5-4)
(2) Greendale (9-0) vs. (7) Bradley Tech (4-5)
(1) Waukesha West (8-1) vs. (8) Milton (3-6)
(4) Wilmot (7-2) vs. (5) Sussex Hamilton (6-3)
(3) Waterford (7-2) vs. (6) Brookfield Central (7-2)
(2) Fort Atkinson (8-1) vs. (7) Brookfield East (5-4)
Watertown is about midway between Madison and Milwaukee, so naturally I slot them with teams from the northeast. It probably won’t work out that way, but it was a way to ensure one pod didn’t wind up with too many league champs. I’ve already fudged a bit by having both Hortonville (just northwest of the Fox Valley) and Madison-area schools in the “Northwest”
The "Southeast" could create a monster third-round matchup between Homestead and Greendale, two of the Milwaukee-area's best teams. Greendale, the final team in the D2 field, will no doubt be rooting for a drop to D3, where the path is less of a minefield than D2.
It’s hard to separate Kimberly, Oshkosh North and Ashwaubenon geographically and divide up the power a bit, though Ashwaubenon could ultimately go to the northwest (even though it’s almost as far east in the state as you can get).
But again, the WIAA concerns itself with separating conference champs and not with the quality of conference champ. Wilmot and Waterford, tri-champs in the Southern Lakes (in my scenario), carry as much weight as Kimberly and Ashwaubenon, though undefeated teams are also supposedly given consideration and divided as equitably as possible.
Watertown, with a win over Oconomowoc this week, would also gain conference-champion status and might then wind up in the Southeast with Waterford and Wilmot.
(1) Waupaca (9-0) vs. (8) Luxemburg-Casco (5-4)
(4) Two Rivers (8-1) vs. (5) Seymour (7-2)
(3) Appleton Xavier (8-1) vs. (6) Notre Dame (6-3)
(2) West De Pere (8-1) vs. (7) Antigo (4-4)
(1) Reedsburg (8-1) vs. (8) West Salem (3-6)
(4) LaCrosse Logan (7-2) vs. (5) Mosinee (7-2) vs.
(3) Medford (7-2) vs. (6) Osceola (5-4)
(2) Lodi (9-0) vs. (7) Onalaska (4-5)
(1) Plymouth (8-1) vs. (8) New Berlin West (4-5)
(4) Wisconsin Lutheran (6-3) vs. (5) Kewaskum (5-4)
(3) Catholic Memorial (7-2) vs. (6) Brown Deer (6-3)
(2) Pewaukee (8-1) vs. (7) Milwaukee Pius (5-4)
(1) Monona Grove (9-0) vs. Whitewater (5-4)
(4) Mount Horeb/Barneveld (6-3) vs. (5) Madison Edgewood (6-3)
(3) Jefferson (7-2) vs. (6) Evansville-Albany (5-4)
(2) Edgerton (8-1) vs. (7) Elkhorn (5-4)
West De Pere was the No. 1 team in the state before falling in Week 8, but now that it’s fallen from conference-title status. Since the Northeast didn’t have any champs (which seems crazy since it had three 8-1 teams), I brought in Eastern Valley champ Waupaca, which makes for a very loaded grouping.
The idea of finding a conference champ to strengthen that group seems preposterous, and now West De Pere and Waupaca could meet in one of the biggest Level 3 matchups in the state as a result. I felt it weakened the Northwest quadrant to strengthen a Northeast that didn’t need it, but the Northwest still has three conference champs (Reedsburg, Lodi, Medford), while both the Northeast and Southeast have one (though in reality, nobody should complain abou the strength of either pod).
It’s still not a great setup, given the disparity.
Games of significant interest
Several games could have an impact on the playoff field for Division 1-3 this weekend. Some games have playoff impact for the teams involved, such as a winner-take-all meeting between 4-4 Sun Prairie and 4-4 Verona, but it won't change the playoff field since only one will get in and will be in Division 1.
The team that can alter the field (in my scenario) listed first:
Racine Horlick (2298 enrollment) vs. Kenosha Indian Trail (7-1). Indian Trail is pretty much locked into second place in the Southeast, while Horlick needs a win to get in.
D.C. Everest (1730) vs. Kimberly (8-0). Unbeaten Papermakers unlikely to drop first game of year, but Evergreens are in with a win.
Waukesha South (1412) vs. Arrowhead (7-1). Blackshirts struggling through a four-game losing streak and facing league champion, but a win would give South 5-4 overall record and place them among final teams in field.
Delavan-Darien (756) vs. Waterford (6-2). A D-D win would give Comets a winning league record, but it has to come against one of the teams vying for the Southern Lakes championship.
Wisconsin Dells (529) vs. Nekoosa (7-1). For Dells to reach above-.500 and become one of the final teams in Division 3, it has to beat a 7-1 team looking to cap an outright league championship.
Berlin (527) vs. Xavier (7-1). A win Would achieve .500 status in Eastern Valley and be among final teams in D3 or top teams in D4, but Xavier is one of the state's best teams, with only one loss to mighty Waupaca.
Neenah (2002) vs. Menasha (6-2). Neenah would only reach 3-4 in conference but would have a 5-4 overall record and could get consideration among the last batch of teams into the field. The win against a team doing so well in conference would greatly enhance Neenah's candidacy.
Appleton East (1508) vs. Wausau West (5-3). West already in, but East needs a win to achieve above-.500 record. A legitimate possibility.
Chippewa Falls (1403) vs. Superior (6-2). Chi-Hi would be one of the first teams in D2 in my scenario (one student below Messmer/Shorewood). Superior has lost the last two weeks against league powers Menomonie and Hudson.
DePere (1290) vs. Manitowoc Lincoln (5-3). DePere would have a .500 league record with a victory, and Manty is directly above the Redbirds in the Fox River Classic standings.
Lakeland (748) vs. Merrill (5-3). Would give Lakeland a .500 record in conference but has to come against a Merrill team that has lost three games to teams that are a combined 20-4.
One team in, one team out
These games have impact because of the disparity between enrollments; the team that gets in could bump teams up or down.
Burlington (1199) vs. Elkhorn (857). My scenario chooses Elkhorn, but Burlington should be D2 whereas Elkhorn is D3. One team from D2 could be bumped down a notch if the Demons win.
Stoughton (1061) vs. Milton (992). Milton wins in my scenario and is right around the cutoff between D2 and D3 (currently the second-to-last D2 team). Stoughton is more firmly entrenched as a D2 program.
Tomah (979) vs. Onalaska (866). Onalaska is right near the D2-D3 cutoff and wins in my scenario, but a Tomah win could bump someone down.
Shawano (830) vs. Luxemburg-Casco (579). Casco wins in my scenario. Shawano, which would reach .500 in conference with a win, would naturally slot much higher than Casco, but both are probably safely in Division 3
The other direction
Plenty of teams currently in the field in my scenario must win to solidify playoff status (opponent is also already out of the field. Teams who want to crack the field (or move up a division) are cheering against these schools; teams that want to stay in the lowest division possible are cheering for them). Those teams who must win listed first.
Stevens Point (2214) vs. Oshkosh West (2-6)
Fond du Lac (1981) vs. Wisconsin Rapids (1-7)
Eau Claire Memorial (1692) vs. Eau Claire North (1-7)
Mukwonago (1607) vs. Muskego (3-5)
Brookfield East (1311) vs. West Allis Central (0-8)
Milwaukee Bradley Tech (1068) vs. Milwaukee Vincent (0-8)
Wauwatosa West (1043) vs. Cudahy (2-6)
Slinger (936) vs. West Bend West (2-6)
New Berlin West (811) vs. Whitnall (2-6)
Whitewater (552) vs. East Troy (3-5)
West Salem (537) vs. Luther (2-6)
"The only reason we were bad this yr is cuz of are coachin."
"january 26 everyone should come watch us cross up milwaukee king #metaldetectors"
"We just gave Sheboygan South a puppy, let them fall in love with it for years, then proceeded to murder it in front of them."
"Gary Anderson is the next Lane Kiffin."
These might seem nasty, but they're at least printable, unlike many other examples Travis Wilson can think of. The Wisconsin Sports Network content manager has become one of the foremost experts on all things Wisconsin prep athletics, helping to distinguish his outfit's web presence (wissports.net) as the primary destination for box scores, stats and original content.
As plugged in as he is, Wilson also knows a thing or two about the various media that have changed the landscape of sports coverage in the past decade. He also knows there's a dark side.
Consider the top example, written by a prep football player on the WSN Facebook page. Or the comments on Twitter posted by current players in the next three examples, notably the last one from a Division 1 in-state recruit who wasn't pursued by Wisconsin (and compared the UW coach Andersen to the fallen-from-grace ex-USC coach Kiffin).
