Four years after Phillips High School petitioned the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) to allow it to drop its affiliation with the Lumberjack Conference (LJC) in football competition because it felt disadvantaged against the league's big schools (Lakeland, Ashland and Medford), the WIAA came up with a conference realignment proposal that addressed enrollment disparities and travel issues.
In December, the WIAA Board of Control approved Executive Director Doug Chickering's scheme that saw two LJC schools - Lakeland (enrollment of 992 students) and Medford (800) - being placed in the six-team, small school division of the Wisconsin Valley Conference, together with Merrill (1,166), Antigo (1,098), Mosinee (673) and Rhinelander (1,185). Ashland (801) was put in the Heart O' North Conference with Barron (495), Bloomer (408), Chetek (372), Cumberland (394), Hayward (663), Ladysmith (344), Northwestern (414) and Spooner (578). The remaining four LJC schools - Tomahawk (594), Northland Pines (575), Phillips (398) and Park Falls (334) - would join with Hurley (254) and Three Lakes (268) to form a new, six-team Lumberjack Conference.
All affected parties had a 40-day period to appeal the board's decision. On Friday, the 40th day, Medford and representatives of Heart O' North and Northern Lakes conferences presented their appeals to the board in Stevens Point. Rather than adhere to the recommendations of Chickering and the majority of other schools involved in realignment, the board sympathized with the appealers and abruptly rescinded its earlier approval. Members offered no timetable for further action in the conference realignment dilemma. As a result, all conference affiliations (or lack of affiliations) will remain as they were for the 2002-03 seasons.
"I don't believe it!" was the first collective utterance from Tomahawk athletic director Ron Wilson and coaches John Larson, Kurt Weyers and Andy Peissig when each heard about the board's action. Wilson shook his head in disbelief and chuckled at the way the WIAA had seemingly caved in to the whining and griping from schools that, according to Chickering's proposal, wouldn't be the "big fish in a little pond" any more. Those schools apparently didn't want to accept the challenge of competing against schools their own size, or maybe even a bit larger. They wanted to continue to stroke their inflated egos by having a steady diet of small-school competition.
The analogy of the squeaky wheel is a perfect fit for this particular situation. The complaining schools got all of the consideration at the expense of the majority, which now includes many schools that truly have a legitimate reason to gripe.