Robin Rosemeyer admits that when the time comes, he and his staff will be playing a little bit of catchup.
The two-time state championship winning Gilman football coach and his program will be entering new territory in 2020 when the Pirates make the move to 8-man football.
Gilman will play its final 11-man season this fall as a part of the Cloverwood Conference before moving on to 8-man to join McDonell, New Auburn, Bruce, Phillips and Alma Center Lincoln in the yet-to-be-named Central Region Conference A, according to the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association’s initial conference realignment proposal released in May.
The Pirates have been one of the more successful football programs in the area over the last decade-plus under Rosemeyer.
Rosemeyer has guided the team to two Division 7 state championships (2006 and 2010), one Division 7 runner-up finish (2005) and eight playoff appearances since taking over as head coach in 2005. Gilman is coming off an 8-3 season and trip to the second round of the Division 7 playoffs last year, but with enrollment numbers decreasing in smaller schools throughout the state, Rosemeyer knew it was a move his program needed to make.
“The determining factor was that in the coming years we’re only going to have 30-something boys in the high school,” Rosemeyer said. “We’ve got some girl-dominated classes coming up. When we looked into it more, you could looking back every two years and we knew in a couple years we were going to have to go the 8-man route.”
According to Wissports.net statewide enrollment numbers Gilman (114) will be the second smallest school to play 11-man football in Wisconsin this fall, trailing only Highland (87). The decision to go 8-man was made last November, prior to the beginning of December deadline schools need to meet for the following season. Rosemeyer said his team is currently focused on this fall’s season and will fully turn its attention to studying up on 8-man after its season is done. He did reach out to the Luck program following last season’s state championship game against Sevastopol that was played at Oriole Park in Stanley and received film from the game to help familiarize he and his staff.
“After this season is done we’ll start worrying about what 8-man is all about and when you watch it on film, football is football,” Rosemeyer said. “From what we’ve heard a team with speed will stick out because of fewer players on (the field), even though the field is smaller too.”
The decision was made quickly and Rosemeyer said the Gilman community has been supportive of the move with many excited that it allows the program to retain its individual identity. The only school close to Gilman that was a realistic possibility for an 11-man co-op is Thorp but Rosemeyer said Gilman did not approach Thorp about a co-op.
“(In) the smaller districts, everybody is getting smaller. There’s just not many schools anymore that are getting larger (and are) the size of a Gilman,” Rosemeyer said. “Our enrollment is 114 right now and we’ll be down to about 100 in our next enrollment count and I don’t see us ever getting bigger from what’s coming up in the elementary (school).”
Gilman will be joined by Greenwood as Cloverwood teams to jump to 8-man in 2020. Greenwood will be a part of the Central Region Conference B with Port Edwards, Wausau Newman, Tri-County, Bowler/Gresham and Marion/Tigerton. Teams from Conference B will face teams from Conference A in ‘crossover’ games during the nonconference portion of the schedule.
Rosemeyer was pleased with Gilman’s placement in the conference realignment, one that gives the Pirates several close matchups with McDonell, New Auburn and Bruce among others.
But those games are still a year away. As the 2019 season draws near, Rosemeyer and his team are looking to do what they can to build off a successful 2018 season and make the team’s last 11-man season for the foreseeable future a memorable one.
“We’re excited about our last year of 11-man,” Rosemeyer said. “We feel we have some athletic kids, we don’t have great numbers obviously. We’re going to be around 18-20 kids but we do have some pieces that we can put out there that will make us pretty competitive so we’re just going do our best to enjoy our last season of 11-man and be the best team we can be this year.”