"I don't think many coaches are familiar enough with the medium to know that it can be an issue," Wilson said. "I think many would rather ignore it or don't want to spend the time to monitor it. However, I think it is becoming more and more important that coaches at least takes steps to educate their players.
"If I was a coach, I would have a meeting before the season to talk about the proper uses of social media, the dangers of it, and collect everyone's Twitter handles. I would create a list on Twitter and put all players on it. Even if I didn't monitor every single post, the access to do so would be there, and the players would know they need to be on their best behavior."
There are numerous positives to the proliferation of social media, but the unprecedented level of access can create an immediate firestorm faster than you can say #karma.
In September, several football players on Madison Memorial and Madison West were disciplined following an on-field fight after the two teams faced off at Mansfield Stadium. But that's not necessarily where the fight began.
"I follow a couple of the top players in the Madison area and saw some chirping amongst the Madison school athletes," Wilson said. "Not necessarily by the top players themselves, but there were several retweets and other things. When I heard about the fight, it didn't surprise me. The Twitter trash talking certainly played a role in what happened, but those teams have a history from what I understand, with an altercation in a JV game when they were sophomores.
"I've seen quite a few other instances of trash talking as well, and with 400-plus teams around the state, I'd guess it happens very frequently."
Wilson pointed out that roughly 10 players from Menomonie were suspended last year after using unapproved supplements and were caught after talking about it on Twitter, where an ex-player saw it and reported it. Wilson also notes the danger of a website called ask.fm, where anyone can set up a page and encourage others to ask anonymous questions of them.
"It has often turned into a case for high schoolers to anonymously bully other kids, adults to harass high level athletes considering or committed to other colleges, and generally a cesspool," Wilson said. "A coach in Utah recently made headlines when he suspended his entire team in large part as a result of his players bullying other students on the site."
When the University of Wisconsin football team lost a highly controversial game against Arizona State earlier this year, the wife of former UW coach Brett Bielema infamously tweeted a single word — #karma — and ignited a massive response from Badgers fans angry over her flippant reaction. From the comforts of the sofa in front of the television, one word punched into a cell phone is all it takes, and there aren't many safety nets for anyone, let alone the impulsive teenage crowd.
To be sure, Twitter and Facebook have also played a positive role in the evolving world of prep athletics.
"It has allowed players to communicate with each other and develop and continue bonds with opponents," Wilson said. "I've seen many instances of players tweeting congratulations or notes of encouragement to others, sometimes at rival schools."
In a recent example, Sussex Hamilton basketball player Brady Ellingson and Brookfield Central standout Riley LaChance — teammates in the AAU circuit but both key players for Greater Metro Conference rivals — publicly offered congratulations when the other committed to a Division 1 university over the past two weeks. Both players also announced their committments on Twitter.
"It is becoming more common for players to announce new offers or commitments via Twitter rather than contacting 15 different recruiting writers," Wilson said.
Many coaches make use of Twitter to put forth their messages, usually positive reinforcement for their players and others affiliated with the program. New Berlin Eisenhower assistant coach Rob Leboeuf uses the medium to communicate with his position group.
"Maybe I want to share videos on quick drills so they know what to expect the next day and what it should look like," Leboeuf said. "I try to use it for positive messages as much as I can. Aside from that, I also use it to spy on our kids and make sure they're using social media appropriately.
"I've had a couple discussions with players using it inappropriately at first. You can use it as a teachable moment. You're leaving your electronic fingerprints here, and that stuff is going to be there forever. Prospective employers may be looking at that (down the road). Recruiters are looking at that stuff too, how you are on Twitter, what kind of messages you're sending."
On another front, Twitter has allowed for enhanced real-time update capabilities, particularly for those attending a varsity game looking for other scores that might not be available elsewhere on the internet. The #wisfb hashtag has been utilized to aggregate updates.
"It also allows us and other media outlets to promote our articles and properties," Wilson said. "A great aspect of social media is that it is just that, social. We can quickly and easily interact with followers, answer questions and even reach out to people."
Follow Wilson on Twitter (@traviswsn) or read his weekly commentary on state football "From the Hip" on the Wisconsin Sports Network site.
Pictured: Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher David Price apologizes for his outburst on Twitter during a press conference Oct. 7. Price chastized TBS playoff announcers for questioning his use in Game 2 of the ALDS, calling their credentials into question and closing his rant with “SAVE IT NERDS (Photo by MCT/Will Vragovic)
Waukesha South has been digging for its first playoff postseason berth since 1999, and unless the Blackshirts beat Arrowhead in the final week of the season, they won’t have the requisite winning conference record in the brutal Classic 8 to become playoff eligible.
That should mean South will have to wait yet another year, right? Not necessarily.
As was the case in 2012, it appears a number of teams with losing conference records will make the 224-team playoff field. According to tiebreaking precepts put forth by the WIAA, teams with the best overall winning percentage are next in line once all the squads with winning and .500 records in conference have been admitted to the field. For teams that had victories in the nonconference season, such as Waukesha South, Wauwatosa West and Milwaukee Pius, it should mean a playoff berth is in order.
How things project
Here’s how my annual “Bracketeering” exercise works.
To arrive at the 224-team field, I have to imagine the outcomes for all the remaining games this season. That’s obviously a remarkably inexact science, even if my area of expertise were somehow the entire state and not just the Greater Milwaukee region. I compared schedules and used the knowledge I had to make assessments, though I did use the records as a simple comparison. If a 4-0 team met a 2-2 team in Week 8, I went with the 4-0 team in almost every case. If records were close, I looked at outcomes through the first seven weeks to determine a winner.
Once I know everyone’s projected record by the end of the season, I can figure out a number of things. My scenario produced 210 teams with winning or .500 conference records, so all those teams are in. The next tiebreaker on the list: overall winning percentage. If I look at all the 5-3 teams (there is one among the pool of squads with losing conference records) and 5-4 teams, I’m left with 225 teams, one more than needed to fill out the field.
This is where the records of non-playoff teams come into play. The next tiebreaker: combined winning percentage of conference foes beaten. This is a very low percentage for most of the 5-4 overall teams, and the number of teams in a conference can come into play. For example, Markesan in the Trailways Large Conference would have defeated two league opponents with a 1-11 record (0.083). Wisconsin Dells in the South Central Conference hasn’t done much better, but because there are more teams in the Trailways Large, the number for Dells is only 1-9. (0.1) In other words, because Dells plays in the smaller conference, they have a slight edge here.
In fact, Markesan is the lowest team on the totem pole and would get eliminated in my scenario, the only 5-4 team left home. Several teams’ percentages stand at 1-9 in my scenario, and another tiebreaker would need to come into play if those teams wind up tied for a last playoff spot. But the Milwaukee-area teams are not among those squads at 0.1.
South’s number would finish at 3-18 (0.14) assuming it beats Waukesha North on Thursday night and falls to Arrowhead, and assuming the rest of the Classic 8 plays out as expected. Pius (0.41) and Wauwatosa West (0.25) would be easily in the clear.
So many factors can change this layout. Let’s say that 2-2 team in a tiny conference somewhere in the state beats a 4-0 team, and it’s the difference between the 2-2 team having a .500 record in conference or a losing record. Now, another team is in the playoffs that isn’t accounted for in my scenario, and one of the teams with the 0.1 percentage needs to get bumped using other tiebreakers.
But it would take a number of surprises to get 14 teams in that are presently unaccounted for, so it seems almost certain that teams with 5-4 overall records but losing conference ledgers are destined to get in.
What it means
Waukesha South absolutely must defeat Waukesha North on Thursday (update: unfortunately for the Blackshirts, it didn't happen). Without that win, South wouldn’t obtain the five wins necessary to get into this conversation.
Wauwatosa West needs wins in both its final conference game in Week 9 against Cudahy AND a win in the nonconference game in Week 8 against St. Francis to get those five wins. That’s the only way West can get into the conversation, but if the Trojans do win those games as expected, they seem like a fairly sure bet to make the field. In my scenario, they would be the No. 3 team admitted to the field with a losing league record.
With 32 teams in each of the seven divisions, here’s a look at how the brackets would divide in my scenario:
The last team in Division 1: Messmer/Shorewood (1404 students), with Waukesha South, Superior and Badger the other “last four in.” The biggest school in Division 2: Sussex Hamilton (1386), followed by Kimberly, Homestead, Greenfield, Brookfield Central and Brookfield East. It goes without saying that if a team gets in that I haven’t accounted for, it can shift a large block of teams up or down.
The last two teams in Division 2 are Greendale (926), which can contend for a state title in either D2 or D3 (but it might be nice to steer clear of Kimberly and Homestead), and Monona Grove (912). That makes Pius (873) the biggest team in D3, followed by LaCrosse Logan and Onalaska.
