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Westgate Square anchor
Shopko to close 174 more stores including Racine, Kenosha

RACINE — Shopko’s footprint is going to be even smaller with the upcoming closing of 174 more stores nationwide, including its Racine and Kenosha stores and 20 more in Wisconsin.

The announcement means that by this spring, Shopko will no longer have a presence in Racine County. In January, Shopko announced the closing of 38 stores, and Racine and Kenosha escaped being on that list.

Not this time.

The announcement came after the Ashwaubenon-based retailer said in late 2018 that it would close 39 stores. In totality, the closings will leave Shopko with just 109 stores compared with the 360 the company now lists on its website.

Shopko, which was purchased in 2005 by Sun Capital Partners, a private equity group, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last month and said it is restructuring “as a result of excess debt and ongoing competitive pressures.”

The Racine Shopko opened in November 1979, nearly four decades ago, after the Westgate Outdoor Theater, and later Turn-Style at Washington Avenue and Ohio Street were torn down to make way for what was then being called Westgate Mall.

Construction on the Kenosha Shopko, at 5300 52nd St., started the next year, in 1980.

For many months to date, as Shopko was having more and more troubles, the Racine and Kenosha Shopko stores were often staffed at mere skeleton-crew levels.

With Shopko’s upcoming closing, Westgate Square shopping center will lose its anchor. Westgate is owned by Heritage Capital Assets of Park Ridge, Ill. Mike Christie, president of Heritage, could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday evening.

Bankruptcy reorganization

Shopko, with dozens of stores across the state, many in smaller communities, has obtained $480 million in debtor-in-possession financing to help fund and protect its operations through the Chapter 11 process. The money will be used to pay suppliers, vendors and other business partners, according to its filing at the time.

Company officials could not be reached Wednesday for comment.

“In a challenging retail environment, we have had to make some very tough choices, but we are confident that by operating a smaller and more focused store footprint, we will be able to build a stronger Shopko that will better serve our customers, vendors, employees and other stakeholders through this process,” Russ Steinhorst, Shopko’s CEO, said in a statement posted on the company’s website last month at the time of the filing.

In December, Kroger, one of the largest grocery store chains in the country and the owner of Roundy’s, the parent company of Pick ‘n Save, announced it was buying the records of over three dozen Shopko pharmacies, including the one in Racine. That was followed by Iowa-based Hy-Vee announcing days later that it had purchased the records from another 22 Shopko pharmacies. The Hy-Vee deal was for pharmacies in 17 cities, but the only Wisconsin store on the list was the Shopko Pharmacy in Madison. The rest were in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska and South Dakota.

“In a challenging retail environment, we have had to make some very tough choices, but we are confident that by operating a smaller and more focused store footprint, we will be able to build a stronger Shopko that will better serve our customers, vendors, employees and other stakeholders through this process.” Russ Steinhorst, Shopko’s CEO

Photo Courtesy of NewAerial Photography 

Waterford's Main Street bridge over the Fox River is shown from above Tuesday as construction workers tear the road up on it. Work has been underway since January as part of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation Highway 20/83 reconstruction project. Two lanes remain open for now, one each way. The project is targeted to be wrapped up by November, said Village Administrator Zeke Jackson. The library and Village Hall are shown in the left of this image. The Chamber of Commerce office and the old public safety building can be seen along the right bank of the river.

High School wrestling controversy
Wrestling controversy: There might still be hope for disqualified Hayden Halter

WATERFORD — Hayden Halter hopes to be back in action this weekend.

And his wrestling coach is convinced he will be.

Waterford High School’s state champion wrestler was disqualified from continuing his individual season last weekend after he received two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties while winning the 120-pound championship at the Southern Lakes Conference meet at Elkhorn.

Halter’s situation has stirred up considerable interest among high school wrestling fans in Racine County and across the state, and has his parents retaining a lawyer.

On Wednesday, Waterford coach Tom Fitzpatrick said he is hopeful the sophomore will compete Saturday at the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association Division 1 Regional at Pewaukee.

Fitzpatrick said progress is being made to get Halter — ranked No. 1 in the state at 120 pounds by Wisconsin Wrestling Online — back on the mat.

“We’ve had a lot of back-and-forth conversations with the WIAA today and I’m encouraged by what we’re hearing,” Fitzpatrick said. “They’re asking for information from us, and they haven’t said ‘No, this isn’t happening.’ The fact that they are talking with us is a great sign and I fully expect Hayden to be able to wrestle Saturday.”

Last Saturday, Halter received two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in the 120-pound championship match against Union Grove sophomore Cade Willis, ranked No. 7 by Wisconsin Wrestling Online. The referee of the match was Michael Arendt, the athletic director at St. Catherine’s High School and a former teacher and coach at Union Grove High School.

Halter was up 7-1 in the third period with 20 seconds left. The two wrestlers stayed interlocked until the buzzer sounded. Arendt gave Willis a point for an escape, which made the final score 7-2, and Halter questioned the official’s decision.

“It didn’t make any sense to me,” Halter said Monday. “To have an escape, you have to be totally separated from your opponent, and we were together in those final 20 seconds. I said to the ref, ‘What was that?’ and he gave me an unsportsmanlike conduct call.”

