The tectonic plates underneath the Sheboygan area’s high school sports scene shifted on Wednesday.
Plymouth soon will jettison from the Eastern Wisconsin Conference, while the Central Lakeshore Conference will expand to an enormous 14-team format. Sheboygan North and Sheboygan South, meanwhile, will keep their membership in a soon-to-be-leaner Fox River Classic Conference.
The WIAA Board of Control voted Wednesday to go ahead with a northeastern Wisconsin conference realignment plan that will have big implications for local schools. The measure passed by a 10-1 vote, which was held at the WIAA’s Stevens Point office.
The realignment plan will go into effect in time for the 2015-16 school year.
“Tell you what, we’re excited about it,” Sheboygan Lutheran principal and athletic director Al Holzheimer said Wednesday, noting he couldn’t think of any drawbacks to the changes his school’s Central Lakeshore Conference will see under the plan. “It’s a fun, neat change.”
The realignment will affect all three high school athletic conferences in Sheboygan County: the Fox River Classic, the Eastern Wisconsin and the Central Lakeshore.
* Green Bay East and Green Bay West will exit the FRCC and head for the Bay Conference. Sheboygan’s North and South will stay in the diminished Fox River Classic, which will include just 10 teams.
* Plymouth will leave the EWC — along with current conference confreres Campbellsport, Kewaskum and Waupun — to create a new and as-yet-unnamed conference. Berlin, Ripon, Winneconne and Kettle Moraine Lutheran will join them.
* The EWC won’t disappear, though, but will get a sizable makeover. Current members Kiel, New Holstein, Sheboygan Falls and Two Rivers will stay in the league, while newcomers Brillion, Chilton, Roncalli and Valders will also join.
* The Central Lakeshore will keep all of its current members — Cedar Grove-Belgium, Elkhart Lake-Glenbeulah, Howards Grove, Kohler, Oostburg, Ozaukee, Random Lake, Sheboygan Lutheran and Sheboygan Christian. But it’ll get an infusion from Hilbert, Manitowoc Lutheran, Mishicot, Reedsville and St. Mary Central.
The Central Lakeshore has been hit with dwindling numbers of athletes playing football; the usually nine-team conference typically fields just six teams in the sport — Elkhart Lake recently moved to an eight-player format, while Lutheran, Christian and Kohler have morphed into a three-way co-op. That makes it tough to arrange enough non-conference games to fill out each team’s schedule, Holzheimer said.
Expanding the conference should help fix that.
“From a scheduling standpoint, that’s what everybody is really excited about,” Holzheimer said, noting the added teams should help in scheduling for other sports that don’t see full participation from all conference schools.
Not everybody has been thrilled with the changes, though. Plymouth athletic director Mike Slagle said Wednesday he had raised issue with the changes, and noted he’d prefer his school be in a conference with comparably sized schools, which isn’t happening under this week’s realignment.
Plymouth is larger than all the schools in the EWC, and will be bigger than any of the schools in its new conference.
“I think it is going to be a temporary transition,” Slagle said of the new changes, noting he’s hoping Plymouth eventually will head to a conference with like-sized schools farther south. He’s proposed competing in a league with Sheboygan’s North and South, as well as West Bend’s East and West, Cedarburg, Port Washington and Grafton.
Impact on rivalry
The realignment keeps intact a few of the area’s biggest rivalries — North-South and Lutheran-Christian games will keep their conference implications.
Dan Stengel, Sheboygan North’s associate principal and activities director, said he’s pleased the changes will keep North and South together, but also noted he’s happy nearby and sometimes-rival Manitowoc is staying put, too.
But at least one big local rivalry — between Plymouth and Sheboygan Falls — will lose its importance in conference races.
“We’re a little disappointed that we’re getting split up,” said Aaron May, Sheboygan Falls’ athletic director and associate principal.
“It’s definitely the biggest rival on our schedule,” May said, noting the Falcons will keep looking to include Plymouth in their non-conference schedule every year — and will need to find a new big rival within the reshaped EWC.
Slagle also waxed wistful on the soon-to-end rivalry.
“They’ve always been great games,” he said. “No matter if a team was undefeated or hadn’t won a game, you put the two teams against one another, they always go hard at it.”
Still, May found some reasons to stay optimistic about the changes.
“We look at transportation. Waupun was a long trip for our boys and girls to have to make in the winter,” he said, noting teams now will be making “relatively shorter trips.”
Increased travel — and the costs that go along with it — are expected problems for Plymouth. Slagle has said increased travel “is going to be a big issue for us,” noting teams will roughly double their travel times — and costs — under the new arrangement.