East football seeks options after WIAA denial
WAUSAU - Wausau East won't be allowed to compete with smaller schools in the Great Northern Conference after the WIAA last month denied its request to change conferences. Now school officials have to decide if the football team can survive on its own next season.
School officials and parents will meet Monday night to discuss the next step for the program, which last won on Oct. 23, 2014, in a nonconference matchup with Shawano. East athletic director Greg Harvey said operating as an independent football program will be one of the options considered during a meeting for Lumberjacks football parents at the school. That option — leaving the Valley Football Association-North Division to go independent — doesn't require WIAA approval, but it would likely make filling out its schedule a struggle with other programs locked into conference schedules. An independent move also would leave East ineligible for playoff consideration for four years.
RELATED: Wausau East wants conference change
Monday's meeting comes roughly three years after the idea of moving from the VFA-North was first discussed. The issue was first presented by a group of Lumberjacks parents that stated concerns about the program's ability to compete in the conference. The school first requested a conference move in fall 2014 and the WIAA did not act on the request. Wausau East reaffirmed its hope to move to the GNC in late 2015 and the WIAA considered the request. The WIAA ulimately denied the move in August.
East, the smallest program in the Valley Football Association-North Division with 33 players, lost all nine games of its 2015 season by at least 33 points. The season also took a physical toll, as 18 players suffered a serious injury and six concussions were reported during the year.
East had the smallest student enrollment in the VFA-North last year with 1,094 students. Appleton North had a conference-high with 1,800
East, which is winless through four games this season, believes the numbers deficit leaves the team at a severe competitive disadvantage
“We watched what was taking place (on the field), and as a principal, I can tell you I am very, very concerned about the safety of our students as well as the welfare of our students and the welfare of our football program,” Wausau East principal Brad Peck told USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin in 2015.
The request was denied, however. Deb Hauser, the associate director of the WIAA, highlighted in a letter addressed to Harvey and Peck on Aug. 15, that the decision was made with the good of the entire Valley Football Association in mind.
"While the Board understands they have the authority to realign schools, they are also aware of the domino-effect realignment can cause if other members are impacted negatively by any realignment plan." Hauser wrote. "(Wausau East's) particular situation is one that falls into this category. While Wausau East has found a place to play football in the Great Northern Conference, the move will place the remaining members of the Valley Football Conference in an unfavorable position — including scheduling on bye weeks," Hauser wrote. "The Wisconsin Valley schools have indicated they prefer to remain members of the VFC for football."
Harvey said Monday's meeting is meant to discuss the school's options and no final decision will be made. The opinion of parents will be considered, he said, as the Wausau East administration makes the final decision about the direction for the program
"This is not a 'woe is me' thing. Our players (who) do participate battle as hard as any athlete in the conference. There are just not enough of them," Harvey wrote in the letter to the Wausau East School Board last year to build the case to leave the VFA-North.
"We have done all we can do but we are now at the point where simple preservation of our teams is at risk."