It has been more than two decades since private schools were granted an option to become full members of the Association. To many now involved in interscholastic athletics in Wisconsin, it’s difficult to envision an Association that doesn’t include and embrace all high schools.
In review of the first two decades, the independent and religious school members have been, as have the public school members, engaged and cooperative in compliance to the membership’s rules, quality hosts for membership tournaments and willing participants in the democratic process of the membership’s governance.
It may be a little-known fact, but pressure to have one comprehensive high school athletic association came more than a decade before the announcement that the former private-school association would be dissolving in 2000.
In the mid-1980s, a senator from Milwaukee expressed his motive to have joint State Tournaments. On three different occasions, legislative bills were introduced to require a combined membership. On each occasion, the former governor line-item vetoed the measure and prevented the bill from becoming law. The writing was on the wall, however. A combined membership, whether voluntary or mandated, was destiny.
A committee, formed in the mid-1990s to study the impact and adoption of the religious and independent schools into the membership, laid the groundwork for a seamless transition in the early stages of the expanded membership option beginning in 2000. That same year, open-enrollment legislation was enacted, which has lessened some of the concerns many construed to be an advantage for many privates schools and their lack of district boundaries.
Twenty years later, records indicate students that are attending schools in public school districts other than where their parents reside through open enrollment exceeds the number of students enrolled at all the private schools in the membership combined. The inclusion of the private schools has increased the total number of member high schools to 516. That infusion of private schools precipitated a number of changes over the past decade that have addressed the impact of that increase in the membership.
There have been divisions added or increases in the number of individual or team qualifiers to the State Tournament Series events in most sports. It also brought changes in the eligibility rules. In 2006, the membership voted 269-76 to amend the transfer student language to extend the period of ineligibility for students transferring after the fourth consecutive semester to one year unless the move was necessitated by a complete move of the parents.
The most recent discussion on the placement of members into divisions has been focused on boys basketball, in particular Divisions 4 and 5. At various times since the membership option was granted, the membership, as a whole, reconfirmed its sentiment that no segment of the membership should be treated differently in regards to divisional placement by enrollments other than what their rules already provide.
Spawned from that discussion and a directive from the Board of Control, the Executive Staff created a proposal that added a fifth division in basketball, a sport that has not altered or increased qualifiers since adding more than 60 members in 2000. The plan would provide acceptable enrollment ratios within divisional placements with intent to level the playing field in regards to access to the State Tournaments.
The criticisms directed at the membership regarding tournament placements are shared by a relative minority that may be attributed to misperceptions and innuendo about how religious and independent schools operate. A number of those criticisms, divisive in nature, may come from the opinions of individuals in or outside of the membership with biases not supported by facts.
Allegations of recruiting for athletic purposes as well as granting scholarships for athletics are two of the most common. The WIAA membership has rules in place that identifies violations regarding undue influence and addresses each documented report or accusation appropriately.
In the third decade since the religious and independent schools joined the WIAA, we can acknowledge their commitment has broadened the diversity and quality of the collective membership. It’s apparent–we the membership–still have work to do. It is appropriate to assist in the efforts to educate staff, coaches and the general public on our philosophy and rules that govern enrollment at all our member schools.