University School would be one of the final schools in Division 4 (No. 123 in enrollment). Lake Country Lutheran would be the largest school in Division 7 (No. 193 in enrollment). No doubt the Lightning would prefer to be in D7, so there will be anxious moments as they await the list of teams.
For the second year, the WIAA will group teams into eight-team regions, then allow the coaches to seed them as they see fit. Here’s how it might look:
(1) Appleton North (8-1) vs. (8) Milwaukee Morse/Marshall (4-5)
(4) Manitowoc Lincoln (6-3) vs. (5) Fond du Lac (4-5)
(3) Germantown (7-2) vs. (6) Messmer/Shorewood (7-2)
(2) Menomonee Falls (8-2) vs. (7) Milwaukee King
(1) Sun Prairie (9-0) vs. (8) Waukesha South (5-4)
(4) Madison LaFollette (8-1) vs. (5) Madison Memorial (6-3)
(3) Oconomowoc (9-0) vs. (6) Middleton (6-3)
(2) Arrowhead (8-1) vs. (7) Verona (5-4)
(1) Hudson (7-2) vs. (8) Stevens Point (5-4)
(4) Superior (7-2) vs. (5) Wausau West (6-3)
(3) Green Bay Preble (7-2) vs. (6) D.C. Everest (5-4)
(2) Bay Port (7-2) vs. (7) Eau Claire Memorial (5-4)
(1) Franklin (8-1) vs. (8) Milwaukee Pulaski (5-3)
(4) Marquette (6-3) vs. (5) Mukwonago (7-2)
(3) Badger (7-2) vs. (6) Oak Creek (6-3)
(2) Kenosha Indian Trail (8-1) vs. (7) Milwaukee Washington (6-3)
Here’s a sticky situation for the WIAA: there are no conference champions in the “Northwest” portion of the bracket, even though the precepts indicate that the WIAA will attempt to equitably divide conference champions. With no conference champions in D1 even remotely within geographic convenience of the other teams in the northern part of the state, I’ll be curious to see if the WIAA sticks to what works logistically or really tries to pull in teams from a different area to separate the conference champs.
The result is a pretty stacked “Southwest,” with two bona fide state-champion contenders in Sun Prairie and Arrowhead therein. But the “Northeast” has an interesting scenario with three conference champions (same as the Southwest) in Messmer/Shorewood, Milwaukee King and Falls, but only one will likely get a top-four seed in the new format. The “Southeast” contains two conference champs in Franklin and Lake Geneva Badger.
(1) Monona Grove (9-0) vs. (8) Waunakee (5-4)
(4) Waterford (7-2) vs. (5) DeForest (8-1)
(3) Waukesha West (8-1) vs. (6) Fort Atkinson (8-1)
(2) Brookfield Central (8-1) vs. (7) Watertown (7-2)
(1) Greendale (9-0) vs. (8) Milwaukee Madison (5-4)
(4) Brookfield East (5-4) vs. (5) Greenfield (4-5)
(3) South Milwaukee (7-2) vs. (6) Milton (3-6)
(2) Wilmot (7-2) vs. (7) Wauwatosa West (5-4)
(1) Menomonie (9-0) vs. (8) LaCrosse Central (6-3)
(4) Green Bay Southwest (8-1) vs. (5) Hortonville (8-1)
(3) Holmen (9-0) vs. (6) Merrill (7-2)
(2) Ashwaubenon (9-0) vs. (7) Marshfield (7-2)
(1) Homestead (9-0) vs. (8) Slinger (5-4)
(4) Menasha (7-2) vs. (5) Cedarburg (7-2)
(3) Oshkosh North (9-0) vs. (6) Whitefish Bay (6-3)
(2) Kimberly (9-0) vs. (7) Sussex Hamilton (5-4)
This time, I used the relative proximity of the Milwaukee area to equitably divide conference champs – meaning I divided the Brookfield schools and a pair of co-champs in the Southern Lakes (Wilmot and Waterford) to make the numbers work. In this scenario, all four regions have three conference champions apiece.
The Southwest is loaded, with four teams at one or two losses in addition to the three conference champions. It’s a strange thing to see Waunakee as the eighth seed, but remarkably, the perennial powerhouse is definitely the weakest of the eight. With the Southeast lacking anything close to the clout of the Southwest, I could see some swaps being made to more equitably divide the talent, even though there are no guidelines encouraging the behavior.
I can also imagine some very unhappy people if Kimberly and Homestead wind up in the same pod, as both could easily play for the state title.
(1) Lodi (9-0) vs. (8) Elkhorn (5-4)
(4) Pewaukee (8-1) vs. (5) Jefferson (7-2)
(3) Mount Horeb/Barneveld (6-3) vs. (6) Madison Edgewood (6-3)
(2) Edgerton (8-1) vs. (7) Evansville/Albany (5-4)
(1) Reedsburg (7-2) vs. (8) Wisconsin Dells (5-4)
(4) Mosinee (7-2) vs. (5) Onalaska (4-5)
(3) LaCrosse Logan (7-2) vs. (6) Osceola (5-4)
(2) Medford (7-2) vs. (7) Black River Falls (5-4)
(1) Plymouth (8-1) vs. (8) Milwaukee Pius (5-4)
(4) Wisconsin Lutheran (6-3) vs. (5) Kewaskum (5-4)
(3) Two Rivers (8-1) vs. (6) Brown Deer (5-4)
(2) Catholic Memorial (6-3) vs. (7) New Berlin West (4-5)
(1) West De Pere (9-0) vs. (8) Antigo (3-5)
(4) Seymour (7-2) vs. Freedom (6-3)
(3) Appleton Xavier (8-1) vs. (6) Notre Dame (5-4)
(2) Waupaca (9-0) vs. (7) Shawano (5-4)
My process was to bump Reedsburg and Wisconsin Dells into the Northwest as a means of lessening the travel distance for the true northwest teams, particularly Osceola, and also more equitably divide the conference champs (Reedsburg is a conference champ, and the Madison area -- or "Southwest" -- already had a pair in Lodi and Edgerton). It meant the Southwest needed to steal a team from the Southeast to give me even groupings of eight, so I took the westernmost Milwaukee area team in Pewaukee and drove the Pirates west. That would be a change for Pewaukee, which has wound up facing Catholic Memorial the last three years in the playoffs.
Two Rivers, the northernmost school in the Southeast pod, just barely fits in with Milwaukee teams and probably belongs more so with Northeast, but this does make a more equitable divide. However, it's hard to imagine the WIAA placing both Waupaca and West De Pere -- the top two teams in the Division -- in the same group of eight, even if it makes geographical sense here. That Northeast quadrant is loaded, and this layout is pretty imbalanced.
As I drove home from Oconomowoc High School, I kept thinking about my first paragraph. I wanted it to grab the reader's attention, because I knew a lot of people would be reading this story from within the state and beyond. It's not every day a team wins a varsity football game, 84-82.
I thought I had my lead written before I even left the stadium at OHS, finding inspiration during a chat with Athletics Director Scott Raduka on the sidelines as the Raccoons pulled off one of the program's biggest — and certainly craziest — wins in defeating Wisconsin Lutheran on homecoming. The homecoming theme was "Dancing Through The Decades," and I figured I could tie that in with the idea of the football team ascending "through the decades" on the scoreboard, finishing it off with a "dance" (or something like that) after a huge victory over a longtime nemesis.
But once in my car, I knew I needed something simpler. I needed a short and punchy entry to encompass the novelty of what had just transpired, and I arrived at something that also probably answered the "really?" question that would be asked all over the state each time someone heard the score.
"This actually happened."
The next question everyone asks: Did anyone play defense?
I suppose the answer is no, not really, because no defensive coordinator is going to feel good about that game. But the thing is, I didn't even think the Raccoons defense played that poorly. I'm mostly thinking of the final drive of the game, when Wisconsin Lutheran started with 4:10 to play and needed two scores, down 84-74. Of the 15 plays on that drive, Wisco accumulated four yards or fewer on 11, but controversial penalties and a couple big gains helped the Vikings ultimately cash in with a touchdown.
Even so, the longest drive of the night took its toll, with only 30 seconds left on the clock, and when Oconomowoc smothered the onside kick, the game was over.
Obviously, big plays are crucial to racking up this many points — 11 scoring drives needed three or fewer plays from scrimmage (including a kickoff return and interception return for touchdown). On many of those plays, the teams were able to convert on wide-open opportunities. There weren't many missed tackles that I counted, because there were so many plays where a ball carrier was untouched. So no, the defense wasn't great. Offense was going to win that game.
Oconomowoc quarterback Canton Larson, who accounted for eight touchdowns, had a lot to do with Wisco's defensive struggles. His long passes to Casey Bednarski and Jack Bourdo for scores were pinpoint even though they looked like Hail Mary lofts from my vantage point on the sideline. His pass to Koty Thelen turned a third-and-long into a 52-yard score. Larson also ran for a 51-yard score and a 60-yard score, easing his way through the Wisco pass rush.
