There will be a sense of nostalgia surrounding the North Shore Conference football schedule this fall, especially when it comes to anything concerning Germantown and Milwaukee Lutheran.
Because if the current WIAA realignment plan stands, there will be no more Germantown-Homestead football games starting in 2017 unless they meet in the state playoffs.
That concept is hard for the average prep football fan in the Milwaukee area to swallow. The Germantown-Homestead rivalry has been one of the premiere events on the fall prep schedule for over 20 years now. This last game is slated for Sept. 9 at Germantown.
"Needless to say, we're sad and disappointed with this turn of events," said longtime Homestead football coach Dave Keel. "We thought that this was an outstanding conference with good, natural rivalries. It's sad those kind of rivalries weren't taken into consideration."
Germantown coach Jake Davis, who played at Homestead in 1999, 2000 and 2001, feels the same way.
"We're a competitive program, always have been," he said. "We'll go in with the GMC teams, and we'll be fine, but selfishly, from our standpoint, not seeing Homestead will hurt. We're one of the few teams out there that wants to see Homestead every season. I was a player in that rivalry. I totally get it."
Under the new realignment plan approved of in April, Germantown (1,399 students) and Lutheran (594) are headed elsewhere The growing school district of Germantown (1,399 students) is slated to join the larger school Greater Metro Conference (including Sussex Hamilton, Menomonee Falls, the Brookfield schools, Marquette, West Allis Hale and the Wauwatosa schools), while Lutheran (594) will move into the Woodland Conference with more like-sized suburban Milwaukee area schools such as Greendale, Shorewood, Brown Deer and Whitnall.
This is all still tentative, of course, because in late July, the Wauwatosa School District took great umbrage with the new plan that will shove both Tosa East and West into the Greater Metro. Both schools, on paper, will struggle in the new layout.
The district filed suit to get the entire realignment process revisited. The district initially asked that both schools be moved into the Woodland (where Tosa West currently competes), as Tosa East (currently a member of the Greater Metro) has struggled competing in recent years, especially in flagship sports like football.
It may be in the hands of judges as to whether we see Homestead-Germantown football or both Tosa East and West in the Woodland in the near future.
End is near
The North Shore Conference has been in place since 1985, and both Germantown and Homestead are charter members. It underwent a number of changes in the first 12 years of its existence (Tosa West and East, along with Shorewood, were charter members, and Falls was a member from 1993-1996). The current configuration with Lutheran began in 1997.
Since that time, Homestead has won five state football titles (1999, 2006, 2008, 2012 and 2015) and Germantown two (1998 and 2003). Cedarburg has been a steady state contender since the late 1990s under coach Brian Leair and even made the state D2 finals in 2010. Meanwhile, Whitefish Bay has risen to championship-contender status in the last 10 years under the leadership of the late Jim Tietjen and looks to remain so under successor Jake Wolter.
Meanwhile, former contenders like Port Washington and Grafton have fallen on unsteady times.
The new North Shore Conference will have more of a "Northwest" feel, and that will make for a potentially top-heavy conference. Old members Cedarburg, Grafton (which will be the smallest school at 747 students), Nicolet, Homestead, Port and Bay will now be joined by Slinger, West Bend East and West and Hartford (which will be the largest school in the league at 1,410).
Slinger has been a steady WIAA state playoff contender in recent years but not so much the others, as both of the West Bends and Hartford have struggled in football the past decade. West's last winning record was 2006, East's was in 2007 and Hartford's in 2010.
Wolter at Bay knows the Blue Dukes, Slinger and Cedarburg will have to become the stoppers in a North Shore Conference that has been Homestead-heavy in the new century. He said Bay will miss that annual Germantown game, too, as those contests have been extremely competitive in the last decade.
"Germantown is such a class program," he said. "It's really sad to see them go. They're one of the really good programs out there."
On the plus side, for fans in the northwest suburban Milwaukee area, rivalries will be renewed as "County Line Road Cousins" Falls and Germantown, which haven't played since 2003, will now be back on a regular schedule in the GMC. Neighbor Sussex Hamilton will also get a chance to play Germantown on a regular basis, too.
"It's great that we'll get some new close proximity games again, but it's still crazy not to have Homestead on the schedule," said Davis.
But there are still more problems.
Wolter and Keel pointed out that with the new North Shore configuration, there are 10 schools in the league, making the nine-game regular season football schedule effectively "closed". That means there will be no room for good nonconference tests before the meat of the season gets under way.
That means the recent intense nonconference rivalry between state powers Homestead and Arrowhead (which will be held for the last time on Aug. 18 at Homestead) will go by the wayside. Even Germantown will be limited in what it can do as it will have an eight-game league schedule in the GMC and a mandatory crossover game with the Classic 8 Conference.
"Games outside the conference are always important," said Wolter. "Say we beat Brookfield Central (in a nonconference game), to us that means we'll be OK for the conference. To not see anybody new really hurts."
Then, there is the bigger problem. The entire realignment process was contentious, lengthy and there are more than a few sore feelings out there. Wolter was a former star athlete at Tosa East, and it hurts him to see his alma mater struggle. He said it was a tremendous mistake not to put both East and West together in the Woodland where they would have a chance to compete on a more even playing field.
"It was absurd," he said.
"For the sake of football, it's hard to see programs like that suffering and not getting relief,' he said. "I don't know what the answer is. I want to keep football going (in all schools) and I'm not sure that this is the way."