For the first time in its 37-year history, the WIAA girls state basketball tournament won’t take place in Madison.
The Resch Center in Ashwaubenon will host the event this week in what amounts to a live audition.
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 you can be sure 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 here.
“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.”
PMI will do everything in its power, with a little help from its friends, to convince the WIAA that the Green Bay area should be the long-term destination spot for the girls tournament.
While the Resch Center isn’t nearly as large as the Kohl Center in Madison, 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.
“The Resch Center is a gorgeous facility,” Anderson said.
“It could prove to be just the right size for what has to this point been the normal girls crowd. It will certainly not look empty and it definitely won’t sound empty if we get several thousand in there.”
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.
Weather and matchups are two of the biggest factors affecting attendance. Area teams from Algoma, Kewaunee, Green Bay Notre Dame and New London likely will bring busloads of fans. Cheaper parking and lower hotel rates also could attract more out-of-town guests.
Haltaufderheid would love to see at least 34,000 fans show up this week.
“I feel it’s an audition,” Haltaufderheid said. “We’re ready for it, and we know that this building, while we don’t have all the amenities of a Big Ten school, we have what’s called heart.”
Because of conflicting events at the Kohl Center in recent years, the WIAA had been forced to move the girls tournament to older, more outdated facilities at the Alliant Energy Center and UW Field House.
In Green Bay, PMI gives the WIAA top priority for using the Resch Center. There are other amenities that players, coaches and fans won’t find anywhere else.
State qualifying teams will get the chance this week to walk up the tunnel leading to Lambeau Field. There also will be video messages from various Packers players, including Aaron Rodgers, welcoming visitors to the tournament.
“It’s going to be a nice touch,” Haltaufderheid said. “It’s going to be that Green Bay touch that nobody else has been able to do.”
Packers President Mark Murphy, along with other team representatives, will make an appearance at the Resch Center during the tournament and meet with WIAA board of control members.
It’s not only the Packers that will roll out the welcome mats. Area hotels are producing T-shirts with team logos and PMI will have special signs and buttons greeting fans.
“Our Midwest work ethic and smiles on our faces will really welcome our guests,” Haltaufderheid said. “What I hang my hat on is the people that work for PMI are very excited about this.
“It will be the big event in town.”
The goal is to give WIAA officials no choice but to keep the girls tournament here permanently.
“We hope it’s extremely successful there and we hope that it will be more than a two-year relationship,” said Anderson, who wouldn’t rule out making a long-term decision before the 2014 tournament.
Haltaufderheid hopes that by the time this week is over, one primary conclusion will be made about the Green Bay area.
“We are the perfect fit for girls state basketball,” she said.