After the game on talk radio, coach Ryan McMillen praised Larson as the best in the state at his position. It's true that Larson won't get the attention of Franklin's Sean McGuire or Greendale's Josh Ringelberg, but his dual-threat capability and ability to read the defense has distanced him from most of his peers. Larson, who has grown out a full beard that makes him look about 10 years older than he did last year, looks very much like an experienced leader when he plays.
Cooney's biggest advantage was its special teams. Bednarski, showing an uncommon dual threat as one of the state's better kickers and also one of his team's best athletes, routinely put the ball into the end zone on kickoffs. Though big plays made this anything but a field-position battle, I kept thinking Wisco would ultimately get gassed from needing to go the extra mile to find the end zone. Neither team looked as tired as I expected by the end, but there had to be value in forcing Wisco to work just a little harder, keeping the Vikings from succeeding in their kick return game and making every single extra point count.
"Seriously, I have no idea where the ceiling is here." I tweeted that at halftime to another prep writer in the area, after Wisco had taken a 36-35 lead into the lockerroom. I was responding to his comment, "That game will end 82-77."
He wasn't thinking big enough.
What's so hard to explain about this game is just how unlikely the laboratory. This wasn't a game between two programs with a couple elite athletes but no depth or size to play adequate defense.
This was Wisconsin Lutheran, a team that hasn't missed the playoffs since the WISAA-WIAA merger with three state titles and two runnerup finishes along the way. This was Oconomowoc, with one of its best teams in ages trying to knock off the Wisconsin Little Ten powerhouse for the first time since 2001. Oconomowoc hadn't allowed more than 14 points in three previous WLT games, and Wisco had a 22-game conference winning streak.
In fact, the game was momentous for much more than the score. The win put the Raccoons in the playoffs, gave them a real shot at their first conference title since 2002 (though a tough road remains) and represented a huge feather in the cap of an athletics program that has slowly but surely enjoyed amplified athletics success over the past two years.
Throw in the massive crowd for homecoming festivities, complete with a parade that has to rank among the area's largest. This game was already a big deal in Oconomowoc, so it didn't need too huge a lunge to become classified as "epic." Of course, it took the biggest lunge it could, anyway.
This wasn't the greatest game I've ever seen and not even the best game I've seen this year. Though we realized the events were creeping toward historic (before barging forward to the tune of 33 points greater than the previous state record), the on-field events became a surreal video game.
A tipped pass by an Oconomowoc defender fell into the hands Wisco's Jacob Smrz for a touchdown. Of course it did. Larson ran 51 yards to score with 7 seconds to go before halftime — just in time for a news helicopter overhead to capture footage for the nightly news. Of course he did. There became a certainty that the other team was going to answer every score; it was just a matter of how fast.
At some point, it became exhausting to even think about. The air fizzled out of the game, much as it did out of the oversized beach ball that had occupied the OHS student section for part of the first half before event security confiscated it and stabbed it out of commission. Even among players and fans (save for a Nick Gomez interception for TD and Jarek Berg's kickoff return, which were both electrifying for the home sideline), scoring actually kind of got old after a while.
Looking back on it restores the shine. So many people will say they were at this game, and I'll be one of those telling the truth. I was the bald guy in the sweatshirt on the sideline, mostly staring at his smart phone to tweet the updates that came so regularly. This actually happened.
The dominoes haven't started falling yet. But the push might be coming.
When Wisconsin Lutheran asked at a recent WIAA Area Meeting for the Board of Control to consider a relocation from the Wisconsin Little Ten Conference, the school may have essentially been asking for a massive overhaul of Milwaukee-area athletic conferences. Not that Wisco — which is a dramatic geographic outlier on 84th St. in Milwaukee traveling to far-away locations like Watertown, Beaver Dam and Oconomowoc — intended for anything more than something more convenient for its own travel logistics.
But it's never as simple as one team relocating somewhere else. A lot of conferences could get involved.
That's especially true considering the number of schools that have recently inquired about conference relocation. West Bend East and West Bend West also want out of the WLT, preferring the North Shore. In the North Shore, Milwaukee Lutheran would like out. Wauwatosa East (in the Greater Metro) would like to join its crosstown rival Wauwatosa West in the Woodland. Greater Metro schools West Allis Hale and West Allis Central also want to see a change, perhaps to the Woodland as well.
Ultimately, the BOC gets final say on any moves, and that's likely to take time and err on the side of simplicity. But with so many schools looking for an adjustment, it may only be a matter of time before the landscape looks dramatically different.
WIAA Associate Director Deb Hauser said enrollment, travel and creating even-numbered conferences are the biggest factors in realignment. Competitive balance typically does not play into the formula, she said, because the strengths and weaknesses of a given school vary widely by sports.
Most area conferences feature eight teams, but a 10-team structure is becoming more popular across the state. That format would eliminate nonconference football games from the equation.
Is it possible that we may have entirely new conferences in the Milwaukee area someday soon? I asked Hauser if the Milwaukee area was a prime candidate for that sort of reconstruction given the number of schools in the area.
"Might be, it just all depends," she said. "There is some longstanding history and records associated with conferences. If you create new ones, that all starts over."
Wisco, which has been a member of the WLT long before the WIAA-WISAA merger in 2000, holds many of those records. But with such a wide geographical area making it difficult to simply swap one team for another, the Wisconsin Little Ten might be a casualty of any realignment plan.
"The member schools gave the authority to place schools in conferences to the Board of Control," Hauser said. "So ultimately the BOC makes the final decision based off a recommendation from the WIAA staff. I will be meeting with the involved conferences to get their input and ideas, etc. After doing that, an initial plan is drafted and then gets discussed with those involved."
With St. Francis getting approval to move from the Woodland to the Midwest Classic next year, there is one opening in the Woodland. Perhaps the easiest solution would simply be to put Wisco in that slot, but the Little Ten would still need another squad to avoid an odd number.
I tried to imagine a world where the major conferences in the area (Woodland, Greater Metro, Classic 8, Wisconsin Little Ten, North Shore) were mostly blown up, with new conferences drawn in their place. These are highly unlikely moves, and pure entertaining speculation on my part.
How would you do it?
Enrollments are in parenthesis.
North Shore: Cedarburg (1149), Germantown (1430), Grafton (723), Hartford (1440), Homestead (1334), Menomonee Falls (1487), Nicolet (1096), Port Washington (851), Slinger (936), Whitefish Bay (95), West Bend East (1147), West Bend West (1170)
The West Bends get their wish, with the conference upping from 8 to 12 teams as Falls takes the place of a departing Milwaukee Lutheran. If the West Bends are coming along for the ride, why not add Hartford and Slinger, which are in a bit of a no-man's land geographically but could theoretically belong here? Falls has a lot of history with the Greater Metro programs, and it's not really near the "shore" per se, but it does have the geography and program success to match up with these schools. I'd envision a West Division (West Bends, Slinger, Hartford, Germantown, Falls) and an East (Cedarburg, Homestead, Port, Nicolet, Bay, Grafton), similar to the setup in the current Woodland.
Classic 8: Arrowhead (2266), Kettle Moraine (1337), Mukwonago (1607), Muskego (1688), Oconomowoc (1451), Waukesha North (1122), Waukesha South (1412), Waukesha West (1232).
This should look pretty familiar, with one exception. With the dissolution of the Little Ten, Oconomowoc needed a home and fits in both geographically and size-wise with its Lake Country brethren in this league. Catholic Memorial, which is the significant outlier by enrollment in the current Classic 8, moves into a new conference.
Greater Metro: Brookfield East (1311), Brookfield Central (1314), Marquette (2112) or DSHA (1330), Sussex Hamilton (1386), Wauwatosa East (1168), Wauwatosa West (1043), West Allis Central (1399), West Allis Hale (1616).
After all my machinations trying to take apart the Greater Metro, I wound up with the exact same layout with one small exception — Tosa West taking the place of Menomonee Falls. This puts the Tosa schools together, even if it doesn't put them in the Woodland (which has been blown to smithereens in my model, anyway). My initial thought was to pair the Brookfield schools with the New Berlin schools, but the difference in enrollment is too dramatic.
Northwest Metro: Brown Deer (563), Catholic Memorial (659), Milwaukee Lutheran (760), Milwaukee Pius (873), New Berlin Eisenhower (824), New Berlin West (811), Pewaukee (755), Wisconsin Lutheran (760).
This isn't a masterpiece by any means, but it unifies the area's like-sized private schools (creating a fierce rivalry with CMH, Wisco and Pius for boys basketball supremacy, I might add) and keeps the New Berlin schools together, with four entrants from Waukesha County and four from Milwaukee County. Pewaukee and the New Berlins have some of the best across-the-board programs in the current Woodland.
