Lake Country Publications Sports Director JR Radcliffe provides tidbits and details from the Lake Country prep sports scene to the Wisconsin sports world at large. His weekly column presents exclusive interviews, commentaries and observations.
The disaster that is the Milwaukee Brewers 2013 can't be boiled down to one thing, but if it could, it would probably be "pitching." With a starting rotation that hasn't been up to snuff and a bullpen that's been great in spurts and costly in others, the Brewers have been mired in a slump that has made the possibility of September contention very bleak.
I often hear fans and writers bemoan the continued use of Rickie Weeks or the early-season letdown of John Axford as crucial to the team's under-performance. But my philosophy continues to see those things as sideshows and the real issue with the rotation. Good starting rotations (and depth) allow for teams to win enough games to reach the playoffs, at which point, any team can win the whole thing.
I don't need the team to have an "ace" or a firm setup in which pitchers slot at 1-5. But if all five are failing to work deep into games (as the Brewers are), the consequences will permeate throughout the season, including a bullpen that will eventually tire and falter.
I decided to give a look to what I considered the Brewers' primary shortcoming: an inability to draft and develop excelent pitchers.
There have been recent missteps in the draft, but not nearly the grave oversights you'd think.
2006 -- Virtually nothing of value came from this draft. High draft picks like Brent Brewer, Cole Gillespie and Evan Anundsen didn't pan out, with first-round pick Jeremy Jeffress (No. 16 overall) -- a risk because of character question marks -- not quite reaching the potential suggested by his high-90s velocity.
Then again, who should the Brewers have taken instead? Pitcher Kyle Drabek went at No. 18, but he just had Tommy John surgery after an uneven debut. Diamondbacks starter Ian Kennedy went at No. 21 to the Yankees but received a lot of money over slot value and didn't have the same power arm as Jeffress, plus the extra mileage of pitching in college.
Some decent MLB players came after Jeffress but you have to go to pick No. 42 (Chris Perez) before you find an All-Star. Jeffress did have some value, as he was part of the package that brought Zack Greinke to Milwaukee, and that was a key maneuver in the 2011 playoff run (I operate under the assumption that all machinations playing a role in the 2011 success were successful). Plus, the team was allowed a mulligan after an excellent 2005 draft.
2008 -- The Brewers drafted Brett Lawrie (3B) and Jake Odorizzi (RHP), both excellent players who served as centerpieces in trades for Shaun Marcum and Zack Greinke, respectively. Those guys were huge in the 2011 postseason march. Milwaukee then made a misstep with the 35th pick, getting Evan Frederickson, a workout-wonder left-handed pitcher who never developed. Second-rounder Seth Lintz (RHP) was also a bust. The team could have had Lance Lynn (39) or Wade Miley (43) or even Craig Kimbrel (97), but by this point in the draft, it's a gigantic guessing game. Plus, it's hard to argue that taking Lynn or Miley would have put the current Brewers over the top.
2009 -- Ouch, first-round choice Eric Arnett (RHP) was a disaster, eventually getting released after an injury-plagued career. What's worse is that he came ONE PICK after Mike Trout, who became a rookie sensation last year and might be the best player in baseball.
But it's not the Brewers' fault that Trout didn't fall that far. After Arnett (26th overall), there's not another player taken who has become an All-Star and not really any difference makers. Another first-round pitching pick, Kyle Heckathorn (47), hasn't developed, either.
2010 -- The Brewers tried so hard to upgrade their pitching, taking righties with four of their first five picks and six of eight. Dylan Covey (14) didn't sign because a diagnosis of diabetes led him to stay close to home and keep his college commitment. Jimmy Nelson (RHP), Tyler Thornburg (RHP) and Hunter Morris (1B) -- the next three picks -- have all had success in the minors, so this might yet pan out for the Brewers. The real bummer is that Covey came one pick after White Sox stud Chris Sale (LHP), but once again, there aren't any big-time prospects taken in the picks immediately thereafter. Outfielder Christian Yelich (23) is the No. 13 prospect in baseball according to MLB.com, but he was taken nine picks later.
2011 -- The Brewers again went pitching, pitching, pitching with Taylor Jungmann (12) and Jed Bradley (15) both taken in the first round. And neither has exactly dominated in the minors. Jungmann has a 5.09 ERA at Double-A and Bradley has been fighting injuries. It's starting to look bleak that either will be anything more than a back-end starter at the big league level.
