Clintonville football hopes to join Bay Conference
Truckers would swap with Marinette
By Erik Buchinger
Clintonville High School proposed a swap with Marinette in the football-only conference realignment proposal by the WIAA earlier this year.
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Truckers head coach Tom Burkhalter met with Athletic Director Shaun Liesch, and Burkhalter discussed their thoughts with the board of education on Nov. 12.
The current proposal from the WIAA keeps Clintonville in the North Eastern Conference along with Luxemburg-Casco, Freedom, Little Chute, Oconto Falls, Wrightstown and Denmark.
Currently the WIAA has in its proposal Shawano, Seymour, Waupaca, New London, Fox Valley Lutheran, Marinette and Xavier in the Bay Conference.
The WIAA’s proposal would include one crossover game between the two conferences that would count as a conference game.
“What they’re saying is the two conferences are close enough geographically and athletically to count as a conference game,” Burkhalter said.
Burkhalter said the program would like to join the Bay Conference but enjoyed the opportunity to play successful programs in the North Eastern Conference.
“It is an absolute privilege to play in the North Eastern Conference we get to play in,” Burkhalter said. “Six of our nine teams made the playoffs this year. It is a great football conference. That is looked at differently by different people, but I look at it as an amazing opportunity every week to play the best Division 3 and Division 4 schools in the state of Wisconsin. It’s been awesome.”
The main reason for the potential swap between Clintonville and Marinette would be reduced travel time and distance, Burkhalter said.
“Our closest team is Freedom,” Burkhalter said. “Freedom is our closest game at 37.5 miles away.”
Clintonville is an average of 48.75 miles away from the North Eastern Conference teams in the WIAA’s proposal, while it would be 29.52 miles on average in Clintonville’s proposal in the Bay Conference.
“We are traveling an hour to play anybody,” Burkhalter said “That has multiple issues with costs, and it also adds issues with taking kids out of school especially for the early levels because our varsity kids do not leave early, but our JV and JV2 do.”
For Marinette, the average distance away from Bay Conference teams in the WIAA proposal is 82.93, and it would be 65.87 miles away in Clintonville’s proposal in the North Eastern Conference on average.
“Their average travel time is less than their shortest travel time in the new proposal,” Burkhalter said.
“The second big reason is this gives us rivalries back we have not had in a long time, which we do have at the middle school level, which we have in other sports that have longer seasons and could add non-conference games,” Burkhalter said. “We play Shawano every year in basketball, and we don’t have that opportunity in football. We do in JV, but we don’t have that opportunity on the varsity level.”
Burkhalter said switching to the Bay Conference would give the Truckers rivalries with area schools New London and Shawano.
“We would re-establish rivalries with New London and with Shawano because we don’t have a rival right now. We don’t,” Burkhalter said. “With Freedom being that far away and all those schools around them, Freedom is not our rival. We don’t have any, and that’s a really weird place to be on a football team and for players to not have a rivalry game.”
Burkhalter said Marinette would be able to continue its rivalry with Oconto Falls as well.
Burkhalter acknowledged the problem with switching conferences is the enrollment between schools.
“There is an argument against this, and that’s going to be enrollment,” Burkhalter said. “That’s going to be the argument from the WIAA because there are much bigger schools in the Bay at the top end.”
In the WIAA-proposed North Eastern Conference, Clintonville would be fourth in enrollment with 494.
In Clintonville’s proposed Bay Conference, Clintonville would be last in enrollment behind Xavier, which has an enrollment of 533.
“We would argue if it’s close enough that we have a crossover game that counts as a conference game with the other conference, then it’s close enough for us to do that and keep those rivalries and shorter travel times,” Burkhalter said.
Burkhalter said he has had some informal conversations with Marinette regarding this topic.
“I think their AD is willing to look at this proposal, and I think they’re going to be open to at least recognizing this would save them time and money,” Burkhalter said.
Board President Ben Huber asked if the WIAA is likely to approve the conference swap.
“If our AD and school board are on board and Marinette’s AD and school board are on board, that makes it far easier than saying, ‘Hey, we don’t compete in a conference, so we want out,’” Burkhalter said. “That’s not what we’re asking for at all.”
Burkhalter said if the proposal were to be accepted by the WIAA, it would require board approval. Several board members were in favor of the plan.
“I think this is a very good idea,” Huber said.
The football-only realignment is expected to go into effect in 2020.