Southland: Cudahy (741), Greenfield (1323), Greendale (926), Shorewood (665), South Milwaukee (1137), Whitnall (823).
Uh oh, we have a problem. Only six teams left. See, here's the thing about my reconstruction project — if I'm using sensible geography, then Watertown (currently in the Wisconsin Little Ten) will wind up in a conference with schools west of the Milwaukee area, and Beaver Dam would belong to a conference north of the area. So that means we'd need a taker for both those schools to make logical sense. Suddenly, two more conferences are involved.
Maybe the "Southland" conference grabs Franklin (1443) and Oak Creek (1998) from the Southeast, but those schools are both huge for a league that already has enrollments all over the place. And besides, would the Southeast then absorb two Southern Lakes schools? What would the Southern Lakes do in turn?
Maybe St. Francis (583) gets wooed back into the fold, but still one program will be needed. Maybe St. Thomas More (430) returns to the same conference as its former Woodland brethren, but then the Metro Classic needs a new team (and TM belongs in the Metro Classic, anyway). Messmer (715) stands as one potential fit and would partner well with Shorewood as fellow geographical outliers (the two have a football co-op), but it doesn't solve the football problem.
This is a complicated project involving a number of conferences, and as you can see, there's a reason why simplicity usually wins out (or no movement at all). The idea of conference realignment is exciting; it's just not all that easy to do.
Paige Patenaude wants her runners to go the extra mile, but actually not even the whole mile.
The Mukwonago girls cross country coach is one of many adamant supporters of a movement to extend the Wisconsin girls cross-country race from 4,000 meters to 5,000, aligning with the boys. Only 10 states offer a different distance depending on gender (though one state, Texas, only does so for smaller schools), and Wisconsin is among them.
"Wisconsin leads the way on many things surrounding schools and school sports, but we are archaic when it comes to cross country," Patenaude said.
"The biggest arguments (against upgrading to a 5K) are that girls would spend too long on the course and that participation will go down," she added. "Back when the girls race was only two miles, it was a great concern that if we moved to a 4K (2 1/2 miles) that participation would go down. That has been proven to be incorrect since the move to 4K as female CC participation has grown, so that theory goes out the window."
Pewaukee coach John Kashian, whose CC teams swept the Whitewater Invite on Sept. 14 in a meet that runs 5K races for both genders (and whose team was scheduled to compete again in the same format at Franklin on Sept. 21), felt a move was inevitable.
"Our kids seem to flourish and they do well at it, and when they run it, they feel just as comfortable as running the 4K," he said. "(With a change), in three years, girls coming in won't know there ever was a 4K. I'm OK with staying as is; I'd be perfectly fine. It does freak out girls to some extent when they hear 5K … D3 schools can only get a few kids out already, and it's possible you'd eliminate some kids that way. But I don't even know if (young runners) really even think about it being a 4K or a 5K, they just know they're running long. I don't think the transition will be as bad as a lot of people think."
Patenaude's home meet at Mukwonago also features a 5K for girls in a show of support for the movement, and 5K competitions have increased in popularity.
"We definitely train hard enough to handle an extra K," said Curt Kaczor, whose Arrowhead teams have won back-to-back state championships and look like the heavy favorite for at least one more. "We train about 40 to 45 miles a week, so they definitely can handle a 5K. I'm not a pusher (of the issue), but I did vote to go to a 5K (three years ago)."
Kaczor pointed out that based on the voting three years ago, a comfortable majority of Division 1 coaches favor a switch. Patenaude, the district representative for the Wisconsin Cross Country Coaches Association, said in a poll of 372 schools (of the 379 sponsoring girls cross country), 56.4 percent of coaches favored a switch to 5K.
"I believe it is only a matter of time before this change is made and in the meantime, my team will continue to train as if we are racing a 5K and will continue to change our schedule in order to attend meets that run 5K races," Patenaude said.
Some of the benefits are obvious. The 5K distance is closer to the 6K distance female college runners face, a unified distance would make meet administration much simpler, and the maneuver would create simple gender equity. WIAA distances in swimming and track and field are largely the same between genders.
"To say that my girls run 50-60 minute runs at practice but can't handle racing for 35 minutes does not make sense," Patenaude said. "Two years ago, I moved our Mukwonago home invite to a 5K in support of moving the state to a 5K race for girls. The slowest boys time on the course for the 5K race was 28:15, the slowest girls time was 32:29. To say that four extra minutes on the course is more detrimental to our sport than having girls hear they cannot run as far as the boys infuriates me."
Patenaude said former University Lake School phenom Molly Seidel, who won four Division 3 cross country state championships, wrote an open letter to the WIAA in support of the 5K race and talked about disadvantages she faced at Notre Dame when she began her college career. Patenaude feels the concession too heavily weighs the idea that some athletes run cross country to get in shape and would be turned off by the more rigorous race.
"I am more than happy to have a girl on my team who is just there to get healthy and have a connection to the school, but I will not support my sport being watered down or my serious athletes to be at a disadvantage in order to appeal to them," she said.
Kaczor, who previously coached in a Division 3 program at Sevastopol, has a unique perspective.
"Numbers (in the program) were always my concern, so I know where they're coming from (at the smaller schools)," he said. "But at the same time, those girls are running enough miles to handle a 5K and I don't think I've ever had a girl come up to me and ask me when I'm recruiting them (to go out for cross country), 'How far do you race?'"
In the meantime, the longer distance races might even provide a competitive edge.
"We went to Whitewater for a 5K, and the sectional is at Whitewater as a 4K … I know our girls think it's great," Kashian said. "It helps a little bit with the mental toughness of the girls. Some coaches love this. I could take it or leave it, but I'm sure there's some benefit to the fact we're training more for a 5K than a 4K."
The district representatives will vote again on a proposal to unify the distances at a January clinic hosted by the WCCCA. The result will then be formally presented to the WIAA leadership.
The Sept. 5 battle between Waukesha West and Mukwonago was the best regular-season game I've seen, in my estimation, even though I've only been covering prep football for a decade. I was trying to think of games that were equally as entertaining as the 45-44 overtime thriller, and I thought of two I had seen in person — a state-championship game in 2006 and a playoff battle in 2007.
Allow me to take a look back at all three:
November 17, 2006
Franklin and Brookfield Central were meeting at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison for the Division 2 state championship. Both were 13-0.
Franklin quarterback Rob Evans set state records for most passing yards (264) and touchdowns (four) in a Division 2 title game, and it was the first overtime game at state since 1991.
It seemed over when...
Nate Soddy caught a 22-yard pass from Franklin quarterback Rob Evans, giving the Sabers a 29-14 lead with 3:38 to go in the third, and a Brookfield Central drive stalled, giving Franklin the ball back with 2:09 to play.
The big-yardage play
Brookfield Central quarterback Mike Bogard found future Badgers tight end Rob Korslin for an 81-yard touchdown up the right sideline, making for a new Division 2 record for longest passing touchdown and tying the game at 29 with 6:16 remaining. Franklin's Joey Cook had a prime opportunity to intercept the pass, but it went through his hands and right to Korslin, who broke multiple tackles on his way to the house.
Special teams moment
Lee Severson attempted a 40-yard field goal with 1:14 left in regulation, one that went just wide left and left the two teams tied at 29.
The Whoa Moment
Needing a two-point conversion to tie after Korslin's long touchdown run, Bogard dropped back to pass but the pocket collapsed quickly. As he was getting twisted to the ground, the Brookfield Central quarterback blindly threw a two-handed heave over his head and backward as a desperation move. Korslin, blocking on the play, made the catch for the game-tying conversion.
The game-tying drive
It wasn't much of a drive, just a one-play bomb to Korslin and an improbable 2-point conversion.
Rob Evans delivered a 7-yard touchdown pass to Geoff Stuhr and gave Franklin a 36-29 lead. On the next possession, Drew Herma ran to the Franklin 1-yard line before Franklin's Joey Cook forced a fubmle as Herma leaped for the end zone, and teammate DJ Nogalski picked it up in the end zone for a game-ending fumble recovery.
Franklin 36, Brookfield Central 29
November 3, 2007
Arrowhead (11-0) and Marquette (10-1) met in Level 3 of the WIAA Division playoffs, clashing before a record crowd at Arrowhead's stadium.
Arrowhead went on to win a state championship. Marquette came back to Lake Country in 2009, when the two teams met again in Level 4 and the Hilltoppers won easily en route to their own state crown.
It seemed over when...
Marquette took a 21-10 lead with 53 seconds to play in the third quarter, and Arrowhead hadn't trailed all season coming into the contest.
