SHULLSBURG – After much discussion, the Shullsburg School Board approved to go to eight-man football for the 2019 season, with a vote of 6-1.
Principal Mark Lierman started the debate off by showing the board some facts and figures of the projected numbers of students participating in football, along with pros and cons of eight-man vs. 11-man.
Eight-man football is nothing new to Wisconsin. The WIAA sponsored reduced-player football before the start of the football playoff system in 1976. There were 78 schools that had reduced-player squads in the late 1950s, 72 of which were eight-player teams and six that were six-player.
Lierman stated that last season, Shullsburg only had 25 football athletes, 12 of them were juniors and seniors. He commented that they would be fine for the upcoming season with the district projected to have 33, with 18 being juniors and seniors.
“People are going to question, well there are 33 kids, what is the issue?” Lierman said before moving on.
In the 2019 season, they are projected at only have 23 students with 13 being juniors and seniors and the numbers go down for the 2020 and 2021 seasons.
His only pro for staying 11-man was that it was tradition and normal for this area. The numbers, not having enough for junior varsity and having more underclassmen play, which could result in more injuries, were some of his cons.
Lierman mentioned if the district stayed with 11-man and they needed to co-op with another school district the lights at Badger Park would not be on during home games, the team would lose their colors, their nickname, Miners, and not all the athletes playing would be from Shullsburg.
“Who would want us? Other districts don’t want us because then we would affect their division placement.”
With going to eight-man, Shullsburg would keep their colors, their mascot name, their students would get the opportunity to play, underclassmen wouldn’t be forced to play against older, more physically mature students and the lights would be on at Badger Park for home games.
Lierman brought up bigger schools such as Burlington Catholic Central, Richland Center and Necedah, who all have had to cancel their football season because not enough students are going out for the sport, bring home his point that “it is everywhere” and that “this is a viable option and it is growing in Wisconsin.”
“Don’t get me wrong, I am not anti-11-man football. I coached it for 30 years. I played it for four years. Why not go to eight-man when you have a chance to have success rather than be forced to do it. It is still football,” Lierman added.
In past years, there was not an eight-man football state championship but a jamboree. There are enough schools sponsoring eight-man football that this year, the WIAA will provide an eight-team tournament for those schools. In the 2019 season, the WIAA will have a 16-team tournament.
“I think in the near future that Division 7 will go away. If we stay 11-man, which is fine, we will be in Division 6 and playing Cuba City, Mineral Point and Pecatonica/Argyle,” Lierman commented.
The question of whom they would be playing if they went to eight-man was brought up.
There are a little over 30 eight-man teams in Wisconsin, along with some over the border in Illinois.
There are other teams in the surrounding area that are considering going to eight-man teams. There are conferences but they will be changing as new schools were recently added for the 2018 season. Shullsburg could be a part of one of those conferences or join the independent conference. Teams played in Wisconsin, Illinois or Iowa would all count towards qualifying for the playoffs. The field would still be 100 yards long but it would be reduced to 40 yards wide instead of 50 yards. In order to play in the state tournament, a school must have a three-year enrollment average of 200 or less.
“This is a problem of our own making by allowing things to coop in the first place,” Amy Charles said. “Part of the problem is we are playing two schools at one time. I don’t disagree on the size but we should at least reach out to another district and see what they want to do for a co-op for 11-man before we take this jump because this is a big jump.”
“I think we are going to see other schools follow suit. Someone needs to bite the bullet and take the leap and maybe more schools will follow suit,” Lierman answered.
Dan Morrissey asked if the district stayed 11-man, and got to the point where they had to cancel a season, could students jump over to another school and play on their team. Lierman said no unless the family moved into that school district.
“I realize it is a tough decision,” Lierman addressed.
“I just want to do what is best and healthiest for the kids,” Lee Gill stated.
“I feel the best decision for the school district is to still have games at Badger Park on Friday nights,” Pat Timmerman added.
“There is a lot of uncertainty going on in the conference. No one knows what is going to happen. We are all sitting here waiting for someone else to jump. If a school had enough participants to play in an eight-man league, that might make the WIAA take a look at the co-ops and maybe stop allowing them. It might push other schools to go to eight-man instead of co-oping and push some schools back into out league. There are a lot of things that can still happen,” Loras Kruser said.
Morrissey made the motion for Shullsburg to go to eight-man football for the 2019 season with Gill seconding. The vote passed with Charles as the only opposed.
The Shullsburg School Board of Education accepted/approved:
-a $250 donation in the memory of Grace Fields.
-Eliza Leitzinger as a volunteer Jr. High Girls’ basketball coach.