When the arms raise up
It's true, you can argue that the Brewers haven't done enough to manufacture big league talent, especially when you look over at conference rival St. Louis and see how they can essentially grow great players out of thin air. Unfortunately, there's just such an astronomical level of luck involved in the draft that it's hard to look there and find a glaring shortcoming.
Sixteen pitchers were drafted ahead of Adam Wainwright in 2000 before the Braves snatched him up, and you've mostly never heard of any of them. Clayton Kershaw was the sixth pitcher taken in 2006, and plenty of non-luminaries went first. New kids on the block Matt Harvey and Shelby Miller were both first rounders, but nowhere near the top pitchers in their draft.
In other words, no matter where you draft in the first round, you can land on a stud. Some organizations just get lucky, and many don't. Injuries play the biggest role in keeping those front-tier guys from reaching the big leagues. The Brewers, who don't seem to have any help in the minor league pipeline to truly save a sinking ship, need to hit the jackpot soon, or the 2013 season is just the beginning.
There's enough of a track record of first-round pitching busts to suggest the team needs to make changes in its development staff. But I'd wager luck as a lot more to do with it, and that's a bad thing considering this is a team that doesn't have the resources to compete in the free-agent and international market.
Pictured: Tyler Thornburg, who would be a candidate to help this beleaguered rotation in 2013, is 0-5 with a 6.80 ERA as of May 22 at Triple-A Nashville. (Photo by Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)
The WIAA postseason has arrived, and with it comes some nicer weather (for now; I'm holding my breath) and a handful of questions about the area prep scene. A look at some that I have as we dive in to the culmination of Spring 2013.
Will the area have another surprise entrant in the softball state tournament?
Last year, Sussex Hamilton stunned everyone, knocking off four teams with better seeds -- including top-seeded and local rival Menomonee Falls -- to reach the state tournament. The Chargers were subsequently downed by eventual state champ Chippewa Falls, but it was a remarkable run for a team that came in seeded 9th of 14 teams in the regional.
Two years ago, it was fifth-seeded Oconomowoc that stole the show, also taking down top seed Falls in the sectional semifinal in eight innings, 5-4, then topping No. 2 Watertown to reach state. The Raccoons fell to Wilmot in the state quarterfinal, but both the Raccoons and Chargers will get their chance this year. The Chargers have been relocated to a new regional with a handful of City Conference teams, which traditionally haven't stacked up to their suburban counterparts.
Mukwonago, which might have a high seed by virtue of its excellent season as it seeks to lock up its first Classic 8 title, might have the tools to make a run. The Indians have never been to the state softball tournament.
Can Lake Country Lutheran soccer do it again?
The upstart Lightning soccer team featuring athletes from LCL and University Lake School barely scraped by with a large enough roster to field a full team last year, but then something magical happened when the Division 3 postseason rolled around.
The Lightning surged to the school's first state title in any sport, becoming an improbable success story that included some late arrivals from the softball team to help in the playoffs. Senior Jamie Schnuck was the catalyst for a remarkable triumph, scoring three times in the semifinal win over St. Mary Central -- including the overtime winner -- and again in a 3-1 win over The Prairie School in the final.
LCL has been mostly untested this year and given up only one goal, but the heavy hitters await in the postseason. The Lightning currently are ranked No. 2 in D3.
Where will an improved Kevin Heitzer land?
Arrowhead No. 1 singles player Kevin Heitzer made the state tournament last year with a 17-13 record, but it's clear he's taken a big step forward as a senior.
Heitzer, who fell in the second round to top-seeded Alex Jesse of Homestead last year, knocked off two-time defending conference champion Jake Diesler of Mukwonago twice in the final week of the regular season. Diesler, who went to state with a 20-2 record last year, is also looking for his best tournament showing in what will likely be his fourth trip to Madison.
Also keep an eye on a couple fast-rising area sophomores, Kettle Moraine's Chayce Roecker and Oconomowoc's Augie Badura.
Can Arrowhead's girls track team bridge the gap?