After that call was issued, Halter shook hands with Willis and then flexed his muscles. The referee then assessed a second unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

On Monday, WIAA officials said the decision to disqualify Halter was final and could not be appealed.

“In the official’s judgement, (Halter’s) actions were enough to be considered flagrant,” said Wade Labecki, WIAA deputy director who oversees wrestling.

Arendt has declined to comment on the situation.

Halter won the Division 1 106-pound state championship as a freshman for Burlington last season. If he cannot wrestle at the regional meet, he cannot advance to sectionals and get back to the state individual tournament Feb. 21-23 at Madison.

Window of opportunity

Even if the disqualification stands, Halter could wrestle again if the Wolverines win the regional team title at Pewaukee on Saturday.

Halter would be allowed to wrestle at the Division 1 team sectional dual meet scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 12, at Mukwonago. The winner of that meet would be one of eight Division 1 teams to qualify for the state team tournament March 1-2 at Madison.

To win the regional title on Saturday, Waterford, ranked No. 12 among Division 1 teams by Wisconsin Wrestling Online, would have to defeat No. 2 ranked Mukwonago at the eight-team meet.

Fitzpatrick said he is confident the Wolverines can do that.

“We’re going to sink that ship,” Fitzpatrick said. “We’ve got a tough group of kids and we’re going to fight hard to advance.”

Halter’s mother, Brynn, said the family plans to file a lawsuit at the end of the season, regardless if Halter is allowed to wrestle again.

“Our lawyer discovered that there is no appeal process or any sort of process to get this done,” she said. “I can say that we are pursuing this, even if they allow him to wrestle.”

MFeldmann / AMBER ARNOLD, Lee Newspapers file photo 

Waterford's Hayden Halter, shown wrestling for Burlington last season, defeated Stevens Point’s Justin Groshek 5-1 to win the 2018 WIAA Division 1 106-pound championship at the Kohl Center in Madison. A jusge on Friday enjoined a WIAA suspension that would have disqualified Halter from individual wrestling for the rest of the 2019 season.

Park High locked down twice within six hours on Wednesday

RACINE — Park High School went into lockdown twice Wednesday, once during the school day and the second time less than half an hour before a Horlick vs. Park girls’ basketball game was scheduled to tip off after police received reports of gunfire.

No injuries were reported in either incident, and no shots had actually been fired in the second incident, according to police.

The first lockdown occurred just before 1 p.m., when police responded to an alley near 12th Street and Linden Avenue, across the street from Park’s main entrance.

Carl Harris, who lives on the 1900 block of 12th Street, said that he heard four gunshots coming from the alley behind his house.

A “soft lockdown” was initiated at the school, which means students were told to take shelter in place, according to Racine Unified spokeswoman Stacy Tapp. The lockdown was lifted less than an hour later.

Racine Police said Wednesday afternoon that multiple people were taken in for questioning, but no arrests had been made as of 4 p.m.

Harris said that he hears gunshots multiple times a year from his home, but this was the first time they were fired this close in at least three years.

“This is crazy,” he said. “This is too close.”

Second incident

Shortly after 5 p.m., a Park High staff member called 911 to report what they thought were gunshots, Tapp said, but police later determined that the sounds had come from a piece of machinery in a classroom.

At about 5:10 p.m., a lockdown was in place and police began a search within the school, according to police radio reports.

Officers also formed a perimeter around the school, many of them carrying tactical firearms, and nobody other than law enforcement was allowed in or out of the building.

More than 50 students, staff and parents were inside the school when the lockdown began, many of them preparing for two basketball games (one girls and one boys) scheduled for that night, while others had been at swim practice. Both basketball games were canceled, the second cancellation in two weeks for the intracity Southeast Conference match-ups after the first games were delayed on Jan. 25 because of weather.

The girls game has been rescheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday at Park. The boys game has been scheduled for 7 p.m. Feb. 13 at Park.

The canceled basketball game had been planned to be a benefit for Henry Owens, a 1988 Park grad and two-sport athlete who lost both of his legs in a boating accident last June.

At about 6:10 p.m., the shutdown ended and those who had been inside the school were released. They had not been told why the lockdown occurred, according to several students who spoke with The Journal Times.

“We are extremely impressed by the emergency response of our students, staff and spectators who were in the building at the time and thankful for our police officers for their immediate action, professionalism and support this evening,” Tapp said in a statement.

After initially feeling anxious during the lockdown, Dylan Zimmerman, a Horlick cheerleader, said that “everything was kind of chill” as her squad waited in a locker room to be released.

In the minutes following the beginning of the lockdown and police forming a perimeter, some students outside the school were seen crying and confused about what was going on. Several called their parents on cell phones, asking to be picked up, even before the games were officially called off.

Others who had been outside when the lockdown began were not allowed to retrieve their cars from the parking lots until after it was over.

Sue Corona-Lynch had intended to watch her niece play in the basketball game, but instead nervously waited for news outside throughout the 5 p.m. hour — along with several other parents, friends and family members who lined up on nearby streets. Corona-Lynch was texting her niece, who gave her updates while waiting in the Park Fieldhouse.

“Everybody is concerned,” she said.

“We are extremely impressed by the emergency response of our students, staff and spectators who were in the building at the time and thankful for our police officers for their immediate action, professionalism and support this evening.” Stacy Tapp, Racine Unified spokeswoman