A Milwaukee County judge settled a five-day dispute Tuesday regarding whether Milwaukee's Messmer/Shorewood co-op high school football team - which has never seen postseason action - is eligible to participate in the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association playoffs. The team finished the regular season last Friday with a 48-21 victory, giving Messmer/Shorewood a 4-2 record in its first year as a full member of the Midwest Classic Conference North Division. As a result of Judge Kevin Martens' decision, Milwaukee's South High School has been bounced from the playoff field of 224 teams.
The WIAA fills that field by first taking conference champions and then adding teams with winning records in conference games. As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on Saturday, "Messmer/Shorewood meets the second standard. But it also might meet another criterion that would deny it playoff eligibility. The program left the Woodland Conference after the 2007 season to play an independent schedule. A rule in the WIAA playoff selection criteria states that teams that voluntarily withdraw from a conference shall be ineligible for playoff consideration for the next four years."
Administrators from Messmer/Shorewood (or "Messwood," as they refer to themselves) argued the rule no longer applies because the football program is now a member of a conference. But the WIAA disagreed, claiming that Messmer/Shorewood must complete the final year of a four-year postseason ban it began in 2008 after pulling out of the Woodland Conference without the association's approval. "As a last step, we are pursuing legal options," Messmer Catholic Schools president Brother Bob Smith said in a press release announcing Messwood's filing of an injunction to make the team eligible for the playoffs after exhausting the WIAA appeals process. "We feel we owe it to our student-athletes to honor their dedication and significant accomplishments this season."
Messmer (a private, predominantly black school) and Shorewood (a public, predominantly white school) united 10 years ago to field a co-op football team. Participation numbers at Shorewood had been dwindling, and the move helped Messmer return to the sport after decades of dormancy.
WisSports.net reports that jilted Milwaukee South administrators might now file an injunction of their own, which could further delay the finalization of brackets for the state playoffs, slated to begin Friday.