The Arrowhead girls have been one of the area's dominant track programs this year, winning almost every major meet in which their full team has participated. But if you pretended the top eight spots on the Division 1 honor roll (as of Wednesday) were the actual finishes at the state meet and scored the meet as such, Arrowhead would have 24 points -- good for eighth place and behind conference foe Waukesha West, among others.
But that might be misleading. Arrowhead has an entrant on the honor roll (top 20) in almost every event, especially in the track events, including five ninth-best showings. In other words, they're just fractions of a second away from scoring points in those events. That means the Warhawks have room to grow.
Milwaukee King (50.5 points in the current scenario) is probably the favorite, and Kenosha Tremper (49) has the top honor roll designation in three events. Milwaukee Riverside, Brookfield Central and Neenah are also top teams, but Arrowhead has beaten both Riverside and Neenah in head-to-head challenges this year. Arrowhead has state runner-up honors from 2007, 2010 and 2011.
Can Alex Sharrock catch history?
The Kettle Moraine senior hurdler already has a state championship in last year's 300-meter hurdles, and he's looking for a lot more, even in a field that will return as many as eight of last year's top finishers.
He holds the state's top spot on the honor roll in the 110 hurdles and No. 2 in the 300 hurdles, and he also anchors a 4x400-meter relay that has the second-best time in the state. He's a big reason why Kettle Moraine can realistically call itself a contender for the team title.
Last year, Sharrock ran 37.64 to win the 300 -- the sixth-best time ever in Wisconsin. The record is held by Terry Davis of Beloit Memorial, who ran 37.24 in 1991.
His best competition in the 300 might come from Oconomowoc's Shawn Michels, whose time of 38.72 is the state's best this season, just ahead of Sharrock (38.76).
Photo: Alex Sharrock runs the hurdles for Kettle Moraine on his way to a win at the Northstar Invite. The Lasers senior will be one of the favorites at this year's state meet in both hurdles events.
It kind of goes without saying that Arrowhead High School will have some of the area's premier sports programs every year. The school has developed recent dynasties in swimming, golf, football and cross country, with additional recent state titles in track and field, basketball and baseball. Between the school's tradition, quality of coaches and size, the Warhawks will expand their trophy case one way or another every season.
But other schools in our coverage area have found success in pockets, and then came an explosion for Mukwonago in the winter. The school reached the state championship game in both girls and boys basketball, plus a state qualifying run in wrestling that made it just the second school since the 2000 WIAA-WISAA merger to reach state in all three sports in one winter.
The Indians were coming off a fall that featured a renewed string of success within the beloved football program, plus a second consecutive state title for the co-op swimmers. Plus, both boys and girls hockey teams (co-ops) won conference titles, and two gymnasts reached state.
"It was so much fun in school on a day-to-day basis," Mukwonago athletics director Andy Trudell said. "There's a buzz that's in the building, and the staff is excited. Going to the games, it was almost surreal how it just felt like we couldn't lose. We were just going to keep winning. I don't recall ever feeling that way where it didn't matter what sport we were attending, it's our night and we're going to get it done."
Yet another school has found widespread success. The 2013 spring has belonged to Oconomowoc.
Across the board success
The OHS softball team dropped its first conference game of the year Tuesday, and it marked the first conference loss for the baseball, soccer and softball programs combined in 2013. Led by pitcher Delaney Osterday and catcher Renate Meckl, both headed to play for Division 1 college teams next year, the softball squad was still 8-1 (9-3 overall) and looking like a bona fide threat to make a trip to the state meet.
Two years ago, the upstart Raccoons surprised their way to the state tournament for the second appearance in school history. This time around, a trip to Madison wouldn't be so shocking, with Brianne McGuire completing a talented senior triumvirate and a stable of five freshmen guaranteeing that the team will be successful even after those players move on.
The sectional does feature some roadblocks, notably Greater Metro Conference heavyweights Menomonee Falls and West Allis Hale, as well as Classic 8 frontrunner Mukwonago, which hasn't slowed down with its own strong spring (particularly from its conference-champion boys track team). But the Raccoons did upset Falls two years ago en route to the state title, and they'll be competing for a top seed this time around.
Like its counterpart, the baseball team surprised some onlookers with its recent run to a state tournament, last year making its first voyage to Appleton in more than a decade. Yet, at 9-2 overall and 7-0 in conference, this year's Raccoons may be even better despite graduating several talented seniors off that team.