The big-yardage play
Before the third quarter came to a close, quarterback Danny Kieffer hit Calvin Ramsey for a 76-yard touchdown pass that was the first of two quick touchdowns for Arrowhead, a pair of strikes that gave the Warhawks a 24-21 lead with 7:30 to play.
Special teams moment
Marquette's Pat Hughes hit a 42-yard field goal as time expired to tie the game and force overtime.
The Whoa Moment
In the second overtime, Marquette had taken a lead on a field goal, and Arrowhead fumbled the ball on first down. Running back Brian Crook emerged from a pile with the ball, though there were some anxious moments as fans waited to see if the game was over.
The game-tying drive
After Arrowhead took a lead with 50 seconds to go on an eight-play, 67-yard drive that ended on a 33-yard touchdown catch by Calvin Ramsey, Marquette answered. Starting on the Arrowhead 37 with 48 seconds to go, Marquette quarterback Brian Mulcahy completed three passes to the AHS 25, where Hughes tied the game.
The teams traded touchdowns in the first OT, and Marquette kicker Pat Hughes hit a 22-yarder in the second after Arrowhead stuffed the Hilltoppers on 1st and goal from the 4 three straight plays. Arrowhead scored a game-winning touchdown on a third-down quarterback sneak from Danny Kieffer.
Arrowhead 44, Marquette 41
September 5, 2013
Waukesha West (2-0) and Mukwonago (2-0) met with television cameras out for the Thursday night game to witness the Classic 8 Conference opener.
The two teams went to overtime the year before, with West emerging victorious, 28-25.
It seemed over when...
Waukesha West's Alex Andraski jumped a route and returned his interception 58 yards for a score. West 31, Mukwonago 17, with 10:53 to play.
The big-yardage play
On the next sequence, Dom Cizauskas took a short pass and maneuvered 64 yards for a touchdown, pulling Mukwonago within 31-24.
Special teams moment
Waukesha West blocked an extra-point attempt with 1:59 to go on what should have been a game-tying strike, and the Wolverines held on to a 31-30 lead.
The Whoa Moment
Elijah Fort raced 60 yards for a touchdown on the ensuing possession, but with Mukwonago down to one timeout and less than a minute on the clock, his score actually gave the Indians one last chance. When West missed its own PAT, the Indians were only down 7 and had 59 seconds to go 65 yards. Which of course, they did.
The game-tying drive
Quarterback Aaron Nixon darted upfield 42 yards on 1st and 10 from the Mukwonago 35, and two plays later he found Ryan Wagner for an 18-yard strike. The drive began with 59 seconds to play and ended with 14 seconds to go. Mukwonago initially lined up for a two-point conversion but abandoned that plan after a false start.
After Mukwonago scored first on Colton Williams' 13-yard run, West took advantage of a penalty and scored a touchdown in three plays. The Indians stopped the original two-point conversion attempt, but a defensive hold gave the Wolverines new life, and Thomas MacCudden ran it in for a game-winning score.
Waukesha West 45, Mukwonago 44.
Pictured: Brookfield Central’s Jacob Glickstein walks off the field as the Franklin bench erupts in victory in overtime of the WIAA Division 2 state championship game in 2006. (Photo by Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel).
For the second straight year (we can call it an annual tradition now), I'm stealing the "Talking Sports With Some of My Friends" format of colleague Chuck Delsman in his "Sports Scene" column and offering some thoughts I find interesting in the world of sports.
·I've hit the wall with the ongoing cold war between New Stats and Old Stats in Major League Baseball. If baseball analysts aren't talking about steroids, they're throwing in their 2 cents on where they fall on the spectrum, whether they reject the "sabermetric" stats or embrace them or fall somewhere in between. I have to admit I've been entertained by an MLB Network show "MLB Now," which is essentially a daily platform to discuss the topic between new-school thinker Brian Kenny and old-school voice Harold Reynolds. But it's time for the discussion to fade away.
I'm a new-stat guy through and through and think the use of a pitcher's win-loss record and hitter's batting average are anachronisms from a time when we didn't understand baseball as well as we do today. I prefer OPS, WAR and FIP to more traditional stats. But we've reached a point where those stats have found a place in the game, where player evaluation is achieving that level of comprehension at the front-office level. Almost every team employs personnel who look at player evaluation through this prism. You can find new stats on Major League scoreboards. So what's the remaining end game? To get broadcasters and other fans to see the game exactly as I see it? That's a waste of time, and as narrow minded as an old-school thinker who says the new stats take the fun out of baseball.
With the volume of information available, those who reject new stats simply aren't going to change their minds, and it's not worth the fight. I've always felt postseason award voters should use their independent criteria and not rely exclusively on any one thing, so while it makes for good postseason debate to argue how best to choose the MVP or Cy Young, it's gotten tiring. Fans should be allowed to appreciate the game as they see fit. Neither side should be evangelizing its sole method of interpretation. If my team is doing everything it can to assemble a winning team, as I see it, then I'm content.
"Was he out?"
That was the text from my wife last weekend, when she was in Detroit visiting family and attending a nail-biter between the Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians. I frequently watch Tigers games at home but didn't have any idea what she was talking about, since I happened to be running errands at the time.
But the gist of it was pretty obvious: there was a controversial play, and since she's sitting in the stands, she has no idea what happened. The curse of attending a live sporting event is that you can't actually go to the game and appreciate the nuances of the game.
There was a lot of chatter from the Wisconsin Badgers football opener over the weekend, when a new food vendor left fans with fewer options. UW athletic director Barry Alvarez even issued an apology to fans who felt their experience was sub-standard. I also heard some complaints that the huge new scoreboard at Camp Randall didn't show enough stats, similar to complaints you hear about many gameday experiences (not enough replay of controversial plays, not enough info, period) from venues across the country.
I love the roar of the crowd in a big moment, for sure. I love the communal feel as the team rallies for a big win. But are those 2-3 moments at a game worth the cramped seating, the environment that may include a nearby unruly fan, the lines for food, the public restrooms, and the information vacuum? With 3G or 4G cell service spotty at college football games (hard to support that many people in one place, after all), you may be relegated to texting a friend to find out what actually happened in front of your face.
There's a reason stadiums are getting bigger and bigger video boards; they want the experience to more closely mirror the comfort you experience in your home. That's never going to happen. My recommendation: stay for the pregame, then watch the actual game from your sofa.
It's always refreshing when a pro athlete talks about Milwaukee positively. That was the case when Caron Butler addressed his arrival to the Milwaukee Bucks following a recent offseason trade that brought the 33-year-old Racine native home.
That serves as an interesting juxtaposition to the outgoing Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, who both had disparaging things to say about the Bucks in their departure.
Butler is a veteran from the area, so his vantage point may be skewed. But here's the thing: it's very difficult to imagine any up-and-coming NBA stars liking their time in Milwaukee. This town is a superb place to raise a family, with rare access for a "big city" and a number of cultural offerings, especially in the summer. People who live here love it, for the most part. But for a suddenly rich and famous 19-22-year-old who also gets to see other major markets around the country, then returns home to the deep Wisconsin winter, you can see why this town wouldn't appeal.
Baseball players are generally a little older when they arrive with the Brewers, many with families started, and a recent ascent through the minors likely leads to a greater appreciation for the top of the organizational chain. Milwaukee will seem like a luxury, and the summer has a lot to offer. I think Bucks fans should be surprised and thankful when someone like Larry Sanders desires to stay and signs a contract to do so, because the arc of NBA stardom and the city of Milwaukee aren't a natural fit.
I've been hard at work trying to add as much content to the "Push for the Playoffs" page as possible, including standings, photos, playoff outlooks, a Player of the Week and less traditional features like "You Make The Call," a roundup of area players in the news from college or the pros and a "Coach's Confidential," where we go inside the mind of coaches on the broader issues of football.
Starting next week, you can enter our "Pigskin Picks" competition, which invites you to pick the winners of select games in the quest for prizes.
The page covers teams from Lake Country as well as the NOW Newspapers coverage area. To visit, check out mycommunity.com/push and feel free to email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) with thoughts.
When Matt Harvey of the New York Mets went down with a season-ending UCL tear, portending Tommy John surgery, I found myself feeling pretty sad. I don't care about the Mets nor am I particularly attached to the young flame-throwing superstar who started the All-Star Game earlier this summer, but I am disappointed that his career has hit such a major roadblock so soon.
Harvey has near-perfect mechanics, and in my mind is the picture of what you hope a starting pitcher looks like. The results speak for themselves, and though he did throw his share of 110-pitch outings, there were no indicators that this was coming.
