The Shorewood School District is widely known for its strong focus on the arts, with celebrated theater, band, orchestra and choral programs, churning out right-brained graduates.
With that, some argue the district's sports programs have suffered over the years as a result. A perception has emerged that Shorewood isn’t a "sports district," and doesn’t put an emphasis on athletics, high school track coach and Lake Bluff physical education teacher Dominic Newman said.
“I feel that Shorewood is not recognized as a sports district,” Newman said. "That's a perception that every coach is trying to change."
But athletics in the district seem to be on the verge of a revival.
Shorewood High School was ranked third in the Wisconsin Sports Network Cup standings for the fall sports season, behind Madison Edgewood and Arrowhead, and was in the top five for medium schools for all sports seasons last year. The WSN Cup totals points earned in both men's and women's sports, awarded for finishes in the state tournament of every sport sponsored by the WIAA. Generally, the top 32 teams in each sport are awarded points.
Shorewood has long been a powerhouse in sports like girls swimming, with that team winning its seventh state title last season, and boys cross country, with that team capturing its eighth state title since 2000.
High school boys track team member Justin Rabon won the 200-meter and the 400-meter titles last summer. He also anchored the first place 4 x 400 relay team along with Alec Grimmer, Taylor Dennis, and Jacob Goldberg, setting a new state record in the process.
Also a running back with the Messmer/Shorewood co-op football team, Grimmer, who rushed for 901 yards and 16 touchdowns with Messwood last season, said he was on the team his freshman and sophomore year when they picked up just one win.
Before merging football squads with Messmer High School in 2001, Shorewood’s team lost 63 straight games. The Messwood team has re-emerged as a winning team, reaching the playoffs the past two years under coach Drake Zortman.
"It has been really trying at times, especially those first couple seasons, but it's been really fun lately, because we are on a good path," Grimmer said.
Grimmer, who also plays basketball at Shorewood, said the basketball programs are on the same path as football — getting better each season.
Dating back to 2008, the girls basketball team went winless for two seasons in a row, but finished this year with its first winning season in more than 15 years.
Boys basketball head coach Phil Jones said he has been working to eliminate a losing mentality, with the team going 13-33 over two seasons, before improving to 24-22 in the past two seasons.
Additionally, the boys soccer team came up just short of a state tournament berth, losing to Pewaukee in a penalty shootout following two overtime periods. The girls went 12-5 last season, losing in WIAA sectionals to Catholic Memorial.
"There's a new sense of excitement, because many programs are seeing success," Newman said.
Shorewood does, however, continue to struggle in programs like baseball, where the team when 4-19 last season and softball, where the team had a 2-17 record.
Newman said a lot of schools link the success of their athletics to their football and basketball programs, but as those popular sports become more successful, it has a residual effect on participation in other sports.
"Shorewood athletics are on the rise," Newman said. "We are seeing more athletes participating. Just within cross-country, I have 36 athletes this season, 99 for track, that's the highest we've ever had. Our programs are getting stronger."
Among the 11 Woodland Conference schools, Shorewood is third in participation behind Cudahy and Pewaukee. Girls and boys cross country, and swimming, have seen a huge uptick in participation since 2008-2009, along with small strides in football, girls soccer. However, baseball, girls softball and golf have seen declining participation, while interest in other sports generally haven't changed.
Student athletes like Grimmer, Bobby Kohl (soccer, football and basketball) and Donovan Freeman (basketball and football) have crossed over into multiple sports and become leaders on those teams, Shorewood Athletic Director Bill Haury said.
"The college coaches really wants kids to be able to do different things and know how to make decisions in different settings," Haury said. "If you are always playing soccer, yeah, you know what to do on the soccer field, but if you're playing different sports, when you're confronted with a quick decision, it really broadens your ability to perform."
The key change in Newman's eyes was the work Haury has been doing, and his passion for all sports programs in the district.
"Over the last eight or nine years, he is always at the games, and really devoted," Newman said.
“As you can see things are starting to change and we are fairing well in sports for a school our size and by divisions."
But with Haury retiring after at the end of the school year, Newman said he worried about what that will mean for Shorewood athletics, and if the next director will be as devoted to all sports programs as Haury is.