Pitchers Josh Hottinger, Logan Wonn and Lucas Filbert give Oconomowoc a great mound presence, with only Filbert a member of the senior class. Though state-ranked Sun Prairie is the tentative favorite to get through the bracket, Oconomowoc won't have to get past any additional ranked foes to reach Fox Cities Stadium. Plus, as is the caveat with all postseason success stories, anything can happen - just reference the Raccoons' .500 conference record last year followed by a trip to state. A conference title this year would be Cooney's first since 2002.
The soccer team (8-1, 5-0 in WLT) has circled May 21 on the calendar against Slinger, another unbeaten that will battle the Raccoons for the league title. Oconomowoc shared the soccer title with two other teams two years back and last won the outright title in 2008. Somewhat quietly, senior Taylor Pampuch is wrapping up an incredibly decorated career, with two first-team All-Conference accolades and one second-team selection already under her belt. Sophomore Dani Sowinski, a first-team choice as a freshman last year, figures to be a big part of Oconomowoc's plans going forward.
And then there's the boys track team which, as outlined last week, has a legitimate shot to finish in the top three at the WIAA Division 1 state meet at the end of the month, if not higher. Hurdler Shawn Michels, thrower Zach Poker and distance runner Joe Zack are in position to score points for the Raccoons on the highest stage, with a host of additional teammates capable of contributing to the cause. The boys team has already locked down conference titles in the indoor and relays events, with the outdoor meet scheduled May 14. At the relays, the 4x200 delivered the best showing in the state thus far and the 23rd-best time in Wisconsin history.
On the girls side, freshman Marlie Houston - who emerged as a fall sensation during the cross country season - has the sixth-best time on the state honor roll in the 1,600 meters.
The boys tennis team is young and rebuilding but still in the middle of the pack after a flourish of state qualifications the last few years, and the golf team started the week in third place in league mini meets.
As if to accentuate the success at Oconomowoc, the senior class boasts a bumper crop of athletes headed to play at Division 1 programs, including Michels (University of Wisconsin), Poker (Pittsburgh for football), Osterday (Georgetown), Meckl (Tennessee-Martin), volleyball setter Natalie Jaeger (Northwestern State) and swimmer Ian Gordon (Minnesota), who swims independently with OHS not currently offering boys swimming.
The best part is that there's reason to think this success will only get better. With the Athletic Fields Forever campaign taking shape, the facilities at Oconomowoc could become easily the best in the area (if not the state) within the next 2-3 years. That would attract many more families to settle in the OHS district when choosing between that community and its Lake Country neighbors.
The project has raised a third of its $4 million goal to renovate all outdoor facilities - including for soccer, football, track and field, baseball, softball and tennis.
"We want to make the district more attractive to people," said AAF committee chair Tina McKandes. "If you're looking at moving, to Oconomowoc or Delafield or Hartland, this is one way we can set ourselves apart. This could improve people moving to the area and generating income for the whole area."
Like the other schools mentioned, this hasn't been a one-season success story for Oconomowoc, which also had hockey players on that first-place co-op with Mukwonago (and Kettle Moraine) and won the duals portion of the wrestling season for the first time in more than a decade. Oconomowoc entered the spring season in third place of the WLT "All-Sport" standings, and a strong finish could give the school its second All-Sport award in three years.
This could be the beginning of something big for the purple and gold.
Pictured: (Above) The "shoe factory" property has already been graded as a soccer practice field, with seeding the next step in the Athletic Fields Forever project at Oconomowoc High School. (Below) Lucas Filbert and the Oconomowoc baseball team are looking for a conference title. Photos by Scott Ash and Russ Pulvermacher.
Check for an update after May 4 events at the bottom.
With April events completed in prep track and field, we're about a month away from one of the year's biggest events, the state meet in La Crosse. The local scene features a number of state-title hopefuls, including a couple teams with a very legitimate shot to compete for the team title in Division 1.
How legitimate? I went about assessing that question by taking the current honor roll (all results entering the week) and calculating how it would play out if the top-eight entrants finished that way at the state meet.
An exercise of this sort requires a number of disclaimers, of course. These results can shift wildly, with massive changes on a week-to-week basis as new results flow in. Also, the honor roll reflects the very best time or distance for a given athlete/relay, meaning the value might have been recorded at an indoor meet or as far back as February in some warm-up meets.
