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Brutal tennis sectional will 'ruin the sport' in coaches' eyes

All the top teams are in one bracket

July 10, 2012

The really sad thing about the silly travesty that the WIAA made of the spring 2013 boys tennis sectional assignments was that it was all so totally unnecessary.

"Why would they want to bring such grief down upon their heads?" asked Nicolet coach Tim Koppa.

What Koppa is referring to is the most cosmically out-of-whack gerrymandering that the WIAA bureaucracy could have come up with.

Brookfield Central (four state titles), Brookfield East (state team tournament the last two years and three state titles) and Homestead (state runner-up in each of the last three years) in one sub-sectional and then Whitefish Bay (six state championships), Nicolet (a state record 26 state crowns) and Marquette, a team that has won the last six Division 1 state championships.

Together, this grouping has won every one of the last 17 WIAA Division 1 state team championships, plus a great many of the individual singles and doubles championships.

But they have never been all together in the same sectional.

In almost every previous year, the Brookfields went to one sectional, Marquette and possibly Bay and Nicolet to another and Homestead to another. You got a fair and representative mix of athletes and teams advancing to the state individual and team tournaments.

All the WIAA has done with this trumped-up plan is guarantee that a pile of really good to excellent players will be waiting desperately on the state seeding meeting which follows the sectionals to see if they are fortunate enough to have earned an extra qualifier slot, because tons of good kids and teams will be left behind with this set-up.

Meanwhile, in the other Milwaukee-area sectionals, well-meaning, hard-working but clearly not as talented kids will suddenly find a much easier road to state.

"Almost all the special qualifiers will come out of (our) sectional," Koppa said. "It's that simple."

But this is where the WIAA's main philosophy comes to bear. The organization, which has been running prep athletics in Wisconsin for more than a century, has made it plain that it is not about bringing all the best athletes and teams to the state tournament level in any sport.

They say they are about geographic representation.

But this time around, they have gone way too far. They have skewed the teams in such a way that only mean-spirited cynic would find this plan fair.

"If you turn the state map of Wisconsin a certain way, I'm sure the WIAA will say the changes made were based on geography. Baloney!" e-mailed an incredulous Whitefish Bay coach Phil Kelbe. "What does this new alignment really accomplish? At this rate, Waukesha West could sneak into the finals next year. (This) will also make it more difficult for individual state qualifiers coming out of this sectional."

"I'm at a loss to explain this," said Homestead's Jackie Egelhoff. "What purpose does this serve? This is supposed to be about fairness for the kids."

Which this set-up is not.

Squeezed into the middle of all this is a rising program Germantown, which arguably just had its best season ever and is returning many athletes off that fine team with realistic expectations of sending qualifiers to the state individual tournament in 2013.

If the Warhawks were in their previous sectional assignment, that could have happened.

"They have no chance now," Koppa said. "It ruins them."

And what incentive does the WIAA give to other schools like Cedarburg, Menomonee Falls, Port Washington and all the poor Milwaukee public school kids who have been thrust into the heart of this maelstrom?

Their only task, it seems, is to be warm-up acts which will be quickly brushed aside for the upcoming cage match of a sectional that will certainly occur.

This is not the first time that this sort of thing has happened to tennis. Several years ago on the girls side, Homestead, Bay, Nicolet and DSHA were the top-four ranked teams in the state and were all crammed into one sectional.

Mercifully, that situation was changed after one year.

I have worked with WIAA officials for about 30 years. They seem to be decent, hardworking people with the best interests of their membership, their officials, their coaches and their athletes at heart.

I also take them to be intelligent people. They are not ignorant of which schools have been dominating tennis the last two decades. So what's going on here?

Coaches are already busy trying to line up their athletic directors and superintendents to get this mess switched before next April rolls around. There may even be the threat of lawyers and lawsuits.

"I will do whatever it takes to get this changed," said Brookfield East coach Linda Lied in an e-mail to Kelbe.

WIAA Associate Director Deb Hauser, who used to be involved in tennis for the organization and who has wide supervision over sectional assignments in all sports, asked that all queries about this matter be turned over to Assistant Director Tom Shafranski, currently the tennis contact. Shafranski was at a national conference and was unavailable for comment.

She did say that Shafranski vetted the new plan with some coaches, but she didn't say which ones or how many.

Clearly, not enough, because this is what will happen if the sectional from hell is allowed to stand.

Marquette, which can draw the best players from all over southeastern Wisconsin and still has a young team, will find a way to survive this mini state tournament of a sectional, and then when the Hilltoppers go to Madison for the state team championships, they will find a greatly depleted field where they will likely win all three of their dual matches by uncompetitive 7-0 scores.

Meanwhile, the other five state-ranked teams they beat to get to Madison will say: "This would have been a much better tournament had we been there."

And they're right.

"This hurts the sport so much," Koppa said. "It's ridiculous. It hurts everybody."

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