As Josh Hess thought about the impending climax to his high school athletic career, he somberly arrived at a fitting conclusion.
“Communication can be such a big deal in today’s day and age,” the Racine Lutheran senior said. “If you don’t communicate, things like this can happen. And now it’s affecting three different schools, including us, with our prom.”
It was last Wednesday when the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association informed 18 schools, including Racine Lutheran, St. Catherine’s, Prairie and Catholic Central, that a venue could not be found for two regionals involving those schools on the scheduled date of May 20.
Because of that, both regionals were moved to the West Allis Athletic Complex this Saturday, which is when the prom will be held in Racine. The prom will be held at Racine Festival Hall from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. starting Saturday.
That left kids with an agonizing choice: Do they choose track and try to reap the rewards of what they’ve been working toward all spring? Or do they decide on the prom, a once-in-a-lifetime event many will never again get the chance to experience?
Of the 48 regionals in the state, the two involving Racine County schools are the only two without a team equipped to host a regional in their groupings.
And the student-athletes are paying an enormous price.
Take Lutheran’s Jaydin Davis, who will likely run the 100-meter hurdles Saturday, but skip the 300 hurdles and 4x100 relay because of the conflict. The latter event has an especially strong opportunity to qualify for the state meet.
“It’s forcing us to choose one or the other,” she said. “I wanted to do both, but I have an appointment at 1 (with a hairdresser), so I’d have to miss half of my events. Prom is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I didn’t want to have to miss it.”
One step has been taken to alleviate the situation. The Division 2 regional involving St. Catherine’s and the Division 3 regional involving Racine Lutheran, Prairie and Catholic Central will be held concurrently starting at 9 a.m. Saturday. The Division 3 regional was originally scheduled for later in the day.
The meet will obviously last longer with so many more teams involved. But athletes from all programs will still gain more time before the prom, even if there will still be plenty of logistical problems.
“The unfortunate part of all this is now we have student-athletes who will have to make a decision,” St. Catherine’s athletic director Mike Arendt said. “Do I go and try to achieve a dream we’ve been working for the entire time? Or do I not do that and possibly let teammates down and have to give up on my dream to go to prom, which I have invested hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars in in dresses and hair appointments and tuxedo rentals and cars and pictures?
“We want students to have the most positive experiences that they can have here now. But the decisions that have been made by the adults are forcing these students into making near impossible decisions.”
The issue is that the team groupings for both regionals did not have any schools fully equipped to handle a postseason meet. Greendale Martin Luther came the closest, but its track is not equipped to accommodate pole vaulters.
Burlington was the site for the Division 3 regional last season, but was not available this time. And Union Grove will be hosting its own regional Monday.
A school without a track can volunteer to host and try to arrange for a qualified school to handle the regional, but no teams were able to find a potential host. Or did the teams involved simply assume that someone would take care of finding one?
Meanwhile, time was passing and the regionals were approaching.
“My biggest concern is that nobody ever told us that the alternative was moving it to Saturday, May 18,” Arendt said. “That was never communicated to us whatsoever. Had that been communicated, maybe at the beginning of April, I think that would have pushed some schools to look a little bit closer.”
Said Lutheran athletic director Jason Block: “They (the WIAA) never said, ‘Hey, someone in this group better step up and host or the alternative is we’re going to have to hold it on May 18. Because that date is not part of the season regulations.”
The obvious question is why was this matter not discussed earlier in the school year to avoid the surprise of last week?
“We didn’t know there wasn’t a host,” Block said. “The last communication I got was January and then I never heard another thing about regionals until last week.”
Kate Peterson Abriad, assistant director at WIAA, disagrees that communication wasn’t maintained with schools involved in the two regionals.
“I don’t know if they mean amongst themselves or from us,” Peterson Abriad said when asked about communication. “One athletic director sent me a message saying, ‘I got one email from you all year other than the one saying we’re going to have it on the 18th.’
“I have right here five emails that went out. They’re probably getting numerous emails daily from the WIAA and maybe they weren’t standing out. We were saying, ‘Site needed. Site needed. We need a site for your regional.’
“Maybe it didn’t seem like an important email. I don’t know how to make that better.”
Peterson Abriad emphasizes that she did everything she could to locate a site.
“I certainly learned there’s some pretty unhappy people about this,” Peterson Abriad said. “We spent a lot of time trying to find someone who would take it and there were no takers. We circled around sometimes three times. If we thought they were thinking about it, we called them back and tried to maneuver that into a yes and it just wasn’t working out.”
What might be learned about this?
“I think the WIAA will be more cognizant in who they’re grouping together,” Arendt said. “And I think us as athletic directors, now that we know this is a precedent, probably will push a little more to try and find a host.
“Hopefully, we will take this and learn where the student-athletes are not put in the front of all of this.”