Xavier takes the field during WIAA playoff football with West De Pere on Nov. 13, 2010.
As the seconds ticked away on a cold, rainy November day, it became clear that the 2010 playoff run for the Xavier High School football team was about to end.
Throughout the game, West De Pere demonstrated why it had outscored its previous opponents 517-74 by consistently dominating Xavier with its superior size and overpowering strength, winning 24-13.
But Xavier almost didn't have to play West De Pere. The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association, which governs high school sports in the state, groups schools for its tournaments into divisions, based on schools' enrollment. Xavier had the smallest enrollment of all of 32 Division 3 football teams, with 523 students. West De Pere, the eventual Division 3 champion, had 840 students. Winneconne, the largest school in Division 4, had just one less student than Xavier.
At first glance, this may just seem like bad luck, but there's more under the surface. It's a consequence of WIAA rules that hurt schools with large foreign-exchange programs.
Foreign-exchange students are counted against a school's enrollment number. Some schools, like Xavier, have an extensive program while others have a small program or no program. But the WIAA says its rules "allow for one year of eligibility for foreign students participating in exchange programs."
That's practical in some situations. For example, Appleton North only has foreign-exchange students stay for one year. So, all they have to do is go through a background check by the Council on Standards for International Educational Travel to be cleared to play sports during their year at North.
In Xavier's program, where the students stay for three or four years, the rules don't fit. The foreign-exchange students who attend Xavier, who often come in their sophomore or freshmen year, are only permitted to play varsity sports for one year.
In the case of its 2010 football team, Xavier had more than 50 ineligible foreign-exchange students, but those students were still counted in Xavier's enrollment, placing it in a higher division.
Why should these long-term foreign-exchange students be treated as second-class students? They're a part of the same community as other students. They do the same academics. They pay the same tuition. But their athletic options are limited.
This leads to foreign-exchange students missing out on important opportunities for team camaraderie, which can be helpful in making friends in such a different environment.
The WIAA even says that students who participate in sports "have less truancy, lower dropout rates, fewer disciplinary issues and better grade point averages on average than their peers that have no involvement." Yet it still forbids foreign-exchange students from playing varsity sports for more than one year.
Why the WIAA has the same rules for one-year programs and multiple-year programs makes little sense. A WIAA employee said that foreign-exchange students are only given one year of varsity eligibility so high school teams will be made up of athletes from their community. But with many foreign-exchange students remaining in the states over a year, foreign exchange students need to be considered part of that community.
Not only do these rules prohibit foreign-exchange students participating in athletics for no valid reason, it can affect the entire student body, as it did in Xavier's 2010 football playoff loss to West De Pere.
- Sam Coutu is an Appleton resident and a Xavier High School student. He can be reached at email@example.com