EAST DUBUQUE, Ill. -- The Warriors are fully on board.

So are the Wildcats.

Now it’s time to figure out all the other details that will make up a co-operative agreement between the East Dubuque and Southwestern football programs and seek final approval from multiple entities.

East Dubuque’s school board tonight approved a recommendation from principal Darren Sirianni to move forward in forming a co-op with its neighbor across the Wisconsin border.

The board voted, 5-1, in favor of the co-op. David Sendt, a longtime member of the booster club who stated during board discussion how difficult a decision it was to move away from East Dubuque’s tradition, was the lone dissenting vote. Donna Quinn was absent.

Southwestern’s school board unanimously approved a resolution at its meeting last week to pursue the co-op. At that point, the Wildcats’ only option to play football next year was to find a neighboring school district to enter into a co-op agreement.

“I am very pleased that East Dubuque is equally committed to this long-term solution for both of our schools and communities,” Southwestern athletic director Tom Koeller said in a text message to the TH. “I look forward to working together to iron out all the details of the co-op and uniting our efforts to see this great solution through the finish line.

“We will work hard to see to it that this co-op will have football at all levels competing next fall. There is much work to be done, but we are energized by the overwhelming support of our student-athletes, parents, coaches, community members, and school board.”

Injuries and COVID-19 quarantines left Southwestern with single-digit healthy players, forcing the Wildcats to forfeit their final three games of the season. Southwestern was poised to have just single-digit players returning next season, but couldn’t shift to 8-player because of postseason and conference bans that would have been imposed by the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association for breaking out of its conference in the middle of a two-year scheduling cycle.

Yet to be decided are all the important details of the co-op, including financial arrangements, who will coach the team, which games will be hosted by which school, mascot and uniforms, and plenty more.

East Dubuque principal Darren Sirianni and superintendent TJ Potts said it will be their position that East Dubuque have at least a homecoming game and a senior night hosted in East Dubuque every season.

Both school boards will need to issue final approval on the agreement.

Sirianni expects the East Dubuque administration to meet with their counterparts at Southwestern multiple times in the coming weeks with an aim of getting an agreement hammered out in time to seek board approval at the December meeting. He also wants input from the community.

“We want to be able to take this to the WIAA … in their February meeting and be able to present this and hopefully get their stamp of approval,” Sirianni said.

Due to WIAA rules, Southwestern would host all postseason games. Koeller said last week he is very interested in scheduling Galena as a non-conference opponent, if the co-op is approved to compete, to keep the East Dubuque-Galena rivalry alive, and to revive the Southwestern-Galena rivalry that has gone dormant on the football field but is still alive in other sports.

Once the agreement is completed and approved by local officials, both schools will seek approval from the Six Rivers Conference, which is the football league in which Southwestern is scheduled to compete in next season to complete the two-year cycle. The Wildcats are members of the Southwest Wisconsin Activities League for most other sports.

Koeller said last week that approval from the conference is not required for the co-op to move forward. Although, it would be nice, he said, to be able to make the league’s blessing part of its appeal to the WIAA’s Board of Control.

If the Board of Control denies the appeal, both schools will be back at their starting point and looking for a new way to save the future of both programs.

As it stands now, Southwestern would be forced to forfeit its entire 2022 schedule and then take another look next year whether moving to 8-player or seeking out another co-op partner makes the most sense.

East Dubuque would be able to play a varsity schedule on its own next year, but wouldn’t be able to field a junior varsity team. The Warriors could then opt to move to 8-player on its own for next season.

Sirianni made it clear at Tuesday’s players and parents town hall meeting that proceeding as a standalone 11-player program is not feasible in the long term, and that even 8-player could be a question mark 4-6 years down the road.

But the WIAA decision is low on his list of worries.

“I think that both communities have done their homework and both communities have really laid out a reason why this is a necessary piece to go ahead with,” he said. “If all state associations are truly looking for what’s in the best interest of kids, how could they say no to it? Yeah, there’s always that fear that they could say no. But in reality, we’re not doing this on a whim. Both schools really have done the background work to make sure that we’ve got a good reason to move forward.”

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