West Allis - For a good chunk of their evening meeting last week, the West Allis-West Milwaukee School Board wrestled with the question of why the schools are demanding that the West Allis-West Milwaukee Wrestling Club be split into two -- yielding one club at each high school.
The West Allis-West Milwaukee Wrestling Club has met at West Allis Central High School since it was founded in 1978. An optional wrestling club was started this year at Nathan Hale High School. Next year, it will be mandatory under the current plan for children who will eventually attend Hale to be in that wrestling club.
The planned breakup is part of the district going to the neighborhood schools concept. Before, children could pretty much go to school where they wanted. As of this year, they had to attend their neighborhood schools.
It's a natural extension of neighborhood schools, said Superintendent Marty Lexmond. In the end, children will be served better, he said. The kindergarten through eighth grade youth wrestling program is a major feeder of the high school school wrestling programs, along with the wrestling teams at each intermediate school. Most youth wrestlers are also on their school teams.
Wrestling, like all the youth sports has independent leadership and fundraising. However, the West Allis-West Milwaukee Recreation Department provides help with registrations, scheduling and promotion. The high school athletic directors provide other help.
The athletic directors requested youth sports clubs along school lines to make their programs better, Lexmond said.
Some on the school board were not convinced. So, another discussion will be held with the district's two athletic directors and coaches. It is unclear whether the meeting will include coaches of other youth sports that have already or are planned to be broken up.
There is time to remove the mandatory wrestling split, even though wrestling practices begin Nov. 28, said West Allis-West Milwaukee Wrestling Club coach and president Chuck Werner. The club accepts children well after the season starts, he said.
Parents appealed to the board last week, saying there is a closer bond among wrestling families and children than in most sports. Many have been together since the children were in kindergarten. Breaking that bond would be traumatizing, they said, especially when children have to compete against the team they had wrestled for their whole lives. Also, the resulting clubs could be too small to be competitive, one parent said.
Fundraising and coaching for the remaining club at Central would also be affected, Werner said.
The parents wanted the combined club to continue. But if that cannot happen, they appealed to the board to let the current children have a choice of clubs. New children could be accepted on the basis of their high school, they said.
"Why can't we change moving forward?' asked Sara Gordon who has a fourth-grader and a kindergartner in the program. "I just don't feel it's fair to make kids go to a new club that they may not want to because after 38 years of only being one wresting club in West Allis, now there are two."
Children have built relationships with coaches and teammates, Gordon said. The parents, too, have bonded.
"We have become very close with other families," Gordon said. "We spend weekends together at tournaments, not to mention two or four days a week at practices."
Son loves it
Greg North, whose eight-year-old son is in the youth wrestling program at Central, said after the meeting, "My son loves it there. He loves the coach. To rip that apart for lines somebody drew," he said, shaking his head.
Not only that, the vibrant competitive club at Central will be weakened, he said.
"This splits it right down the middle into two tiny clubs," North said.
Werner said afterward that he also is worried about losing his coaching staff and fundraising help as parents have to go to the Hale program. Of his six coaches, two and perhaps three would not be allowed to return, under the plan.
Also, a check of the 60-member roster showed that half of Central's youth wrestlers would have to go to Hale this season, he said. That would rip bonds that have been established over many years.
"It's very, very tight-knit," he said.
Hard at first
It will be hard at first, Randy Ferrell, Hale head wrestling coach and coach of the new youth wrestling club at Hale, said after the meeting. But in the end, it should lead to more opportunity for kids to learn a new style and new techniques, he said.
Friendships will be made as time goes on, Ferrell said. "Friends will be there for both clubs," he said.
The remaining clubs may not be smaller, he said. They might attract wrestlers who are now in private clubs, he said.
The youth club at Central already attracts many top wrestlers from neighboring communities, Werner said.
"Because we have a great group of advanced wrestlers. If you want to get better, you have to train with someone who's better," he said. Some of the top wrestlers now at Hale came from the West Allis-West Milwaukee Wrestling Club at Central, Werner said.
However, the Central club has no tryouts and doesn't turn anyone away, he said.
The other aspect to this issue is that it would be hard to allow the wrestling club split to be optional when other youth sports such as basketball have been split up, said Beth Koehler, chief advancement officer. Parents even presented a petition, but the athletic directors split the club, said Shelly Strasser, West Allis-West Milwaukee recreation director.
Even so, some board members were skeptical.
"I don't see the value of breaking it up," said board member Sue Sujecki, in light of the program being so successful. "Teams do create a family," she said, even if some go to Hale and some to Central.
"Why is it important to break up this club?"
Shelly Strasser, West Allis-West Milwaukee Recreation Director had an answer. It's important for both high schools to be able to connect with their youth, she said.
Board member Pat Kerhin said it makes sense that people have an allegiance to the group that has been so effective. She saw some value in letting the current children stay where they are, if they want, noting that the school district is letting transfer students stay where they are, even though they are not going to their neighborhood schools.
"Are we rushing it?" asked board member Stephanie Emons. There is a different mind-set, a different heart with the wrestling club, she said.
What about easing into this, suggested board member Gail Radonski, who said she didn't see how the children would benefit from the split.
Board member Dan Bailey said, "We desperately do need the ADs and coaches," to explain the rationale. After the meeting he said, "I told the administrators that this was going to snowball."
Board President Jeff Sikich, a former high school coach and physical education teacher, strongly supported splitting the sports teams. This is what the athletic directors want to make a better program and they have promised to make it work, he said.