Consider the fact that one athlete could be responsible for the vast majority of a team's points by virtue of holding the top time in two events, and you realize a team might be one strained hamstring away from a catastrophic downgrade, not to mention a relay or two getting DQ'd at a sectional. It also bears saying that some elite athletes haven't even settled into the events they will run in the postseason circuit.
And then, there’s the simple fact that some track athletes never duplicate their honor-roll showing at the state meet. Some surpass it. We’re only talking about fractions of a second or inch in many cases.
Now that we've all agreed this is purely for fun, let's take a gander:
|Green Bay Preble||58.33 points|
In other words, Lake Country teams such as Kettle Moraine and Oconomowoc are absolutely in the thick of it, with Mukwonago and Arrowhead also possessing some assets.
Preble seems to have a little of everything. They have an elite sprinter (Jake Wallenfang), middle distance runner (Nicholas Freitag) and jumper (Robert Starnes), the latter of whom is the top-ranked high jumper in the state. Wallenfang is also the top-ranked pole vaulter and will be central to Preble's state chances, and nearly all of Preble's relays are in the mix.
Kettle Moraine will rely a great deal on senior Alex Sharrock, who gets credit for 10 points in both hurdles events as the top guy on the honor roll and also ran in the top-ranked 4x400-meter relay. That's 30 points right there.
Mac Reidy gets credit for another eight points for his placement in the two throws.
While the Lasers receive points from six entrants in the current model, Oconomowoc lands points from eight. Shawn Michels scores in both hurdles events, Zach Poker has the third-best shot put distance, and three relays finish in the top eight (with another just outside the top eight, making for even greater potential). Andy Elleseg's blazing time in the 400 at the Northstar Classic last weekend (49.99 seconds) put him on the map as the No. 3 entrant in his event, and Joe Zach finds himself in the money in the 1,600 (and just outside in the 800).
Because they have some entrants just outside the top eight in addition to a pretty good distribution of wealth, Cooney should be very excited about where it stands, even though it does seem for now that everyone will be chasing Preble.
Mukwonago and Arrowhead both have very deep talent pools, and it's conceivable that both will be trending upward as the season comes to a close. Perhaps the blessing and the curse of track and field is that a team might have outstanding depth and truly possess one of the best teams in the state, but in the state meet, it's the powerhouse individuals who really dictate the state championship. Only eight entrants score per event.
More than other sports, it seems, schools have a harder time churning out these elite athletes on a regular basis, which means the window to win a state title figures to be brief (though Brookfield East does have back-to-back titles on its mantle on the boys side). This might be the year for Oconomowoc and Kettle Moraine. The next month will tell us a lot.
Pictured: Shawn Michels of Oconomowoc will be a key cog in the Raccoons' chances at the state track and field meet May 31 and June 1. For sortable honor rolls in boys and girls track, visit Wissports.net.
UPDATE: One week later, and we can already see the volatility in these results.
After compiling the data for events that finished May 4, Preble's rule of the roost becomes even more stark with 68.5 points. Madison Memorial comes in second now at 39, followed by Kettle Moraine (36), Homestead (34) and defending champion Brookfield East (33).
Mukwonago comes in 10th (23.5), Oconomowoc tied for 11th (23), and Arrowhead in 21st (14).
Just because Tim O'Driscoll was the official scorer didn't mean he could explain a player stealing first.
When Jean Segura of the Milwaukee Brewers staged one of the stranger baserunning plays of the season - if not ever - the Arrowhead High School coaching legend O'Driscoll could cite the portion of the rule book that addressed the play. But he still can't comprehend how a player managed to go backward on the base paths, or how he wound up stealing a base and getting thrown out stealing the same base later in the inning.
"I had a good laugh with Tom Hallion," O'Driscoll said, referring to the umpiring crew chief on hand Friday when the Brewers played the Chicago Cubs. "I called him after the game and told him I've coached high school baseball for 35 years, been official scorer for 27 years, and I've never seen anything like this in my life. He said, 'I've been umpiring for over 30 years, and I haven't either.' "
For those who missed the craziness, it went something like this: after Segura stole second and Ryan Braun walked with nobody out in the eighth inning at Miller Park on Friday, Segura was caught trying to take third by Cubs pitcher Shawn Camp, who put Segura in a rundown.
