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Editorial: Ending the program to save it

Another season, another losing record.

Another season, another head coach.

Another season and the infighting continues.

The play on the hardwood may be inconsistent, but the aforementioned have been consistent elements of the Ellsworth High School boys' basketball program since 2000.

Especially the losing part.

The record the Panthers boys' basketball programs has compiled over the past decade is 44-168. Their Middle Border Conference record during this time is 25-111. The most games Ellsworth has won in one single season during this time has been nine and the most league games it's won has been five. They've lost 18 or more games in four seasons and have finished dead last in the league by the same amount. This season, the Panthers set a school record for losses with 21. Right now, they have a losing streak of 16 ballgames.

If these numbers don't say that Ellsworth has one of the worst prep boys' basketball programs in the state at any level over the last 10 years, then nothing does.

Granted, the program doesn't have a lot of tradition to begin with. EHS has been to state just three times. They have not won a sectional title since 1942. They haven't won a regional title since 1971. They won just six conference titles, the last coming in 1995. But the Panthers had competitive teams. They've had good players and coaches They've played good basketball even when they weren't always successful from season to season.

What has happened over the last 10 years has been a degenerative breakdown. It's a program so racked by infighting between different factions of parents and the school's coaches over various issues it has become an embarrassment and an ugly sore upon the school and the community.

After this season's 2-21 campaign, apparently a group of parents wishes to remove Head Coach Scott Pettersen after just one season on the job and has reportedly met or had planned to meet with the school's administration about their wishes. This comes a year after previous Head Coach Cory Brathol resigned when another faction of parents campaigned loudly to have him replaced.

If Pettersen is removed or decides to step down, it would mean Ellsworth would then have to hire its sixth head coach to lead the program over the past decade. But what coach in their right mind from the outside, or even within the district, would want to step in the middle of the state of warfare that exists in the program right now? How many more coaches will this program continue to chew up and spit out?

Maybe the answer isn't a new coach. Maybe the answer is a new program.

And to do that would mean ending the old one. For now.

Maybe play just a JV or freshman schedule for next season or maybe start all over at the middle school level.

This would at least allow unhappy parents to transfer their kids to different districts if they wish to continue to play basketball without losing a year of eligibility per WIAA rules and separate the sides, so to speak, by having them go their separate ways if they choose to.

And it would help the administration get control of the program again instead of being something fought over by groups of parents as one fights over a toy in a sandbox.

But there cannot be another varsity season like those of the recent past. One cannot expect the young men who voluntarily give of their time and sweat to play basketball to do so under such conditions as to prevent or inhibit their chances of success on the floor. To ask them to represent the school and the community while the adults they are supposed to look up to and expect leadership from are fighting amongst themselves is unfair.

It does not matter one pays to play. No team is a house of representatives. Unless the bickering ceases, then perhaps it's time to take the toy away.