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Wisconsin Day Dreaming—Part I

By Dan Bauer, Contributor, 11/20/21, 9:00AM CST

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At times, retirement can leave you with too much time on your hands. While the Badger State may be more noted for day drinking, I often find myself day dreaming…

The WIAA Deadlock

I often wondered if two things will ever change at the WIAA? One, will Tom Shafranski ever retire and two, will the state tournament ever leave the Alliant Energy Center? I am guessing every coach in the state has had similar visions. Well, Tom still has not retired, but he is no longer the man responsible for the sport of hockey. He has moved up the WIAA food chain and been replaced by LeVar Ridgeway. And for the first time I can remember, the contract for the AEC is in its final year. As of this writing it has not been extended!

Quick, somebody pinch me.

The dissatisfaction of the AEC as the state tournament venue has been front and center of the Wisconsin Hockey Coaches Association for decades. There was a time, when the Badgers called the AEC home, that the facility was deemed desirable for that lone reason. When the Badgers vacated in 1998 for the Kohl Center, the AEC quickly became a worn out building with a history of issues including soft ice, inadequate lockerooms, poor spectator viewing and a haunted scoreboard. Despite those problems and the pleading of the WHCA (Wisconsin Hockey Coaches Association) the state tournament has remained there for forty-five of the fifty-one years the tournament has been played.

It is my dream that the confrontational history between the WHCA and the WIAA will disappear with new leadership from Mr. Ridgeway and that the proposals of the WHCA/GWHCA Advisory Committee will be respected, debated and seriously considered. That answers will be pursued and not dismissed.

A recent interview with Mr. Ridgeway provided some slivers of optimism. When asked about his new appointment he said, “My role as the sport liaison for hockey is to be an ambassador for the sport and to listen to different ideas and perspectives on not only increasing participation but how to improve the student-athlete experience within the sport.” He added, “I’m looking forward to not only learning more about the sport but working with those who have a strong passion to see the sport grow.”

An “ambassador for the sport”, that is exactly what we have been missing and what we desperately need. Hopefully a fresh start will include addressing the state tournament venue, the format and the calendar. It would require exploring solutions to the real and perceived roadblocks instead of the past practice of forbidding a discussion of any depth. In place of being forced into a (AA) four team and an (A) four team boy’s state tournament, which the WHCA never asked for, there would be meaningful plan put in place to achieve the desired (AA) eight and (A) four team state tournament.

New venues would be explored. Last year’s Covid-19 experiment at the South Wood County Recreation Center was deemed by most as a huge success. Filling up a smaller building created a much more exciting atmosphere even with the pandemic’s restrictions. There are many ice facilities in the state that could provide a similar experience. Again, we need honest discussions about these topics and the possibility of moving the girl’s tournament to a completely different site. Instead of being handcuffed by television coverage there should be exploration into potential solutions. In the past most all of these topics have been dead ends that could not even be approached. That type of shortsighted dictatorship needs to end. To create an Advisory Committee, and encourage input from them, and then ignore their input is insulting and incoherent.

The past practice of professing to paint every sport with the same brush, which is only used when it is aligned with the WIAA’s stance on something, needs to be abolished. Every sport is indeed different. Decisions should be made on what is best for the athletes and the sport and not the cookie cutter WIAA regulations. I know “uniformity of standards” is part of their Mission Statement, but individual differences in each sport should not be ignored.

The burden of change does not solely fall on the WIAA as much as we like to believe. The WHCA has been able to construct major change in the past, such as 17 minute periods, seeding and increases in games allowed. Change in the WIAA requires a coordinated plan that includes rationale and garnered support from key athletic directors and administrators in the WIAA decision making chain. We secured 17 minute periods after a yearlong documentation of increased participation levels. Change is indeed possible, but it must be driven by a calculated plan and proven benefit that fits the WIAA modus operandi. This immensely challenging task falls upon the WHCA/GWHCA leadership. This is an opportunity and new beginning that must be embraced.

The day dream is alive. There is optimism that a new face in the WIAA program can bring a new attitude and culture of cooperation to the game of hockey. After decades of frustration, is it possible that problem solving can replace problem stating?

Here’s hoping my day dreaming will come true, because if it doesn’t, day drinking becomes an option.

 

Dan Bauer is a free-lance writer, retired teacher & hockey coach in Wausau, WI. You can contact him at drbauer13@gmail.com.

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