While that was happening, Braun deftly took second base. The Cubs let Segura retreat to second, knowing that only one base runner could have the bag and somebody would be out, while the Brewers would retain a runner in scoring position. Both were touching second when they absorbed the tag (it appears Segura may have been tagged a second time off the bag, which would have been a double play, but the umpires didn't see that part).
The runner out was Braun (because the base belongs to the previous owner of the bag), but it was Segura who began retreating to the dugout, beyond first base. First base coach Garth Iorg realized Segura was now subject to also being tagged out, so he encouraged his young shortstop to quickly get to first base, which he did safely. He had now gone backward along the base paths 90 feet.
According to the wording in the baseball rule book, rule 7.08(I), a runner may technically do that as long as he isn't trying to deceive the infielders. ESPN's Jayson Stark, who frequently writes about the game's compelling minutiae, said later that rule 7.01 prohibits a player from backpedaling a base once a pitch has been thrown under any circumstances, and the league still needs to figure out how to properly score the play. (Thursday update: Stark wrote that MLB assessed the play and agreed that Seugra should have been out.)
Segura was ultimately thrown out trying to steal second - again.
"Everybody came running to me," said O'Driscoll, who has retired from teaching and coaching but still scores games for the Brewers, as he has done for decades. "Bill (Schroeder, Brewers TV commentator) came in and asked, 'What is it (the ruling)?' I think I know the scoring rules really well, but wow, that took me a minute or two."
As official scorer, it's O'Driscoll's responsibility to assess plays as hits or errors and present the official events of the game to Major League Baseball. He also needs to account for every out and every outcome, and the scoring procedures didn't give him a definite answer this time.
Giving away a win
It was an adventurous homestand for O'Driscoll, who watched the Brewers win all six home games in the stretch after starting the year 2-8.
On Tuesday against the Giants came a more conventional - but still challenging - ruling. In most cases, the winning pitcher is designated by preset criteria, but if the starter doesn't go a full five innings, he's ineligible for the win. Against San Francisco, Wily Peralta didn't make it through five, but the Brewers never lost the lead they had established in those early frames, and in that scenario, there's no clear-cut "winning pitcher." O'Driscoll gets to decide, and it wasn't easy.
"What most players don't understand is that the rule is extremely specific about who gets the win," O'Driscoll said, this time referring to 10.17(B). "Most think the next (effective) pitcher should get the win, and I don't know where that comes from, but that's what most people think. The rule is very specific in that it's the most-effective relief pitcher (at any point)."
It can be a subjective decision. In this case, Mike Fiers relieved Peralta in the fifth and allowed one inherited run to score after he came in with the bases loaded and one out. Fiers didn't allow another run, though the outs were loud ones, and he reloaded the bases in the sixth after retiring the first batter in that frame.
Brandon Kintzler retired both batters he faced, one on a sacrifice fly and one with a strikeout of reigning NL MVP Buster Posey. Perhaps a more-impressive performance, but Fiers pitched longer and allowed the same number of inherited runners to score. O'Driscoll gave the win to Kintzler, though subsequent pitchers John Axford and Tom Gorzelanny also pitched well.
"You should consider number of outs, earned runs, base runners given up … I think the really important part is the context of the game at the time of the pitcher's appearance," O'Driscoll said. "When Kintzler came in, the score was one run closer (than when Fiers came in), and he also strikes out the MVP of the league last year. Even though he got two hours and Fiers got four, I felt the most-effective pitcher was Kintzler."
O'Driscoll tried to think of other baseball oddities he'd encountered and recollected a game a few years ago.
"The Brewers had a runner on third and first, and there was a ball hit down the right field line (that was caught)," O'Driscoll said. "The guy from third is tagging and going to score, but they come back and make a play at first base (on the runner, who didn't realize the ball would be caught and had reached second base). Because it wasn't a force out, the run from third scores."
Even though the defense retired the runner who left early from first base, because the runner scored first, his run counted. That's counterintuitive because the play functions much like a standard force play, which does preclude a runner from scoring regardless of the timing. See rule 7.08(E).
