Waterford, Lake Geneva Badger have best chance at new league’s first championship
All day, I’ve been thinking of ideas for the return of my high school football predictions column.
Should I mouth vomit more cliches about how excited I am for the season to start?
Actually, an everlasting summer would be my first choice.
Should I conjure up the usual drivel about how to win your fantasy football league?
I know, how about we talk about the Packers and how Aaron Rodgers may break his collarbone a third time at the hands of his young receivers getting back at him for incendiary comments?
Nah, that probably won’t happen, either.
Actually, I want to take a rare trip to left field and put on my homer hat.
As God is my witness and by the power of the pen, I hereby declare the 2018 football season the year the Southern Lakes Conference breaks through.
I went to Burlington High School and actually played football for a few of the current coaches.
Was I good?
More like good if good meant retreating backward to avoid pressure, not even realizing I fumbled and crawling on the wet grass as the defender jogs to a pick-6. That level of good happened to mess me up from time to time.
The POINT is I was, am and always will be a Demon.
Does it make my writing bias? Maybe.
Do I care?
There is bias in everything, and trust me, I wouldn’t have a job if I praised my beloved Demons at all costs.
But football is different for me, like it is for a lot of you.
There’s a certain indescribable feeling when you first smell that fall air – the aroma of brats on the grill, laughter among friends and that unforgettable waft of chocolate from Nestle’s.
You remember being a little kid sitting on the floor, writing down the latest scores and stats, sharing bonding time with Dad over the Green Bay Packers.
Every good play, you get a high five.
But when something goes bad, you try not to laugh when dad simply loses it, screams and turns into armchair Vince Lombardi.
For that small moment in time, three hours, nothing else matters, except the game, the score and your unbreakable bond with dad or mom, or whomever.
Football, violent and crazy as it may look at times, evokes primal emotions, pure love, pure hate and maybe even fear.
You are glued to the tube, and you can’t miss one play, and pretty soon the commercials are even cool (Super Bowl).
I love football with every ounce of my being, and my resistance to change and small-town ways means I love my town.
So when you combine Burlington and football, you learn that I’ve been following and going to Southern Lakes Conference game since I was a child, a tradition passed down among my five older siblings, various friends and even parents.
So gosh darnit, why not the SLC?
Why the heck NOT the friggin’ amazing SLC?
You would have to dip back to 2011 (not that long ago) for the last time a Southern Lakes football team made it to the state tournament.
Played on Wisconsin’s second-best football Mecca, Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, it’s the promised land when it comes to high school sports.
That privileged team was the Waterford Wolverines, under the first-year tutelage of young whipper-snapper coach Adam Bakken, and it was beautiful.
Forget the score, it didn’t matter.
A team from the “Little Engine that Could” conference came up in the world and made good.
In the years since, once-small Lake Geneva Badger took off enrollment-wise and turned into a Division 1 school, albeit one of the smallest.
So while Badger takes the SLC out of the “little guy” status, one could argue it’s still the little guy in D1.
Waterford, Wilmot, Union Grove, Westosha Central, Burlington, Delavan-Darien and Elkhorn, along with Badger, epitomize blue-collar, hard-working farmland America, ripe with the cornfields and nothing to do and all the good stuff.
Us little guys must compete, and fight, for talent now with open enrollment, and we just can’t help the fact that the closest mall will always be 30 minutes away.
The Waukesha Wests, Muskegos, Catholic Memorials and even Kimberlys of the state don’t really deal with this “we live in the sticks, there’s nothing we can do” mentality.
They are close enough to larger cities, and when the inner-city kids want to branch out and attend schools in the suburbs, there are plenty of opportunities at these large, welcoming buildings that not only draw from their towns of at least 10,000 people, but also the 100,000 within a 15-mile radius.
Is this fair?
Some would say no, and would use it as an excuse that no team from the SLC has won a state football title since Whitewater, yes, the Whippets, won in 1980.
The next year, Whitewater was state runner-up in Division 2.
In the 37 seasons since, Waterford is the only other squad to reach the title game, in 2011.
So the million-dollar question is why?
Why can’t SLC teams break the glass ceiling and beat Arrowhead, the Waukeshas and all the other Wau’s?
Talent, numbers, football obsession and maybe access to facilities play a factor.
Does a kid who lives in the Delavan-Darien school district, which didn’t have tax funding to keep its coach, have the same opportunity as a kid at Hartland-Arrowhead? Would this happen in that area?
Quite frankly, the Delavan taxpayers didn’t want to pass a referendum benefitting the schools, and massive layoffs took place, including the ousting of football coach Bret St. Arnauld.
Does the kid who lives on the edge of Milwaukee County, belong to the Franklin school district, but could find fortresses for strength in Milwaukee just 10 minutes away.
These are silly, yet fascinating sports things us true heads must deal with on a daily basis.
Let’s look at the current SLC.
Badger, which has advanced to Level 4 in D1 and D2, crept one step from Camp Randall, in 2012, 2015 and 2016.
Burlington, Wilmot, Delavan-Darien and Elkhorn all made Level 4 once.
So it IS possible.
But what will it take for a Badger or Waterford to conquer a mighty Kimberly or Waukesha West squad?
For me, it’s running the football and playing defense at the high school level. Get a good offensive line and a dynamic running back, but make sure to have that deep threat through the air when necessary.
Burlington had that in 2005, and so did Waterford in 2011.
Badger always has the offensive and defensive lines and a virtually unbeatable ground game.
One of these years, Matt Hensler will get the Badger boys over the hump.
This year, I don’t necessarily see any team flirting with Madison, but Badger always has a shot, and Bakken says his offensive line rivals that of the 2011 squad, along with some of the surrounding talent.
The 2018 football season kicks off Thursday officially, with plenty of amazing action.
So cross your fingers.
With a tad bit of luck, loads of hard work and rare bonds formed only through football, the SLC can, and hopefully will, finally break through to the top of Cheesehead Mountain.
(excluding Lake Geneva Badger and Union Grove, which played Thurday. Badger was dominated at home, 28-7, to state contender Greendale, while the Grove, powered by 68 rushing yards and two rushing scores from quarterback Luke Hansel, won at Greenfield, 18-12)
Friday night (all games kick off 7 p.m.)
(out of respect for the kids, since they haven’t played yet, I’m not going to elaborate on my crazy picks, but next week stuff will hit the fan, BEWARE)
Burlington 23, South Milwaukee 18
University School 40, Catholic Central 27
Franklin 45, Waterford 30
Beloit Turner 34, Whitewater 17
East Troy 42, Clinton 7
Delavan-Darien 21, Lodi 20
Big Foot 20, Jefferson 14
Wilmot 35, Kenosha Bradford 32
Palmyra-Eagle 28, Marshall 27
Mukwonago 12, Catholic Memorial 8
New Berlin West 50, Elkhorn 19
Racine Case 33, Westosha Central 10