Tom Weinkauf jokingly refers to himself as a ‘basketball dinosaur,’ and the veteran Newman Catholic girls coach reminisces about the tradition of the state tournament being held in Madison.
Today, however, Weinkauf and his team will face Assumption in the first girls state basketball tournament to be played outside of Madison in its 38-year run. The WIAA approved the change in sites last April in part because of scheduling conflicts with the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team for the Kohl Center in 2013 and ’14.
Despite his fondness of playing in the state capital, Weinkauf voiced no objection to the move.
“There were some major problems in Madison, and Green Bay just bent over backwards to make this a great experience for the kids and the fans,” said Weinkauf, whose has coached the Cardinals to 10 state appearances since 2000 and played games in the previous state tournament sites in Madison — the University of Wisconsin Fieldhouse, Alliant Energy Center and the Kohl Center. “It’s a different venue, but the bottom line is you’re still on a basketball court and playing for the same trophy (as before).”
Assumption coach Joe Birkhauser echoed Weinkauf’s thoughts as the Royals make their second WIAA state appearance, and welcomed the opportunity to play anywhere at this time of the season. Assumption and Newman will play a Division 5 semifinal at 1:35 p.m. today.
“If they moved (the tournament) again next year to my backyard it wouldn’t bother me one bit,” Birkhauser said.
While the Resch Center, with a capacity of 10,200, isn’t nearly as large as the Kohl Center, site of the boys tournament, it’s still considered a first-class facility and might be just right based on past girls tournament attendance figures. Girls state tournament attendance last year in Madison plummeted to 30,353, the lowest total since 1985 and down from an all-time high of 61,246 in 2001.
“A lot of people are upset (about the switch), but I’m not,” Assumption senior Hannah Skibba said. “I think the Kohl Center is too big for the girls tournament and the atmosphere suffers because of that. We don’t bring in as many people as the boys, so I think it makes sense to be at a different arena that’s a little smaller.”
The question is, will the WIAA adopt the Green Bay area as the permanent home for the girls tournament at the end of its two-year contract, or will the event return to Madison in 2015?
WIAA executive director Dave Anderson said he doesn’t have a firm timetable on when that decision will be made. But PMI Entertainment Group, which manages the Resch Center and is running the tournament, will put on a full-court press to make sure the event stays in Green Bay.
“We feel this community and this facility has a lot to offer,” said Cora Haltaufderheid, PMI chief operating officer. “We feel like we have a great place that the girls could call home.”
The switch in venues isn’t the only change for Neillsville as the Warriors, riding a 54-game winning streak, moved up to Division 3 this year after winning the Division 4 championship last season. Neillsville faces East Troy in a state semifinal matchup Friday morning.
“We have never played in the Resch Center,” Neillsville guard Lindsey Opelt said. “We are one of the few teams that could win the first to win a gold ball there. We are trying and trying to make a name for ourself.”
Neillsville coach John Gaier said his team’s focus is on the task at hand this weekend.
“I have driven past the Resch Center, it looks like a beautiful place to play,” Gaier said. “But if they said the state tournament is being held in a haymow of a barn with two metal pieces at each wall (for baskets) that is where we will go play. To be among the last four teams and have a chance to win the gold ball is what we are focused on.”