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The cross country conflict

Benton wants to lead team; Southwestern says no

POSTED January 16, 2019 3:41 p.m.

Two of three school boards whose school districts share cross country teams differed in deciding which school should take the lead on the co-op teams.

The Benton Board of Education unanimously voted Jan. 9 to become the lead school in the Southwestern/Cuba City/Benton cross country teams.

But about two hours later, the Southwestern Board of Education voted 5–2 against making Benton the lead school.

The Southwestern vote followed public comments that expressed concern that the program might not continue with its current head coach if Benton led the teams.

“We did not seek this out,” said Benton superintendent Todd Bastian Thursday. “Southwestern approached us to see if we would be interested and we then approved it on our end.”

Southwestern superintendent John Costello said at the Southwestern meeting that Benton presently is the lead school in no co-ops that include Southwestern or Cuba City, and that cross country was “most logical. … It allows them to have some skin in the game.”

“I have always felt that Benton should take ownership of the program” to “spread the work around,” said Southwestern athletic director Tom Koeller.

Bastian said at the Benton meeting he wanted to hire the team’s coach and have the coach participate in the hiring process for assistant coaches.

But the possibility that coaches might change concerned those opposed to the move.

“We built up the program,” said Southwestern school board member Storey Dreessens. “If Benton wants to fire the coach … I don’t want to do that.

“Obviously I’m trying to keep the coach that’s been dedicated to the program.”

“Our coaches put their heart and soul into it,” said school board member Larry Grant. “We’ve got a great program. … We owe it to our kids to support that. … Where the money comes from, it’s a formality. Who the coaches are, that’s where the heart is.”

Southwestern school board members Steve Hoopman and Jodi Fritz voted for the change from Southwestern to Benton.

The result is that nothing will change for the 2019 season. The co-op’s continuation beyond 2019 will require Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association approval because all co-op teams are approved for two seasons.

What may change after 2019 is which schools are in the co-op. Both Bastian and Costello said that Shullsburg may be interested in joining the co-op in 2020. Both said Cuba City may consider leaving the co-op and forming its own team because of its large numbers on its middle school cross country team, which is not a co-op team.

The team has two paid coaches and two volunteer coaches. The lead school hires coaches in co-ops, but overall costs of the team are apportioned to each school district based on how many runners it has.

The Southwestern board voted to continue with Southwestern as the lead school for the girls’ golf co-op. Southwestern is also the lead school in the Southwestern/Benton boys golf co-op and the Southwestern/Benton/Cuba City gymnastics co-op.

Cuba City is the lead school in the wrestling tri-op.

Benton also is in a football co-op with Scales Mound, with Shullsburg possibly joining the co-op if approved by the WIAA. Benton, Scales Mound and Shullsburg already have a track co-op. Bention and Shullsburg also co-op in baseball and softball, with Shullsburg the baseball lead and Benton the softball lead.

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