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 Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, WisconsinOctober 24, 2003 Issue 

Joint effort brings schools strength in numbers

Catholic Central and Lena work together to field a football team

photo of Lena/Catholic Central Titans' co-head coach Dale Lange and players
PRACTICE ADVICE: Lena/Catholic Central Titans' co-head coach Dale Lange of Catholic Central High School, Marinette, drills the players before the game against undefeated conference leader Coleman, which won the game 42-0. Lena and Catholic Central are the first ever co-op Wisconsin high school team from a Catholic and public school. (Rick Evans photo)
By Jeff Kurowski
Compass Assistant Editor

While the Lena/Catholic Central Titans are not among the Wisconsin high school football teams awaiting playoff assignments, this joint group of 42 players made history this season.

Catholic Central High School of Marinette and Lena High School merged their football programs to form the first ever co-op Wisconsin high school team featuring players from a Catholic and public school.

"We knew Marinette was hurting for numbers and we were also hurting for numbers," said co-head coach John Moe of Lena. "MCC (Marinette Catholic Central) competed in the M & O Conference in every sport except football, so it made sense to combine the two teams."

While Moe was strongly in favor of the merger, he turned to his returning players for approval. The Lena team unanimously voted to join forces with Catholic Central.

"I didn't know what to expect at first," said Nick Beschta, who earned all-conference honors at linebacker and running back for Lena in 2002. "The first day of practice was a little awkward, but we came together. It didn't affect me and where I played, and I know the guys that are there are going to do their job."

In preparation for the season, the coaching staff brought the 28 Lena and 14 Catholic Central players together for a picnic so they could introduce themselves to one another.

"Nobody, I didn't know anyone from Lena before this season," said sophomore guard/linebacker Matt Wilke of Catholic Central. "I had heard of Nick, but he was the only one I knew anything about. When I found out about it, I thought it was a really good thing because last year we didn't have much of a team."

"It was weird the first day," he continued. "After about three days, it was fine. We get along really well. It's not just a football only thing. We've done some things outside of football."

Home games divided

Home games were divided equally and practices alternated weekly between the schools. Players boarded a bus after school for the 35-minute commute to practice.

"It's worked out well," said co-head coach Dale Lange of Catholic Central. "The junior varsity plays on Mondays, so we practice together on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. When you break it down, that's only 15 times on the bus for the kids which isn't bad. We run our practices on a tight schedule to make sure we get them home on time for homework and other activities."

The combined number of players allows for scrimmages pitting a full offense versus a full defense, and for the operation of a junior varsity team.

"We had freshman kids last year who didn't have much of an opportunity to play," said Moe, who runs the offense. "This keeps our freshman and many of our sophomores on junior varsity where they are doing quite well. They are guaranteed a winning season. That's where we have to look at it for the future. It helps us develop players."

Two-year deal

The schools signed a two-year co-op agreement. The program will be evaluated following the 2004 season.

"As far as I'm concerned, we're committed for the future," said Moe. "We've been more competitive this season. Although we wanted more victories (3-5 record entering the final week) and felt that we should have won more games, we've been competitive. From that standpoint it's been a success."

"I continue to see the positives growing," said Lange, who runs the defense. "We've received good support from the schools, the fans and the parents. The kids have bonded together. The kids are the greatest. That's the most positive part. They are good Christian kids with good attitudes and good spirit."

More combining possible

Prior to 2000, when the Wisconsin Independent School Athletic Association disbanded, private and public schools played in separate conferences and state tournaments. Lange said the future of high school football in Wisconsin may include more combined parochial and public school teams.

"In other states such as Minnesota, the Dakotas and Texas, they have seven-man and nine-man football in some areas," he said. "Wisconsin is going the co-op route to keep 11-man ball. We've talked to other schools including Laona/Wabeno who have had a co-op program for several years, and we're on pace."

The team's nickname, selected by the players, was taken from the film "Remember the Titans." The players also chose old gold, blue and forest green as the team colors. Titan teammates will become basketball foes this winter when the Catholic Central Cavaliers meet the Lena Wildcats on the hardwood.

"I've thought about that," said Wilke. "That's going to be weird, but it will be fun."

The Catholic school/public school dynamic has not been an issue for the players.

"I never really though about it," said Beschta. "The guys are pretty much all the same."

Wilke agrees, but added that he has fielded some interesting questions from some of his Lena teammates.

"'Do you have to wear uniforms?' and 'Do you have nuns for teachers?' are some of the questions I've been asked," he said. "It's been fun. It was the first year and things have been hard at times, but it's worked out. Next year should be a breeze."

"You have high expectations and you have to set your goals high," said Lange. "We lost a couple of close games that would have made a big difference in our season, but this has been a positive thing. The kids have formed friendships and that's pretty cool. All the kids are basically really good kids and they've come together to work hard."

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