ASHWAUBENON — The first WIAA state girls basketball game at the Resch Center is in the books and left a positive impression on both teams involved.
Moments after Wisconsin Rapids Assumption toppled Wausau Newman 60-37 in a Division 5 semifinal on Thursday afternoon, both Assumption coach Joe Birkhauser and Newman coach Tom Weinkauf spoke glowingly of their teams’ experience.
PMI Entertainment Group, which manages the Resch Center, was responsible for bringing the annual event to the Green Bay area after scheduling conflicts at the tournament’s previous home, Madison's Kohl Center, opened the door for a potential move.
It’s the first of a two-year trial run for PMI to convince the WIAA the nearly 10,000-seat Resch Center is a suitable option to host the tournament on a permanent basis. Prior to this year, the event was held annually in Madison since the tournament started in 1976.
Newman Catholic coach Tom Weinkauf, who has guided the Fighting Cardinals to three state championships since 2002, took a lighthearted approach to his team’s opening loss, but was pleased overall with the venue and atmosphere.
“This must be an awful venue. We couldn’t play here,” joked Weinkauf, who’s in his 15th year at Newman. “I have a feeling this will probably be here for a while because I think Green Bay has really opened up their arms and wants us here. We certainly got the feeling that we were welcome.
“It was a good basketball venue. Sometimes playing in Madison in the Kohl Center, it’s a great, big huge place with a gym in it and this was more of a basketball venue. It was very nice.”
Attendance at last year’s state tournament in Madison dipped to a 27-year low (30,353). Early indications are that number will be exceeded at the Resch Center, which was reporting sales of more than 21,000 tickets through Wednesday morning.
The most watched session of the tournament last year was around 6,500, which could be seated comfortably in the Resch Center, while also providing a midway point for many of the teams traveling from the western and northern regions of the state.
The tournament runs through Saturday, but is off to a good start in the eyes of the early combatants.
“Everybody talks about Madison this and that, but I’ll tell you what I think this is great venue,” said Assumption coach Joe Birkhauser, who previously led the Royals to state in 2005.
“This is a perfect spot for the girls basketball tournament. The WIAA is always extremely gracious, takes care of all the teams that come down here. We’re just proud to be here. I think I said in the paper earlier, I don’t care if it’s played in my backyard, it’s great to be here in Green Bay.”
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