The pandemic, students getting jobs, other hobbies and losing interest, on the first day of football practice in 2020 Owen-Withee’s had just 13 athletes show up.
After the 2019 season, they made the tough decision to take their football program down to the 8-man division, with the school administration filing the paperwork in November of 2020.
They knew they would have to serve a two-year playoff ban, but were told they’d be eligible to play in the postseason in 2022.
Over a year later, that statement was retracted.
“I don’t know where things ultimately got switched, changed, whatever,” said Terry Laube, long-time Blackhawk head coach. “We feel we had done everything she asked us to do and we’re all good to go and all of a sudden the rug gets pulled from under us.”
With documentation from the WIAA stating they’d be playoff eligible in 2022, the school took the decision to appeal.
The WIAA effectively ruled it was a clerical error, made by a former employee.
Not counting the 2019 season, the Blackhawks competed in the junior-varsity season as a varsity sit out, however, it wouldn’t count to their two-year playoff ban, as the school had originally interpreted.
“I’ve had the great fortune to coach for 34 years,” said Laube. “I don’t think I’ve ever been gut shot like this before. We have to go in and have to look 22 boys in the eyes and say, ‘I’m so sorry, you know what our appeal was denied’. “
The error, made by a now retired WIAA official, was conveyed to the school over email, with WIAA Executive Director Stephanie Hauser, and other elected officials included. However, the correction of the error wasn’t caught until nearly a year later in September 2021.
Although the WIAA admitted to the error, they said it comes down to what is written in the rulebook in place.
“Every conversation we have in this office, when it comes to eligibility, it comes down to finding a way it can be done within the membership’s rules that have been voted on and implemented to find a way to make either schools programs, or individuals eligible. for our tournament series,” said WIAA Director of Communications Todd Clark.
“It’s pretty clear what the season regulations call for in a situation like this, and that’s why from a staff and a board perspective, we weren’t able to just ignore the rule.”
Now, Owen-Withee, who is ranked third in the state in 8-man, will have their season end Friday with no trip to the postseason for the third consecutive year.
“You know people make decisions that truly you don’t understand,” Laube said. “Life isn’t fair all the time, I guess. That’s it, life isn’t fair and a great lesson for them.”
“We all have opportunities to make mistakes in our lives,” continued Laube. “To just acknowledge those mistakes and then say, ‘”in the best interest of the student athletes, this is what we need to do, we need to allow them to go ahead and experience the playoffs.'”
Owen-Withee, 7-0, will conclude its season Friday against the also undefeated Thorp Cardinals.