GWC facing important decisions/Paul Peterson

For a high school football football conference not long ago considered one of the top Class D leagues in Michigan, the Great Western Conference is facing some major decisions.

The GWC – a consistent producer of playoff teams over the years – will have to solve some nagging problems if it is to continue that success.

The league has lost three schools, Washburn, Wis., Ewen-Trout Creek and Wakefield-Marenisco, in the past couple of years because of dwindling numbers.

Wakefield-Marenisco eventually went into a co-op with Bessemer to form the Gogebic Miners last year.

Baraga would appear to be the next school in jeopardy of dropping football, although BHS athletic director Jeff Markham said a final decision has yet to be made on the status of the program.

The Vikings, who made the playoffs six straight seasons prior to 2011, have gone 1-17 the past two campaigns. They were outscored by a whopping 416-56 margin last season, and their player numbers fell to as low as 14 by season’s end – the large majority of those being seniors.

“The numbers aren’t encouraging,” Markham said recently. “We also don’t have a head football coach or assistant coach in place at this time.”

The one redeeming factor at Baraga is the fact it did field a JV team last year. And there also appears to be promising numbers of junior high players coming up.

Ontonagon is another league member struggling with the numbers game. Like fellow member Forest Park (an action that shocked everyone), the Gladiators didn’t field a JV team in 2012. They also forfeited one game to FP during a 1-8 season in which they were outpointed by a 292-98 margin.

OAHS will reportedly put out a varsity team comprised largely of underclassmen this coming season.

Of course, the big problem with competing in a league that has perennial powerhouses like Forest Park, Hurley, Wis., and Lake Linden-Hubbell is the pounding the less talented teams have to endure.

A possible co-op between Baraga and L’Anse has also been discussed since the end of last season.

But Markham says that alternative appears to have been ruled out for the time being.

There were two factors apparently in the way of such a union:

1. If the two schools were to join up, the Hornets would likely move up a division or two for the playoffs, joining such powerhouses as Ishpeming, Iron Mountain and Negaunee. LHS is expected to be in Division 8 again.

2. L’Anse, which is projected to again be a playoff contender in 2013, will reportedly move to its new field behind the high school. Moving a couple of its games to Baraga would have been an unlikely happening.

A co-op between Ontonagon and Ewen-Trout Creek for football was also briefly discussed, but the Panthers reportedly have opted to stay with 8-man football.

Should Baraga drop its program, there’s also the question of the schools on its schedule finding foes to fill the vacant spot.

Lake Linden-Hubbell AD Gary Guisfredi said the Lakes have considered scheduling a season-opening game with West Iron County or possibly Munising.

“We won’t have a whole lot of time (with scheduling) another game,” he said. “But there’s been no formal action so far.”

Hurley is another league member with schedule problems. Because the playoffs start a week early in Wisconsin, the Midgets will need to know soon if they have to find another opponent to replace Baraga.

And that’s vice-versa for the other non-league schools (L’Anse, Hancock and Houghton) on the BHS schedule.

There have been past cases (Baraga and LL-Hubbell) of schools dropping football for at least one season and coming back. League rules allow a school one year to notify league members of such an action.

It’s a tough proposition but one that could come into play.

Whatever the case, the numbers issue will no doubt be a much-discussed item when Upper Peninsula athletic directors meet in a week.