It's a stark, cruel reminder that the process of finding elite pitching talent, which in my mind is the key to sustained success at the big league level, is such a crapshoot. This guy was destined to be baseball's top pitcher, and now his career arc is a complete question mark following what seems like a missed 2014. I've been frustrated with the Brewers inability to draft quality pitchers, but even if you somehow develop a track record of drafting and developing excellent arms, there doesn't appear to be any real way to avoid the attrition of injury.
I'm sad because it doesn't matter how shrewd the scouting department, luck remains a huge part of the puzzle. And the teams that overcome bad luck are the teams that can afford to take risks in free agency, thanks to a considerable pool of money. The Milwaukee Brewers will never be one of those teams.
Pictured: Corey Clement scores a touchdown for the Badgers Aug. 31 against UMass. Photo by Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
Over the past few weeks, I've worked on a series called "Child's Play: The Cost of Youth Sports" looking at the various tolls youth sports can take, from money and time to injury. I had chatted with Mukwonago football coach Clay Iverson about the prevalance of football camps, and I didn't quite have a home for that information in the context of the series. It's not quite youth sports and instead more about high-school athletes, but the camp culture is another illustration of the money-motivated youth sports culture.
To read the three installments in the series, visit LivingLakeCountry.com.
In some sports, particularly football, it's hard to get noticed without attending a sport camp of some sort, usually a multi-day gathering that provides some measure of evaluation. The idea is to create an environment where prep prospects can be seen by a multitude of college coaches. But buyer beware.
"Camps are great, but they also make money," said Mukwonago football coach Clay Iverson. "I'm not saying coaches go out of their way; college coaches don't necessarily want a ton of kids out there banging down their doors, but there are a lot of young kids out there that don't reach that scholarship level. A freshman or sophomore goes to camp and a coach might say something (positive) meant honestly, and he goes home talks to mom and dad, and if they have the right disposition, you could be in trouble with that (in putting too much stock in the comment). And then there are times you get flat-out wrong information."
Iverson said it's not always parents making the push; sometimes it's an aunt or uncle or grandparent with past playing experience.
"I've seen it happen, where they're fanning the flames of what most parents want, for their son and daughter to be really good and stand out," Iverson said. "Most parents are realistic enough to understand what's going on, but the problem comes in when you're told something, and there is a fire that kindles. Either you want the attention or just want what's best for your kid."
The proliferation of camps has been significant over the past decade. In his book "The Most Expensive Game in Town," author Mark Hyman quotes reputable trainer Vern Gambetta who estimated (generously, he said) 15 percent of those who attend camps are likely to play college football on any level, and a far smaller number will play Division 1.
Elsewhere in the book, Hyman points to an interesting conflict of interest. One of the evaluation tools used in football in recent years has been SPARQ – a system administered by "certified" pros and backed by Nike. College coaches have extolled the virtues of the SPARQ system as a tool used for evaluating college prospects, but many of these coaches work for schools that may also have a clothing deal with Nike. In other words, it's good business to give the brand a boost.
As an interview in the book with current Seattle Seahawks (and former USC) coach Pete Carroll showed, not all coaches even knew what SPARQ was (he had to ask the interviewer). But when kids hear college coaches trust it, they're likely to pay and get themselves evaluated.
"Some of these camps are getting younger and younger primarily because recruiting is getting sped up so fast," Iverson said. "You can give your camp whatever name you want it, 'Come to my Five-Star Showcase Camp, go there and get your profile.' They want you to come back to the camp, so what are they going to do? They're not going to say you don't have a chance. It can snowball from there. I'm not saying all camps are bad, but as a parent you have to be really careful where you spend your money. People who run the camps are smart enough to word things the right way."
Pictured: Mukwonago coach Clay Iverson (photo by Carol Spaeth-Bauer)
The 2013 football season will begin Aug. 22, with a Thursday night nonconference battle between two of the top teams in the area, then open in earnest Friday. As always, there are a number of tremendous battles on the docket. Here are a few within the Lake Country Publications coverage zone. For more football coverage, check out the 2013 Gridiron Guide, available in the Aug. 21 and Aug. 22 editions of Lake Country Publications.
Aug. 22: Hamilton at Franklin. The 2013 season kicks off on a Thursday night with a nonconference curiosity between two perennially tough programs. The Chargers topped the Sabers last year at Stan Grove Field, but this year Hamilton could be without injured all-world running back Drew Patterson. Franklin quarterback Sean McGuire is one of the top passers in the state.
Aug. 23: Racine Horlick at Mukwonago. The Rebels will be much improved behind quarterback Rickey Neal, Jr., a dual threat who helped Horlick return to respectability last year. The Indians, under second-year coach Clay Iverson, will be looking to take a big lunge forward and ascend to top-tier status among all the squads in the area. This will definitely get the juices flowing early.
Aug. 23: Waterford at Pewaukee. The Pirates open up play on their new artificial field turf by welcoming a Waterford squad just two years removed from an appearance in the state championship game.
Aug. 30: Pewaukee at Wisconsin Lutheran. In part two of Pewaukee's tough nonconference slate, the Pirateswill get a glimpse into their playoff future, perhaps, with a battle against one of the other very best Division 3 teams in the area and state. Wisco is young this year and perhaps vulnerable, but the Vikings seldom take time to rebuild.
Aug. 30: Arrowhead at Homestead. This could be one of the most anticipated regular season football games in years, with the reigning state champions in Division 1 and 2 meeting in a battle that will go a long way in telling us just how good these squads are. Both could easily repeat in 2013.
Aug. 31: Burlington Catholic Central at Lake Country Lutheran. Last year, LCL knocked off the Hilltoppers for the first time. This year, expectations remain high for the Lightning to compete at the very top of the Division 7 heap, and this is an annual challenge against one of the state's other top D7 programs.
Sept. 5: Waukesha West at Mukwonago. Last year, the Wolverines stunned Mukwonago in a nail-biting finish, and this time around the Indians will get to host the first Classic 8 Conference game of the year, looking for a return trip to the playoffs buy navigating one of the state's toughest conferences.
Sept. 6: Arrowhead at Kettle Moraine. Certainly the Warhawks will be favored in this battle, but it will be interesting to see what kind of strides the Lasers make this year under new coach Dave Pfeiffer, who was the defensive coordinator for an Arrowhead team that won last year's state championship. Consider this the Pfeiffer Bowl.
Sept. 13: Catholic Memorial at Arrowhead. The returning Division 1 and Division 3 state champions square off in a battle that went Arrowhead's way last year by a surprisingly lopsided 50-7 score. The Warhawks will be favored again, but it's impressive scheduling that three of their first four games come against teams with a state title in one of the past two seasons, followed by a huge battle at Mukwonago.
Sept. 20: Arrowhead at Mukwonago. It's never difficult to get the emotion going for this battle of rivals, but it's trumped up a notch this year considering the two schools are among the best in Division 1. The Warhawks will still be heavily favored in any game they play, but this will certainly be an obstacle on the path to an undefeated season.
Sept. 20: Wauwatosa West at Pewaukee. Once upon a time, the Trojans were the low rung of the totem pole in the Woodland, but a resurgence last year under coach Matt Good makes Tosa West a very real threat to win the Woodland West. It's the third in a monster run of league games for Pewaukee, following battles with New Berlin Eisenhower and Greendale. Pewaukee will have to work very hard to replicate its undefeated regular-season from a year ago with the Woodland West as talented as it is.
Sept. 27: Wisconsin Lutheran at Oconomowoc. This could be the year the Raccoons knock off the perennial Wisconsin Little Ten frontrunner, with the Vikings graduating a litany of players from last year and coming to visit OHS on its Homecoming. Cooney has three-year starting quarterback Canton Larson manning the controls.
Sept. 28: Messmer/Shorewood at Lake Country Lutheran. Last year, the Midwest Classic title boiled down to this high-scoring showdown, with the Lightning ultimately emerging with a 43-40 win. This year's installment could provide just as much intrigue, with Messmer/Shorewood possessing one of the area's top football players in Jonathan Carson.
Oct. 11: Hamilton at Brookfield Central. It's hard to tell if the battle at Brookfield East or Central will be the bigger road test for the Chargers, but the late-season matchup could have a lot to say about who walks away with the Greater Metro title. East ran the regular-season table last year, including with an overtime win over the Chargers, but graduated a ton. That matchup takes place Sept. 12.
Oct. 11: Mukwonago at Catholic Memorial. Last year, this meeting came down to the wire, with Memorial falling short on what would have been a game-winning two-point conversion. The Crusaders went on to the state title, and this still figures to be one of the seasonal highlights on a Classic 8 schedule that gives you something exciting every week.
Oct. 18: Pewaukee in Woodland Crossover. A format change this season will set up a de facto Woodland title game in the final week of the regular season between the top dog in the West and East, and this game would be played at Pewaukee if the Pirates are the No. 1 seed in the West. But the Pirates own division will be just as rugged as any meeting with the No. 1 team from the other side.
