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Successful hoops programs dominate this writer's winters

April 22, 2014

As late Easter and Passover holidays bother the calender and cold and yes, snowy weather persists even into April, the spring high school sports season is suffering miserably.

The kids of spring, unfortunately, will have to cram everything they can into a chaotic May to make up for all the misery April has brought them.

Which is as good a time as any to laud one more time the well-accomplished kids of winter and to make a few observations on one particularly annoying topic as we head into a (hopefully) balmy spring and summer.

First, a personal note: I have had immense joy covering high school sports for 30 or so years even with miserable deadlines, bureaucratic nightmares and the occasional monsoon getting in the way (La Crosse in early June for the state track and field meet is a haven for sodden athletes and cranky reporters, trust me).

The kids — great and not so great — have been brilliant to work with.

That being said, winter was normally a slow time for me. I would go to basketball games when I didn't have a wrestling meet to attend (I still love wrestling). It was easy back then. Schools that I covered advanced only three boys or girls teams combined to the state hoops tournament between 1987 and 2004.

All that changed with the arrival of coach Steve Showalter at Germantown High School 14 years ago. His Warhawk boys have advanced to state five times since 2008 and have won the last three WIAA Division 1 state titles.

That trend of major success seemed to inspire other coaches and teams in the area that I work with.

I'll make this simple. Since 2011, seven teams (five boys and two girls) that I have covered full-time (including Germantown), have advanced to the state tournament. These teams have all, I repeat all, won state titles.

They have a 14-0 combined record in games played both at the Kohl Center in Madison and the Resch Center in Green Bay.

They include coach Kevin Lazovik and the improbable Whitefish Bay boys claiming the Division 2 state crown in 2011 and just a week later, Corey Wolf and her unstoppable Nicolet Knights fulfilling their destiny and taking the Division 1 girls title.

A year later, Showalter's squad won its first boys title in an epic battle with Milwaukee King. They did it again during the 2012-13 season, rarely getting challenged all season before crushing Mukwonago in the title game.

This year, even by my standards, the hoops season was almost too intense for words. You had the Germantown boys fighting back their all-too human frailties (traffic pullovers, drug arrests, suspensions and even the rare loss) to claim a third crown over Neenah on March 15.

Earlier that same day, an almost completely rebuilt Brown Deer team, behind the energetic, high-octane coach Kelly Appleby concluded an improbable run to the Division 3 state boys crown with a rout of Lodi.

And finally, a week later on March 22, a highly-motivated and talented Oak Creek team reached the mountaintop with an entertaining win over Superior, claiming its first state title behind the demanding and successful Steve Hluchnik.

It all made for a lot of late deadlines hunched over a laptop — not that this grumpy 55-year-old is complaining. The storylines have been intriguing, the kids have been amazingly insightful and the coaches all too grateful for their opportunities to seize the brass ring.

But man, it can make a guy tired.

Addressing WIAA issues

I frankly don't know what to think about the powerful small-school basketball empires at Dominican, Racine St. Catherine's and La Crosse Aquinas. The multiplier rule that is being contemplated by the WIAA to address some of the issues they raise, may not work equitably for all schools and all programs and with the potential for abuse (or simple vindictiveness) it may prove to be nothing more than a recipe for endless litigation.

On the one hand, it isn't right for certain private schools to bring in ultra-talented individuals over and over again from the area and make up super squads that can crush easily otherwise excellent, small public school teams that draw almost exclusively from their district.

Nor, however, was I in favor for the WIAA and the coaches' association's miserable decision a few years ago to create a fifth division championship in basketball merely to placate those small public schools and give certain small public school empires (those teams and coaches know who they are) another chance to win a state title away from the prying hands of those aforementioned private schools.

In doing so, all they did was punish the large, urban schools by stripping the talent-rich Division 1 large schools of four state tournament slots. It had always been eight in the largest division because that's where most of the talent was and it's the talent people came to the state tournament to see.

It was a wrong decision then, it remains a wrong one now, no matter what the WIAA or certain small school advocates say. Many large school coaches howled vehemently at that decision and many I know still hold a grudge over it.

They should.

It wasn't the right way to go to deal with the private school recruiting issue. Frankly, I don't know what is but a return to eight schools in the Division 1 state tournament would be a good start as well as a free-form, no-holds barred discussion about private school recruiting and public school open enrollment. It's the only way we're going to get past this thing.

But instead, the WIAA will discuss the multiplier idea and come back with a recommendation later this year. I'm afraid whatever is decided in that arena will not solve the issue at hand. It will only exacerbate it.

And the kids will suffer because of it.

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