The Wisconsin boys state high school hockey tournament will split in two next year, and the Spartans are poised on the bubble between Division 1 and 2.
The WIAA has had a one-division tournament since its inception in 1971. For the first time in the 2019-2020 school year, the state’s 86 hockey teams will be split. The 54 high schools with the highest enrollment would be in Division 1, the other 32 in Division 2.
Instead of an eight-region tournament, hockey teams would be assigned to one of four regions. Four Division 1 schools and four Division 2 schools - one from each of the regions - would move on to the state tournament.
Districts can choose to opt up to Division 1, pushing a higher-enrollment district into Division 2. That decision must be made by April 1 and it locks that school into the higher division for two years. Schools can not opt to move down to Division 2.
The Superior School Board approved a recommendation at its March 7 meeting to let the Spartan hockey team’s tournament division be determined by Superior High School’s third Friday student count for the 2018-2019 school year - 1,291.
“We wanted to do the less permanent solution, just to see how this worked out this particular season,” SHS hockey coach Jason Kalin said. “If we opt up, we’re there for two years. If we just let it play out this next season, it’s a one-year commitment for us. And we might still be in Division 1. We believe that Superior belongs in Division 1.”
Due to the large number of co-op teams in the state, Superior’s enrollment could put the Spartans in Division 2. There are currently 86 boys hockey teams in the state, but 226 schools sponsor hockey, said SHS Activities Director Ray Kosey. Some of the co-ops encompass as many as 9,000 students.
“Ashland is a school that I would throw out there, smaller than us, but they have a higher enrollment because they’re co-oped with Hurley, Washburn, Bayfield and maybe Northwestern,” Kosey said. “They’re above us. So Ashland’s going to have to make a decision: Is it worth co-oping with Hurley to get one hockey player or two hockey players, where if we eliminate that co-op we could possibly be playing in a Division 2 tournament.”
The effect of the new divisional split on Superior’s team has yet to be determined.
“I don’t see our schedule changing,” Kosey said. “We play in a Minnesota conference, the Lake Superior Conference.”
The Spartans play enough Wisconsin schools to get seeded, but the majority of their games are on the Minnesota schedule.
“Travel-wise we feel it will be impacted depending on what division we get in,” Kosey said.
If Superior ends up in Division 1, the sectional would add Eau Claire North, Eau Claire Memorial, Wausau West and Stevens Point in addition to Hudson.
If it lands in Division 2, the Spartans could be facing off against many such as Grantsburg, Woodville, River Falls, Menominee, New Richmond, Amery, Hayward and Rice Lake.
“So travel would be definitely less if you were in division 2, but I can’t imagine some of those schools wanting to play you,” said Board Vice-President Christina Kintop.
Co-ops keep students, and the dollars that come with them, in their home schools instead of open-enrolling. But they lead to a lack of growth in the sport statewide, Kalin said.
“We think for next year we’re best to see where the WIAA system finds us. It might be Division 1, it might be Division 2,” he said. “Maybe with us going wherever they place us, it might help break up some of the co-ops and possibly grow the sport of hockey in the state of Wisconsin.”
It will also call some welcome attention to the sport, Kosey said, and possibly lead to discussion on how better to stage state hockey tournaments.