When the WIAA changed its gymnastics co-op eligibility rules last summer, it was clear that things would change for the Burlington/Badger/Williams Bay/Union Grove/Catholic Central/Wilmot co-op team.
The 2018 change stated that co-op teams would be ineligible for postseason play in the 2019-20 school year unless they were made up of only two schools, or the schools’ combined enrollment was smaller than the largest single school, in this case Sun Prairie’s 2,370.
With Burlington Co-op breaking both of those new stipulations, the teams’ member school coaches, athletes and athletic directors had a year to decide whether the team would stick together—and be ineligible to compete for a state title each season—or if they would disband.
After multiple meetings to discus their options, the group came to a decision to split into two new co-op teams: Badger/Burlington in one and Wilmot/Union Grove/Williams Bay in the other.
According to Burlington High School Athletic Director Eric Plitzuweit, Catholic Central will not be affiliated with either co-op because they have not had any athletes on the prior team for the past few years.
Both new teams will compete in the Southern Lakes Conference, which the prior co-op had won for the past nine seasons in a row.
The split allows for both teams to be eligible for the postseason, which was one of the key points of contention. While the athletes wanted the team to be split as Badger/Williams Bay and Burlington/Union Grove/Wilmot due to past friendships and relationships, only the Badger/Bay team would have been postseason eligible, which led to that choice being dismissed.
“It was very tough, lots of tears,” said Burlington head coach Andrea Chart. “We discussed it and with the way it is, the co-ops are always the ones consistently at state or winning state, so we told them, splitting up into two you could both end up at state. They’re looking at it positively in that aspect, but again, we’ll have no idea how it’s all going to play out until the season starts.”
One of the main reasons the schools were involved in a co-op in the first place, though, was a lack of proper gymnastics facilities in the area. Burlington’s Karcher Middle School was the only school out of the five districts that had a gymnastics area.
So it was obvious that the Burlington/Badger co-op would practice there, but the big question was where would the Union Grove/Wilmot/Williams Bay team practice.
After consulting with the WIAA, the schools discovered both teams could practice in the same area as long as they don’t practice the same events at the same time and they have different coaches.
Chart has been the co-op’s coach for the past four seasons and will coach the Burlington/Badger squad, while former assistant coach Jordin Miller will serve as the head coach for the Wilmot/Union Grove/Williams Bay team.
Besides just sharing facilities, the two co-ops will also share transportation to and from meets, competing against the same teams at the same time in double dual meets.
It also allows the athletes to continue seeing the friends they made through previous years of competition together.
“We are looking at both teams traveling together to most competitions and trying to keep the girls friendly with each other. Several friendships were made among teammates in the past years and the girls enjoy each other so much, we hate to disrupt that,” Wilmot athletic director Herm Christiansen said.
And practicing side by side should give the two teams some extra motivation to strive to perform at their highest level.
“I think it’ll push them too a little bit,” Chart said. “They’ll be able to see what kind of team we’re putting together on each side, so that could push them to do better, practice harder, try new skills, all that.”
While splitting up the co-op will solve the problem of ineligibility and sharing gymnasium space and transportation will ease those concerns, one last problem remains for the two co-ops: team participation numbers.
Last year’s combined co-op had 16 girls participating, just enough for a varsity and JV squad. With seniors graduating, and the schools splitting up, the coaches and athletes will need to do their best to recruit as much talent as possible from their schools.
“I told all the girls that if you know anyone at the school that ever thought about coming out for gymnastics, this year’s the year,” Chart said. “Because whether it’s JV or varsity, everyone will be playing a role.”