Story appears in June 30, 2009, Tomahawk Leader:
By Tom Colstad
Tomahawk Leader Sports Editor
Heading into the first year of competing in the brand new Great Northern Conference (GNC), Tomahawk High School faced the daunting task of holding its own in athletic competition against six other conference schools (Merrill, Antigo, Lakeland, Medford, Mosinee and Northland Pines), all larger than itself. Many skeptics thought that Tomahawk would wither against teams from schools with twice its enrollment.
The GNC sponsored 16 varsity sports during the course of the 2008-09 season, including football, volleyball, boys’ cross country, girls’ cross country, girls’ swimming, boys’ soccer, boys’ basketball, girls’ basketball, boys’ hockey, wrestling, girls’ soccer, baseball, softball, boys’ golf, boys’ track and girls’ track. I assigned point values for the different placements in the final standings for each sport to determine what should be the overall GNC sports champions for the 2008-09 school year. The last-place team got one point, while the first-place squad was awarded seven points. Exceptions to this procedure were sports where all GNC schools weren’t represented. For those sports, the first-place team received four, five or six points, depending on the number of teams competing in that sport.
The league’s two smallest schools by enrollment, Tomahawk and Northland Pines, and Medford each had 14 different varsity sports teams, so received zero points in the two sports they didn’t have. Antigo and Mosinee had 15 sports teams, while Merrill and Lakeland had full complements of 16 each.
Results of the first year all-sports total points were: Merrill, first, 72 points; Antigo, second, 68; Lakeland, third, 66; Tomahawk and Mosinee, tied for fourth, 60; Medford, sixth, 43; and Northland Pines, 28.
Merrill won three conference titles (volleyball, baseball and boys’ track), as did Tomahawk (boys’ and girls’ cross country and girls’ track), Mosinee (wrestling, golf and softball) and Lakeland (football, girls’ swimming and boys’ hockey). Antigo (boys’ basketball and girls’ basketball) and Northland Pines (boys’ soccer and girls’ soccer) won two GNC crowns apiece, while Medford was shut out.
Merrill has since been informed by the WIAA that the Blue Jays will be moved back into the Wisconsin Valley Conference, and Rhinelander will replace them in the Great Northern Conference beginning in fall 2010.
Hatchet athletes achieved many great things and fared well in the tough GNC. Sharpened by stiff competition in conference action, the Hatchets won a WIAA state team championship (boys’ cross country) and three WIAA individual state titles in wrestling (Nick Hagar, Zach Zehner and Rudy Chagoya).
There’s an old saying that holds true in this situation… What’s important isn’t the size of the dog in the fight, but rather the size of the fight in the dog.