Oct. 18: Oconomowoc at Watertown. The Goslings graduated all-world quarterback Tarek Yaeggi, but Watertown will still be a formidable threat in the Wisconsin Little Ten, and the regular-season finale could have major implications for the conference race or playoff chase.
Our offices in Hartland recently moved, and the process of relocation naturally requires a great deal of cleaning and reorganizing. As I consolidated some files, I went back through my state-tournament programs, which I keep for records and simple posterity, and thought back to some of my favorite state tournaments that I've covered. I've only been covering prep sports for just under a decade, but the programs reminded me of some pretty awesome moments in the recent past.
2005 boys basketball – It was my first opportunity to cover a truly dominant team. Repeating as state champions, the Dominican boys, led by future Loyola player J.R. Blount (a chap with a good first name), Ben Hailey, Brandon Brown and freshman guard Kwamain Mitchell (who later stood out at St. Louis), crushed two foes to take the Division 3 title.
2006 football – This is the most fun I've had on any single day of state competition. The NOW coverage area was blessed with several state finalists – Greendale in Division 3, Brookfield Central and Franklin in Division 2 and Homestead in Division 1 (facing Arrowhead, though I wasn't working for Lake Country Publications just yet). Homestead won that game easily – the first of three state finals matchups against Arrowhead – but the other two games were thrillers. Greendale fell to Waupaca, 7-3, on an acrobatic touchdown catch late in the game, and Franklin edged Brookfield Central in overtime on a forced fumble at the goal line. To date, the wild 36-29 victory for the Sabers might be the greatest WIAA state final game in history.
2008 football – It was the final chapter of an incredible rivalry. Homestead won the state title over Arrowhead in 2006, then Arrowhead bounced back to win easily over Homestead in 2007. When they met again in 2008, it was finally a close game. The Highlanders pulled out a 13-11 win to maintain bragging rights over the Warhawks … for now. Both teams won state titles last year when Homestead dipped to Division 2 in enrollment.
2008 summer baseball – I've written about this game at length, but I haven't seen a bigger upset than the one turned by Kettle Moraine in the opening round of the state summer baseball tournament in Stevens Point, a victory over defending champion West Bend West. The Lasers went on to fall in to Marquette in the state final.
2009 boys soccer – Then again…there was Arrowhead boys soccer shocking perennial superpower Marquette on Danny Ziegler's goal in double overtime in 2009. The disappointing thing working at a weekly in the fall is that so many great events intersect at the same time, so a win like this wound up on page 2 (because Arrowhead ultimately fell in the state semifinal the next night) with teams winning cross country titles (Pewaukee, Arrowhead's Gabby Levac, University Lake School's Molly Seidel) on Page 1, and Level 2 football games relegated to Page 3. We did give this one a big headline though – "Giant Killers."
2009 summer baseball – A walk-off home run by Brian Crook in the quarterfinal and a walk-off single by Karl Sprung in the final against Marquette to give Arrowhead a state title capped a magical run for the Warhawks and veteran coach Tim O'Driscoll, who won his second career state title and first since 1979.
2009 boys volleyball – Kettle Moraine won a five-setter against Middleton and took Nicolet to five sets in the state semifinal before falling short. I maintain that volleyball is one of my favorite sports to watch, and the boys volleyball state tourney is a hidden gem within the prep landscape.
2010 boys basketball – Charles Rushman banked in a shot at the buzzer to lift Arrowhead past Marquette in the semifinal, and the team came out on absolute fire in the final against talent-rich Madison Memorial to shock the prep world and win a state title. Seven-foot center Ben Mills, guards Charlie Fischer and Andy Fox and defensive stopper Michael Skarie rounded out the starting lineup as Arrowhead finished 25-3 and won its only boys basketball title. Two of those losses came to Division 2 champ Catholic Memorial, led by Princeton recruit TJ Bray.
2012 football – In what played out as a coronation for Arrowhead and Catholic Memorial, two of our area teams that romped to state championships and left no doubt they were the best squads in the Division.
2013 basketball – It was a fun ride to watch Mukwonago blossom during the past few years on the boys side, reaching the state final before falling to undefeated Germantown following a long build toward respectability. On the girls side, it was a sudden turnaround that landed MHS in the state final against Milwaukee Riverside following a semifinal win over conference foe Arrowhead. It was a busy couple weeks in a very busy winter for Mukwonago, which also qualified for state in team wrestling.
Chad McLaughlin's roommate at the University of Oshkosh called and said he saw Chad on Facebook.
"(I said), 'Yeah, we've been friends for three years on Facebook,'" McLaughlin joked. "He said, 'No it's someone writing about you giving a kid a baseball.' I thought my girlfriend had made a comment or something, and then I saw it was a link.
"It started off slowly, and then all my friends saw it and posted it on my (Facebook) wall."
The link was to a blog post by Sarah Kooiman, a mother of three who wrote about her experience at Sunday's Milwaukee Brewers game at Miller Park, when an unidentified "mystery man" had gone out of his way to make one of her kids feel pretty special. Kooiman had forgotten to get McLaughlin's name after the Hamilton High School graduate spent part of the game chatting with Kooiman's family, including her oldest son, Isaiah.
What she did have was a picture of McLaughlin and Isaiah, posing with a baseball McLaughlin had given her son. She wanted to thank him, and she used Facebook as her search party. It worked.
"Cousins were calling me, my girlfriend's cousins were calling me, messaging me on Facebook," McLaughlin said. "One of my buddies messaged me and said it made it to Liverpool (in England)."
Kooiman's story was an open letter to the fan in Section 113, Row 17, Seat 22. She conveyed the story of how McLaughlin chatted up her oldest son, age 5, and brought him down to the Brewers dugout on multiple occasions between innings in the quest of retrieving a baseball from one of the players. When the game ended without such a souvenir, McLaughlin presented Isaiah with a baseball purchased from the souvenir shop during the seventh inning.
"As we shuffled out of the stadium, Isaiah wouldn't stop talking about his very own Brewers baseball and how it was one of his 'special treasures,' Kooiman said in the post, on her personal blog entitled ArenaFive. "It can be so easy to forget sometimes how small acts of kindness can have such a huge impact on our fellow humans. Holding open a door, offering a seat on a bus or subway, paying for a stranger's coffee. All teeny little choices that can become a bright spot in an otherwise difficult day."
The blog post has close to 400 comments.
"I was happy that it made people's day and touched people's hearts," McLaughlin said. "These acts of kindness should be going around more. It shouldn't be a big deal in every day life. But I was really touched by some of the comments, that it made their day, that it made them feel good."
It was McLaughlin's first Brewers game of the year, part of a double date with a buddy who had the tickets. At one point, he told his girlfriend, Maggie, that it wasn't looking likely that he would be able to wrestle away a game ball.
"I was hoping after the game some of the players would throw some stuff up (into the crowd), but it was looking grim in the end," McLaughlin said. "It was a good backup plan, I figured."
McLaughlin's name might sound familiar to fans of local prep sports. He's a two-time conference champion with the Hamilton wrestling team, a four-time varsity starter for coach Doug Pulvermacher and state qualifier as a junior. He wrestled briefly at Oshkosh, where he's pursuing an education degree with practicums forthcoming and student-teaching beginning next fall (grades 6-12).
He was part of a conference tri-champion team in his senior year, with a thrilling dual-meet win over Brookfield East in the league finale to clinch.
"Sam Kuehn was the last match, bumped up from 112 to 119," McLaughlin recalled. "Sam was getting womped on because he was going up a weight bracket, but Sam had the better endurance. In the last 30 seconds, he scored three points to be one point and held on from there."
Kooiman said she appreciated McLaughlin's tolerance of her three children, with the others aged 3 and just younger than 2, but McLaughlin said they weren't a bother.
"I work with kids and they were great kids behind me," he said. "The kid barely bumped me. I just gave him a smile and talked and tried to engage him. When kids are that young, 2 or 3, it's hard being at a baseball game so I tried to make it more interactive for them."
It's not the first time a Sussex native has become an Internet sensation at Miller Park. Before an August game in 2011, then-7-year-old Clayton Wollner met Brewers third baseman Casey McGehee, mere hours before McGehee busted out of a slump with a huge go-ahead home run. Afterward, McGehee credited Wollner — whose name he did not know at the time — for being his good luck charm and told reporters he wanted to bring the boy on an upcoming road trip.
The Brewers have already invited McLaughlin and Kooiman back to Miller Park for another game. He may get that game-used ball after all.
Pictured: Chad McLaughlin (left) poses with 5-year-old Isaiah Kooiman in a photo taken by Isaiah's mother and circulated on Facebook as she tried to identify the kind "mystery man."
Mark Stewart and JR Radcliffe discuss high school sports in this weekly video.
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