By Jason Zaleski
At the conclusion of a 2019 Division Five football seed meeting, word began to rapidly spread that members of a football conference had conspired, colluded, and otherwise had met secretly in an attempt to tilt a playoff game in favor of one of its own. The conference, Heart O' North, in a blatant, brazen, overt, and cowardly fashion aligned its members votes to seed the Stratford Tigers football team as the two seed. The Tigers, who were undefeated and unscored upon, were one of the most obvious one seeds in the history of high school football. The history of high school football anywhere in the country.
Let's recollect the 2019 Stratford Tigers regular season. The Tigers had just come off of a 2018 state championship appearance with a junior laden roster, now all seniors looking to dominate the football schedule. Coming into the seed meeting, Stratford had scored 595 points, given up zero and thus winning its games an average of 54-0 and on pace to set a state record for points scored. The Tigers had steamrolled their way to a number one seed winning games 83-0, 81-0, 61-0. The Tigers had earned the number one seed.
Let's also understand why earning a number one seed is a high honor and the fruits of that labor are to be handled with dignity and respect. In WIAA football, the number one seed also hosts the first three of four playoff games prior to the state championship. Home field advantage is a real thing that helps a team win. Winning for the Heart O' North conference is apparently more important that teaching life lessons to kids in Wisconsin's northwest. Winning was likely the reason that the Heart O' North coaches met like weasels in a dimly lit basement and agreed that acting unsportsmanlike was the only way to show their student/athletes how to care about sports.
So, on Friday, October 14th 2019, the Heart O' North conference football teams unfurled their master plan at the seed meeting. Spooner, Bloomer, St. Croix Falls, and Northwestern, half of the meeting participants and all from the same Heart O' North conference, waltzed wryly into the meeting and declared their lack of care for sportsmanship. They teamed together and voted Northwestern the one seed, leaving a stunned Stratford as the two seed. The dastardly, despicable mission now complete.
Don't get me wrong, the 2019 Northwestern Tigers were a good and solid football team. They too were undefeated, although that's where the Tiger similarities ended. Northwestern gave up 14 points to the now seven seed Spooner, 21 points to the now five seed St. Croix Falls, and 18 points to the now three seed Bloomer. Good and solid football team were the 2019 Northwestern Tigers and clearly the two seed to anybody that knows anything about football. A one seed to those who want to collaborate in the most unsportsmanlike fashion and balance on the razor thin line of cheating.
So what did the Heart O' North teams get for their message to the world that fixing a high school playoff bracket is more important than integrity? Spooner was walloped by Stratford 63-0, the three seed Bloomer squad sent packing by six seed Spencer/Columbus 20-12, all in level one contests. Then in level three, where the fix was in for Northwestern, the "underdog" Stratford football team levels "number one seeded" Northwestern 35-0. Quite a lesson shown to those influential minds in the schools of the Heart O' North conference schools that you must conspire to win.
Surely the Heart O' North conference sent a reprimand to it's member schools that fixing playoff brackets is not a wholesome and sportsmanlike behavior. Apparently not. It happened again.
We think all the way back to yesterday, October 25th, 2020, (a year and 11 days after the last stunt pulled by the Heart O' North conference) at the Division Two volleyball seed meeting. The teams at the meeting; St. Croix Falls, Bloomer, Northwestern, and Mosinee. Hmmm, seems like the same suspects. The three Heart O' North conference teams, likely supported by the football coaches, get word of this fantastic plan implemented at last year's football seed meeting and show that it's not just football, it's all sports in the conference that slither like snakes. They come into the meeting holding a 3-1 voting advantage meaning that they and they alone will select the pairings for the 2020 D2 sectional.
The Mosinee volleyball resume? A state participant in 2018, a sectional final participant in 2019, and a sparkling 15-2 overall record (losing twice to D1 Kaukauna) including a perfect 9-0 conference mark in 2020. Number one seed material.
The number one seed decided by the conspiring Heart O' North members? St Croix Falls.
Like the football Northwestern Tigers from 2019, St Croix Falls volleyball is a good and solid group. Like the football Northwestern Tigers from 2019, they too bring an undefeated record into the playoffs. The tiebreaker, in a civilized and level-headed world, is level of competition when accumulating the season record. So for arguments sake, let's say that you could have flipped a coin between St. Croix Falls and Mosinee. That, at worst case, makes Mosinee the two seed. We can all agree to that, right? Again, apparently not. It happened again.
The Heart O' North conference teams, emerge from their dimly lit room of foul behavior, and select their own Bloomer as the two seed. Ensuring that two of their three member teams host a playoff game, home gym advantage, sportsmanship out the door. Mosinee will not host another volleyball match at home again in 2020, even though they earned one.
If you're looking for a lesson in sportsmanship, our recommendation is to run far away from the Heart O' North conference. The Mosinee volleyball team will run straight into it as it attempts a return to a state volleyball match. Win or lose, we hope the Mosinee volleyball team ranks sportsmanship and fair play above all else. They would seemingly be the only team it the sectional bracket to do so.