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La Crosse Central, Logan to Combine

Two of Wisconsin’s oldest and most storied show choir programs will combine at the end of the current school year.

La Crosse Central High School Grand Central Station and Logan High School The Class Act will come together to create a new choir.

Students were informed of the news on Wednesday, March 27.

GCS director Ian Schultz and TCA director Adam Carty will co-direct the new outfit.

 “It’s been a conversation that we’ve been having for quite some time,” said Schultz. “We are one of the smallest open class groups competing in Wisconsin every year. Both groups have been very successful. It basically came down to student experience - we look at them and say ‘go compete against five groups of 60 and you have 27’. You have to keep pulling the rabbit out of the hat constantly in rehearsals to make a group of 27 as successful as a group of 60.”

Central made finals at all five competitions it attended this year, with a highlight of second place and Best Vocals at the Onalaska Show Choir Classic. Logan competed six times and made finals five times, racking up three third-place finishes over the course of the season.

Along with student experience, declining enrollments were consistently cited as another factor to combine the groups. 

“We’ve lost about 450 kids [at Central] since 2004 and we will lose another 200 in the next two to three years,” Schultz explained. “Logan will lose another 150-200 kids in the next two to four years as well.”

Central currently enrolls just over 1,000 students, while Logan is at about 750. Twenty years ago, Central alone had about 1,400 students. If enrollment stays true to projections, the combined enrollment of the schools will soon be what Central held at its peak.

Two years ago, La Crosse voters soundly defeated a referendum that would have built a new high school that all high school students in the district would attend. Had the referendum been approved, the two groups may have finished out their years as separate entities before coalescing at the new school.

The process of combining everything about the programs was not taken lightly, according to both directors.

“We started this conversation back in October,” said Schultz. 

“We both understood the gravity of it,” stated Carty. “Show choir is something that comes with a lot of passion and a lot of pride. We are happy that our students and families feel that level of pride.”

According to Carty, the upcoming combination was much more of a strategic move for the future than a necessary move for the survival of one or both programs.

“We really do want our students to have the best opportunities,” he said. “We didn’t want either of our programs to be at a point where they’re desperate for a combination.”

Co-op show choir is not common in Wisconsin or the upper Midwest. In the Badger State, the only current co-op program is Brodhead-Juda-Parkview, which just finished up its second season as a cooperative group.

However, proof of concept is to be had in the La Crosse middle school show choir program. Traditionally, each of La Crosse’s three middle schools - Lincoln, Logan and Longfellow - all ran show choirs. However, ahead of the 2022-2023 school year, the schools consolidated their efforts into two combined groups. The move proved to be providential, as the La Crosse School Board voted to close Lincoln in January 2023. The school closed in June of that year and the property has already been sold to a housing developer.

“Just being able to see the sort of collaboration and relationship development, they start out not being good friends and then they get to know each other and they’re really close,” explained Carty. “We’ve seen it work well in the middle school show choir program, the theater program at the high school level.”

Community support was also key to the process.

The process “took a lot longer than it should’ve,” according to Schultz. “We had our parent board approval at the end of October. We had AD and parent board approval in November. We had to wait to get a meeting with the superintendent. That’s what took so long.”

According to data gathered by the author, Grand Central Station is among the top ten winningest show choirs of all time. Publicly available records show 63 wins for GCS. The Class Act has 13 titles to its name, according to online records. 

It begs the question - is there any fear of living in the past?

“We might hit a soft spot with the people who were in high school at the time when both groups were successful,” Schultz acknowledged, “But so far we’ve heard nothing but positive things.”

“Both Mike [Esser, longtime Central director] and Doreen [Athnos, longtime Logan director] are supportive and understand, this is just kind of where we’re at.”

“Although GCS and TCA both have very historic show choirs and have fostered a fun rivalry for a long time, it became apparent that a combination would be best for everyone involved in both choirs,” said Joey Cahalan, a junior in the Central show band.

“Many initial reactions are a bit of a gut punch,” noted former Logan director and current Holmen director Kayla Shue. “In a time when so many schools are splitting to create more programs and schools, to see these two programs have to combine was extremely sad at first. The Class Act would be 43 years old this season and GCS would be celebrating just that many, if not more. The legacy of both programs will hopefully be celebrated as the consolidation is navigated.”

Despite that, Shue says that she agrees with the move.

“I truly feel that this is the best option moving forward to support as many kids as possible and continue to push La Crosse-area show choir in a direction that remains competitive in the show choir community. It’s a bittersweet ending of one chapter and a hopeful beginning of the next. I have the utmost faith in the adults in charge that the kids’ wellbeing and experience is at the forefront of all decisions being made.”

For some, the move was a long time coming.

I have heard speculation of the show choirs combining for years at this point, but I thought it was unlikely to happen during my time in high school,” Cahalan said.

“I remember in 2018, some girls from Central joined Classy Ladies [Logan’s former womens group] because Central got rid of their prep group,” said one Logan alum who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity. “Ever since then, I knew this was a possibility. I had thought something like this might be happening, especially with how low both the groups’ numbers are this year.”

For years, the La Crosse area has served as the most concentrated belt of show choir in Wisconsin with the best groups. With two of the main players in the scene consolidating, those on the outside of the move say it will be odd to get used to it.

“What I feel it will impact most is the general energy of the area,” the alum said. “It will be a little weird to see one less group at Heritage Night and the local competitions.”

“The directors of Holmen, La Crosse, Onalaska, West Salem, and even out to Sparta all get along greatly and have wonderful relationships,” explained Shue. “The number of groups in the La Crosse area might be changing slightly but the quality of groups in our little pocket of Wisconsin will continue to perform at a high level.”

While several details about the new group are still undecided - including the name, choreographers, and competition schedule - all involved are viewing it as a big opportunity.

“We have both directors from both sides of town working now, we have twice as much talent for next year,” said Carty.

“We’re still hosting two competitions,” noted Schultz. “Central is hosting a middle school competition only and Logan is hosting the high school competition. It will be on the traditional weekends.”

I have a good feeling those in the group will come together and create a fantastic show on a whole new level,” Cahalan said.

No matter what the outcome may be, however, both directors believe the time is now. The two have worked together previously, as they co-directed Grand Central Station in 2022 when Carty was the choir director at Longfellow Middle.

“It’s the right decision for the times we’re in,” emphasized Schultz. “Find kids where they’re at, and take them from there. This is where we’re at.”

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