A rumored union between the East Dubuque and Southwestern high school football programs is not currently on the table, East Dubuque principal Darren Sirianni said on Thursday.
At least not yet.
The Galena Gazette reported on its website Thursday that Southwestern athletic director Tom Koeller said at Wednesday’s Southwestern school district board meeting that the two districts “would be actively discussing” a co-operative agreement over the next month in anticipation of approval by the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association at its Board of Control meeting in December. It was also reported that Southwestern would host the co-op program, with each school hosting home games and competing in Wisconsin’s Six Rivers Conference.
But Sirianni said Thursday afternoon that East Dubuque is still in the process of surveying where it will be numbers-wise down the road and whether a move is even needed.
“There have been no plans made,” Sirianni said. “We have had an open forum with our community to kind of be proactive to find out where our football numbers are, and so we talked about what would be possible options, remaining 11-man by ourselves, going to 8-man, looking for a school to co-op with, and at that point we knew that because Southwestern has already been talking about this, that they are actively seeking a co-op situation.
“That was one that I think people naturally put together, that that’s what we were aiming for: to go to a co-op. But at this point we’re just trying to figure out what we can do in regards to East Dubuque football. We’re not necessarily looking to bail anybody out, we’re looking out for ourselves right now.”
Southwestern is currently facing a numbers crunch after forfeiting the remaining three games of its Six Rivers schedule this year. The Wildcats are looking at a situation where remaining an 11-player program next year isn’t really feasible, but the outlook for moving to 8-man or finding a co-op isn’t much better.
“At the board meeting, I think the enthusiasm about it as a possibility really shined through, which made people maybe jump forward too far too fast. On our end, short of that happening for next year, I just don’t think there’s any other way we play varsity football next year,” Koeller said Thursday. “So, I think it’s more wishful thinking right now. I’m certainly hopeful, but a lot of things have to fall into place, and I think it’s going to take a little luck even, too. If it got to the point of getting to the WIAA Board of Control for an exemption to make it happen for next year, that’s really anyone’s guess.”
Southwestern could potentially face a four-year postseason ban depending on the solution it finds. A co-op with East Dubuque, hosted in Hazel Green, Wis., probably would be the best option for the Wildcats. Sirianni and Koeller had an informal conversation about the situation, but Sirianni stressed that there were no promises, commitments or decisions made.
“It’s definitely in its infancy at this point. I would say we’re probably farther along than where East Dubuque is just because we have a more immediate need than they do,” Koeller said.
East Dubuque has numbers questions moving forward, too. Sirianni said some of the lower elementary grades are smaller, and the number of boys in those grades is smaller, too.
“That means you’ve got less boys that are probably going to go out for football once they get to the junior high and high school level,” Sirianni said. “We’re just trying to get at least some — not that you can have anyone sign on a dotted line as a second-grader that, ‘Yep, I’m going to play football when I’m in junior high’ — but just finding out where the interest level is. What are the parents, what are the kids thinking and where is that going to take us in another few years?”
East Dubuque’s ultimate goal is to remain a standalone program competing in the Northwest Upstate Illini Conference, one of the state’s premier small-school conferences, if not the best. Sirianni conceded an 11-player co-op would probably be the second choice with East Dubuque as an 8-player program at the bottom of the list.
“Our ultimate goal is to maintain our own 11-man football program as East Dubuque and keep that going as long as we can,” he said. “That’s why we’re trying to get the feedback from the community. We gave them a window until the end of next week to send us either an email or stop and talk to us in person and then we can kind of gather those responses and see what the general consensus of the community is. And then we’ll have another meeting where we’ll invite all of the parents to come in so that we can kind of talk about it and see if there’s a direction we need to go from where we’re currently at.”
Sirianni expects to have a better feel for the community consensus by the end of October, but a potential decision about the future of the program is still weeks, if not months, away.