Mike Vandermause column: Early returns favorable for Green Bay as WIAA girls tournament host

Mar. 15, 2013

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The official WIAA Girls State Basketball Tournament banner is displayed outside the Resch Center, Friday, January 11, 2013. H. Marc Larson/Press-Gazette Media
Algoma students Sam Koss (left) Logan Jossie and Hunter Prokash cheer during the WIAA division 4 semifinal game at the Resch Center in Ashwaubenon, Wis., on Thursday, March 14, 2013. Lukas Keapproth/Press Gazette Media / Lukas Keapproth/Press-Gazette Media


ASHWAUBENON — If reviews from the first day of the WIAA girls state basketball tournament are any indication, the event could enjoy a long and happy existence in the Green Bay area.

The chatter during the first day of the tournament at the Resch Center was overwhelmingly positive.

“I’d like to see it here (permanently),” said UWGB women’s basketball coach Kevin Borseth, a prominent spectator sitting in the first row during Friday afternoon’s opening session. “The road to Green Bay. That would be nice to have that.”

Borseth wasn’t alone in his resounding praise for the facility and the big-time atmosphere created in the more intimate Resch Center. In the past when the girls tournament was held at the Kohl Center in Madison, some of the games would get lost in the cavernous facility.

The exact opposite effect occurred at the Resch, according to Barneveld coach Jim Myers, with an extremely noisy environment.

“I didn’t think I’d have a problem with kids hearing me today … (but) I think we had to work awfully hard to get their attention,” said Myers. “I noticed the crowd today throughout the whole game.

“This is the first time I’ve been up here and walked on the floor. I was impressed.”

The crowd noise produced a special environment that didn’t always exist in past girls tournaments.

“It looks better here than it would in an 18,000-seat venue,” said Ken Wachter, president of PMI Entertainment Group, which is running the tournament. “And watching it on TV, it looks great on TV, so I think it’s creating a good atmosphere.”

The head coaches on Thursday spoke glowingly of playing at the Resch, and some of them also would like to see the tournament move here for good.

“Everybody talks about Madison this and that, but I’ll tell you what, I think this is great venue,” said Wisconsin Rapids Assumption coach Joe Birkhauser, who previously led the Royals to state in Madison in 2005.

“This is a perfect spot for the girls basketball tournament.”

Wausau Newman coach Tom Weinkauf couldn’t think of one bad thing to say about the location of the tournament, even though his team was eliminated on the first day. He genuinely felt embraced by the community and the tournament organizers.

“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,” said Weinkauf. “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.”

The decibel level was turned up even higher when Algoma played in a Division 4 semifinal against Cuba City during an evening matchup. Algoma is only 35 miles from Green Bay and it appeared as if everyone in town made the trip.

“As far as I’m concerned, we can keep it here as long as we can because our crowd is awesome, our student section is awesome, our band is awesome,” said Algoma coach Mark Zastrow following the Wolves’ 62-39 victory.

From the massive banner outside the Resch Center greeting fans, to the easy and cheap parking at the nearby Lambeau Field lot, the tournament has put on a user-friendly face.

“That’s all we can do is put our best foot forward and hope that the decision is made to stay here,” said Wachter.

PMI signed a two-year contract to host the tournament, and the WIAA hasn’t set a timetable on when it will decide on the future of the event beyond 2014. But if early returns mean anything, the girls tournament could very well have found a new home.

mvandermause@pressgazettemedia.com or follow him on Twitter @MikeVandermause

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