As LaBahn Arena empties after yet another Badger win, a small group of students walks along the concourse singing “In Heaven There Is No Beer” in typical Wisconsin hockey fashion. As the group nears earshot of the press box, the song winds down and Lucas Pillar, a self-proclaimed superfan, finishes the song with a loud and defiant “Paint LaBahn!” Members of the Athletic Department begin to grumble at the slightly annoying tradition. Meanwhile, it becomes more apparent that the walls of LaBahn remain bare.
After its completion in 2012, LaBahn Arena became only the second women-specific stadium in the country, trailing the construction of Minnesota’s Ridder Arena by only a year. The $27 million project created an arena with the capacity for 2,273 people. LaBahn’s impressive capacity matches that of nearly a quarter of the stadiums in Division I NCAA men’s hockey today and creates an intense and captivating environment for fans and athletes. However, the arena has one flaw in the eyes of the fans.
While the facility is state of the art and much of it, including the offices, media rooms, locker rooms and concourses are decorated with Badgers memorabilia and murals, the inside of the arena is starkly bare. The small Wisconsin student section in LaBahn’s inaugural 2012-2013 season immediately noticed the difference. After a year of hoping for a change in scenery, the fans took to Twitter in protest at the beginning of the 2013-2014 season.
“The north concourse is nice,” Pillar said. “However the seating bowl feels like a plain practice facility, not the home of the Wisconsin Badgers, where the women’s hockey team plays its games.”
The “Paint LaBahn” saga began at the beginning of the season when the Wisconsin women’s hockey team faced off against Team Japan in an exhibition game. Pillar, as well as Dan Simanek, better known by Wisconsin hockey fans as Superfan Dan, began tweeting @BadgerWHockey about painting LaBahn. Although the tweets started off as a joke, #PaintLaBahn quickly caught on.
“Paint LaBahn has become a running joke all season,” Pillar said. “We considered it a wild success and pretty amusing when we saw someone we didn’t know use ‘#PaintLaBahn’.”
While Pillar and Simanek initially composed the tweets for a bit of fun, the comments came from their real feelings about the stadium’s decoration. The two were still hoping that one day LaBahn would be a little bit more colorful. The group of student superfans is not alone in its opposition to the bare walls of LaBahn either. Many other spectators have commented on the walls and some have even taken to Twitter to help #PaintLaBahn trend.
“Some of our tweets to @BadgerWHockey are a little tongue-in-cheek, but we genuinely would like to see something on those plain walls,” Pillar said. “Based on some initial reaction from other fans over the last year, we are not the only ones.”
After Pillar and the other superfans decided they wanted LaBahn painted, the focus turned to what to paint on the wall of could become a legendary stadium in women’s hockey history.
“They could paint it with anything from a giant motion W, to some kind of ring of honor, to big hockey murals.” Pillar said. “Send some art students. It would be awesome.”
While Pillar and other fans continue planning their grand design for LaBahn’s interior, the Wisconsin women’s hockey team remains unfazed by the controversy as it makes a run for its fifth National title. When asked about the possible renovations, many of the players merely chuckled and pushed the question off.
“I don’t really care,” senior forward Madison Packer said. “We don’t really look up in the stands. It’s a nice facility, our locker room is painted and we have stuff hanging around the arena, so we’re happy with what we’ve got.”
Wisconsin head coach Mark Johnson could hardly believe he was being asked about the movement. He shrugged for a few seconds before coming up with the only response he could think of: “It doesn’t matter.”
Still, the campaign rolls on while the second-ranked Wisconsin women’s hockey team continues to win game after game in the slightly empty LaBahn. The Badgers played their last home game of the regular season last weekend against Minnesota. After a best-of-three series next week for the WCHA playoffs, LaBahn will close for the season leaving, Pillar and Simanek waiting another year in hopes of seeing a painted arena. As of now, the Athletic Department has no plans to paint the walls of LaBahn Arena, but you can be sure officials will be hearing about the blank walls until they makes a change.