"It was a rookie umpire behind the plate, and most veteran umpires would have plated the runner and pointed down," O'Driscoll said. "This guy didn't point down so I went to the rule book and had to argue with the people running the scoreboard to put the run up. They said it didn't count, but it does. That was a chaotic mess. There are certain rules that don't happen very often, so people just assume they know them, but they don't."
One more misconception: the ball does not have to be touched for O'Driscoll to levy an error against a fielder.
"If a ground ball goes through the infielder's legs and he never touches it, that's still an error," O'Driscoll said, noting that a player is given an error if it's ruled he should have made the play with routine effort. That includes pop-ups that fall untouched on the infield.
"I try to look close as I can who's calling it," O'Driscoll said about assessing an error in that situation. "If I can't ascertain that, I normally give it to the person who should have caught it. It's not perfect, but it isn't fair to give the pitcher a base hit (against)."
Pictured above: Jean Segura was the subject of a strange baserunning play last week (Photo by Reuters). Below: Tim O'Driscoll hung up the head coach's uniform three years ago (Photo by Russ Pulvermacher).
The Jackie Robinson biopic “42” isn’t a particularly special movie. As you may read in my movie review, appearing in Lake Country Publications on Wednesday and Thursday, the feel-good storyline easily lends itself to all-too-easy plot devices, the fudging of certain facts to fit the narrative and schmaltzy orchestra music to set the mood.
I don’t think I’d surprise any of you if I told you that at some point, Robinson is going to hit a home run, and he’ll trot around the bases in slow motion. You’ve probably seen that trick in a baseball movie before.
What’s difficult to say is whether you can blame the creators of “42.” They were given such a compelling story to work with; how can it not devolve into the occasional syrupy sequence designed to tug at your heart strings? It’s not going to get nominated for any Oscars, but that doesn’t mean you walk away feeling uninspired.
The Robinson saga, one of those canonical baseball stories that almost every fan knows at least in part, truly boggles the modern mind. The movie succeeded in achieving its goal of making the viewer wonder how in the world something as senseless and silly as racial apartheid could have existed in this country as late as it did.
The 1947 world portrayed in the movie showcases a number of white Americans who don’t seem to harbor any particular hate toward the black man but participate awkwardly in the customs of the day anyway. I imagined a planet full of nervous laughter from people who might have disagreed with the principal but dared not raise their voices, with social consequences so severe.
Members of the Brooklyn Dodgers had to face this system. In an age where players’ offseason professions (running a hardware store, for example) proved more lucrative than playing baseball, players faced a financial hit that came with being the first teammates of an African-American in Major League Baseball. Understandably, players would be seen as sympathetic to the idea of bucking the status quo.
Some takeaways from the film:
1. If you’re going with family, be prepared for your children to hear the “n-word” on numerous occasions. The film doesn’t shy away from the ugliness of the language showered upon Robinson.
2. I find it an intriguing irony that by portraying the status quo, actor Alan Tudyk (playing the openly racist Phillies manager Ben Chapman) is actually taking the big risk. Tudyk, best known as the charming, witty space-vessel pilot in cult-favorite TV show “Firefly,” comes across as a really awful human being in “42.”
3. Perhaps because time didn’t allow, the movie does not lay out the lengthy, widespread movement to integrate baseball. Though Branch Rickey, the Dodgers general manager played by Harrison Ford, was without a doubt a pioneer in carefully crafting Robinson’s arrival, he was one of many journalists, politicians and other leaders who saw the benefit of making this happen. I think to some, Robinson (like Rosa Parks) has become idealized as a courageous but accidental activist. In reality, Robinson was a staunch Civil Rights proponent since his days in the military, and that explains in part how he was able to muster the courage to not fight back. He was a keen participant in the statement of his arrival to the big leagues, not just someone there to play ball, as the movie wants you to believe.
4. It’s easy to say someone else would have come along and accomplished what Robinson ultimately did. Though he was selected carefully for his intelligence, his will and his ability by Rickey, it’s true that, eventually, baseball would have integrated without Jackie Robinson. But what strikes me is how valuable baseball was to the social landscape at large. I’m not even sure the movie really captures this as well as it could; when baseball opened its door to African Americans, it cracked a door open for the rest of society. I truly believe Robinson’s courage — and that of successors Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe, among others — put the Civil Rights movement on Fast Forward. Had Robinson been bad at baseball or lashed out at those who fought against his inclusion, black players wouldn’t have arrived for several more years.
