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Legislators wade into River Falls football conference controversy

River Falls football players rallied during a 2018 game against Hudson. That football rivalry would dissolve under a WIAA proposal to move River Falls out of the Big Rivers Conference and into a conference containing La Crosse-area schools. File photo

Outrage over a River Falls prep sports controversy took on bipartisan backing last week.

Lawmakers from both parties authored a letter to to the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA), which raised the ire of River Falls High School football supporters in proposing to move the Wildcats to a football-only conference comprised largely of La Crosse-area schools.

The move would take River Falls out of the Big Rivers Conference, where it plays schools in Hudson, Eau Claire, Rice Lake and Menomonie, among others, and place the team in the Mississippi Valley Conference.

In the letter to WIAA Executive Director Dave Anderson, Rep. Shannon Zimmerman, R-River Falls, and Sen. Patty Schachtner, D-Somerset, argued against the move.

"As the state representatives of River Falls, we are unified with our community in opposition to the proposed conference realignment plan," the letter states.

WIAA officials will give the recommendation its first consideration at a March 1 meeting. River Falls football coach David Crail told RiverTown Multimedia the move is being proposed to accommodate the growing New Richmond High School program into a conference of larger schools in the Big Rivers Conference, which would displace River Falls.

Zimmerman said he called and explained the situation to Schachtner, telling her he wanted to send a letter.

"She was all for it," he said.

Zimmerman, a father of two sons who played in the Wildcat football program, said in an interview this week the issue struck him at both an emotional level and a practical one.

He said he's as equally concerned about the Hudson-River Falls rivalry disintegrating as he is that student-athletes will have studies disrupted. The drive to communities in the Mississippi Valley Conference exceeds a two-hour one-way trip.

"We believe it will take away from the educational experience of the student-athlete by removing them from the classroom and force an undue hardship on families wishing to view their child's athletic event," the letter states.

WIAA Communications Director Todd Clark said the letter has been received and will be considered. Feedback is common in advance of such proposals, he said, adding that most of the input has been supportive of the statewide football-only realignment plan.

"Pockets" of negative feedback have been part of the mix, Clark explained, saying "that is typical of your conference realignment."

With the March 1 vote nearing, Zimmerman said "time is of the essence" in getting the WIAA to reconsider. He said he will appeal for reconsideration if the effort to reject the realignment proposal is denied.

"With a little bit of luck, hopefully we can make a change," he said.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is a regional/enterprise reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage includes St. Croix County government, higher education and state politics in Wisconsin. 

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