Shorewood students not swept up in football fever

Losing team, competition from other sports dampens gridiron enthusiasm

Nov. 23, 2009

Shorewood — The focus of high school football fans around the state last week was on Marquette University High School as the undefeated Hilltoppers shut out Menomonee Falls to win the Division 1 state football championship.

But just eight miles northeast of the home of the new state champs - at Shorewood High School - the football season already had been long forgotten. In fact, it's fair to say that even during the season, football was never in the forefront of the minds of most Shorewood students and parents.

Top athletes play other sports

With winning cross country, volleyball and soccer teams, the competition to find players to join the combined Shorewood/Messmer football team is fierce. As a result, numbers have been declining since 1983, said Shorewood Athletic Director Bill Haury.

The three other sports regularly go to the state tournaments, which generate a lot more enthusiasm from students. On the other hand, the football team - which finished 0-9 this season - is light years away from postseason play.

Perhaps the best example of the where football ranks at Shorewood occurred at last month's homecoming - a festive event included a parade and a drive-in movie, but no football game.

At virtually every high school, the traditional recipe for homecoming is a Friday night, home football game and packed bleachers.

Not Shorewood.

Instead of varsity players battling it out on the football field, there was a powder-puff game between junior and senior girls that ended in a tie and a dance-off at the 50-yard line.

"The culture is Friday night football, but you find that when you don't have it, you can bring other sports in, other activities in, and I think the kids get the same kind of feel," Haury said. "They have some place to go on a Friday night, and something to do that's positive, constructive."

Part of the problem with the lack of participation is that the school's better athletes don't want to play in a sport where there is little success.

Joey Knutson, a senior and member of the football team, says that the common mentality of many students is, "Why play for a team that doesn't win, when you can play for a really good one?"

In 2000, participation in football had dwindled so much at both Shorewood High School and Messmer Preparatory School that neither school could field its own team. So, in the fall of 2001, the two schools combined to form a new football team - and finished its inaugural season with an 0-9 record.

The team actually won six games in 2008, but was winless this year and outscored 178-6 in its last four games.

Shorewood is one of the few area teams that does not belong to any conference. The team had been part of the Woodland Conference, but a streak of blowout games and multiple injuries that came from playing tougher teams created concern among the coaches, parents and administration.

Lack of experience a factor

Another challenge the team faces is that many of its players have never participated in a football program before high school, while their opponents typically have been playing since they were youngsters.

"In football, you really have to learn the basic skills when you are very young, so we had kids coming in as freshmen, sophomores, even juniors who had never played football before - never," said Haury.

Those involved in the program are trying to create a framework for success by focusing on young football players before they enter high school.

David Price, who coaches a middle school football team made up of students who will be attending Shorewood or Messmer high schools, said he encourages his players and their parents to attend the high school games. The idea, said Price, is to keep student, parents and coaches connected, and to help improve the foundation and culture of football at the high school.

"I'll have them around me. I'll make them come sit with me and I'll say, 'See what he just did? Didn't I teach you not to do that?' " said Price.

"Things like that go a long way, and that's a part of that culture issue," he added. "If we're not seeing change immediately this year, we're planting the seeds - six months, a year, two years, and they blossom out.

"It's patience."

At a glance

The record of the Shorewood-Messmer football team over the last five years:

2009: 0-9

2008: 6-3

2007: 1-8

2006: No varsity team

2005: 2-6

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