In this state, like many others, the major high school athletics are football and basketball. These sports have their own storied programs at the University of Wisconsin, making it fitting that many high school players focus their varsity careers on one goal: getting to Madison for a chance at a state championship.
For many high school athletes in the state of Wisconsin, Madison is the ultimate destination. A culmination of years of dedication, athletic progress, offseason work and success ends with a chance to win it all. Talking to a high school player, a common question a person might ask is what their goals are for the season. They might reflect on a conference title or maybe a personal goal, but for every true competitor the ultimate prize is the ultimate goal, and the ultimate goal lies in Madison.
Madison has held the WIAA football championship games since 1982. For some that make it, their first taste of Camp Randall is a glimpse of where they will spend the rest of their collegiate careers. For the rest, the game played under the lights at Camp Randall is both the climax and highlight of their football careers. While Madison has retained the football state championships for almost three decades, the city has retained another sport’s championships much, much longer.
I’m talking, of course, about basketball.
For the past 90 out of 91 years (with the exception of 1936), the Wisconsin Boy’s Basketball Tournament has been held in Madison. The tournament is indeed the pinnacle of Wisconsin high school athletics. For three days, high school students, fans, coaches and athletes of qualifying schools are swept into a whirlwind of games at the Kohl Center and extended time in Madison. Schools shut down and small towns seem vacant, as the entire population of the team’s city floods Madison with high school color schemes and letter jackets.
As a player who was lucky enough in his high school career to make it to the Kohl Center (twice, both times proudly riding pine for Oshkosh West) I can personally vouch for the experience a trip to Madison brings. You put in a giant body of work as any player of a basketball team, and even as a player who doesn’t see the floor, the sense of accomplishment and the joy reaching a game at the Kohl Center brings are things that I will value for the rest of my life.
I didn’t get many chances to spend time in Madison before the state tournament. Once in a while, if I was lucky enough, my dad would snag football or basketball tickets, but with a family that was always busy, especially with sports on the weekends, there weren’t many opportunities to a catch a game in our state’s capital. So when I finally got a chance to experience the Kohl Center, State Street and the sight of driving into Madison, seeing the lit-up Capitol as we drove down Highway 151, I was ecstatic.
That’s why I’m so extremely sad and disappointed to hear of any potential move to relocate the tournament away from Madison. I have no idea what the agenda of the WIAA is against UW. There have been conflicts in the past for the basketball state tournaments, yet somehow the two sides have always worked it out.
The current dispute involves a scheduling conflict. The university cannot guarantee WIAA’s preferred dates for the basketball tournaments because of the WCHA playoff series in 2013, along with the women’s hockey NCAA Frozen Four in 2014. It’s understandable that the WIAA wants some security for the tournament dates and the site itself, but they also need to understand that Wisconsin is a college first, with its own business to take care of as well.
So a compromise needs to be reached, one that keeps the tournament in Madison and at the Kohl Center. If the WIAA has to move the high school basketball season back or forward by a week or two in order to keep the tournament at the Kohl Center, it’s a worthwhile sacrifice. After all, these are only two years of conflicts.
It almost feels like WIAA Executive Director Dave Anderson is trying to force UW to favorable terms. Perhaps exemplifying this best is Anderson’s quote to the Wisconsin State Journal:
“If we aren’t able to reach an agreement, the board has approved the acceptance of the Green Bay proposal.”
This move to Green Bay was a personal recommendation of Anderson’s to the WIAA Board of Control, which it passed unanimously. This tentative agreement is both a despicable threat and bargaining tool by Anderson and the WIAA. Basically, Anderson is telling Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez that, “Hey, I have this other place that wants us pretty bad. If you don’t cough up more favorable terms or give us the dates we want, you can wave to our backsides as we scuttle up north.”
The university has already been more than flexible to display its desire to keep the WIAA basketball tournaments in Madison. The 2013 Girl’s Basketball Tournament was moved to the Field House at an earlier date. A UW men’s hockey series was moved to Saturday and Sunday of next year to not conflict with the 2013 state wrestling tournament. The school also helped change the format of the Big Ten men’s hockey tournament by voting and reformatting the tournament to be played at neutral sites.
I hope that Anderson understands what he’s doing by moving the tournament. The arrangement with the Kohl Center has worked for more than a decade now. There’s no reason concessions can’t be made on both sides to work through these next two years.
Whatever the reason for Anderson’s personal recommendation to move the tournament, it needs to be put into context. The tournament has been held in Madison for almost a century. A century. The state tournament is a tradition with its own history, and that history and tradition is Madison, along with the Kohl Center. You can’t separate the two; the tournament and the city are linked through almost 100 years.
I was lucky enough to have my time at the state tournament. I just hope the young men and women behind me get the same chance.
Nick is a senior majoring in history and English. Do you have your own state tournament memory? Have a personal opinion or thought about the proposed move by the WIAA or Nick’s column? Let him know, negative or positive, at firstname.lastname@example.org.