5. I find it ironic that sports has lost its broader clout today, in a time when major league sports are more accessible than ever before compared to the limited radio broadcasts and newspaper articles of 1947. Though baseball was among the first institutions to integrate racially, major league sports today are among the last to openly welcome all sexual orientations. The movie comes at a time when player activists in the NFL appear to be organizing an opportunity for openly-gay athletes to exist on active rosters, which is a great thing. I’ve been guilty of ignoring or disparaging a pro athlete when he/she speaks on a political subject, but maybe that’s wrong. I wonder if the environment has pigeonholed athletes to the point where they aren’t welcome to speak their minds or if they simply lost that power by not doing it enough.
6. I thought it was an inspired choice to go with Chadwick Boseman as a relative unknown for the lead role. I think he delivered an unexpected performance as more of a grizzled, stoic Robinson than the typical hero of movies like this. Then again, I had a hard time thinking of a another young, African-American actor who would have been the right age for the role. I found myself wondering if Hollywood, in making a movie about the drive for racial equality, made me realize that it hasn’t built up enough young, black actors.
7. Harrison Ford is so good in this movie. Not since “The Devil’s Own” in 1997 has he actually been awesome in a movie I’ve seen. I’ve found Branch Rickey satisfying for years, and I was pleased with his portrayal.
8. The baseball scenes look pretty authentic in this movie, and that can be a chief criticism for sports films (though I often wonder why people latch onto that). It’s nowhere near my favorite baseball movie of all time, but if you want to be reaffirmed in your love for baseball, this picture does the trick.
Pictured: Chadwick Boseman portrays Jackie Robinson in "42."
Of all the ways to beat the sloppy spring weather this April, this method is probably the best.
Lake Country Lutheran's baseball team didn't have to worry about the rain or the cold Wednesday when it played with a roof over its head, challenging Martin Luther of Greendale at Miller Park in Milwaukee. It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to set foot on the same turf as the Milwaukee Brewers.
"Right away when we got here, we made sure we built in a lot of time to just let them gawk a little bit," LCL coach David Bahr said. "You know they're not going to be focused.
"…The game is significant for two other reasons. One is the weather this year. Having already canceled seven games with no end to the rain in sight, it has been great to know that an opportunity was guaranteed where we could face another team and see if all the skills that we are working on in the gym can transfer to the playing field. Secondly is our bond, our brotherhood, with the opponent. Chad Janetzke, who is the head coach at Martin Luther, and I are extremely good friends, basically brothers."
That partnership between the two schools extends well beyond the head coaches. As two of the three schools in the Lutheran High School Association of Greater Milwaukee (Milwaukee Lutheran is the other), the staffs already work together on a regular basis. The two baseball programs traveled to Texas on Spring Break in what has become an annual pilgrimage, and the players combine to form a U18, U16 and U15 team run jointly by the two schools in the summer.
"We're friends with a lot of the other guys on the team, so there's that camaraderie and having that fun out here," said senior Jacob Simons, who walked to lead off a six-run ninth inning that lifted his team to an 8-2, extra-inning win. "We've had a ton of tee work in the gym. We have a ton of space to practice every day and went to STIKS in Oconomowoc a few days. Even with this rain, we've had a lot more experience than our competition."
Thanks to the unilateral fundraising efforts of Martin Luther alumni and parents, as well as small businesses, the two schools were able to enjoy an opportunity afforded to a handful of area high schools each year. Comprehensive game programs featured senior bios for both sides, and a few hundred fans dressed warmly to battle the inside chill. It was much chillier outside.
"It's definitely nice being assured of getting a game in when nobody else in Wisconsin can play baseball today," senior Tim Bahr said. "Plus, you get to be able to tell people you played at Miller Park."
Pitching was the name of the game for the Lightning in the win. BJ Sabol worked five strong innings, allowing only two runs on two hits - the latter a two-out single in the fifth that tied the game. Jesse Turner took it from there, striking out 10 batters among the 12 outs he recorded in the final four frames to secure the win.
"We don't play on dirt like this every day obviously, but I settled in pretty nicely," Turner said. "It was a good foundation to push off of, and that's where I get my lower leverage. The experience of everybody that's played here and being in their shoes for a night is pretty awesome."
Bahr also has two other experienced pitching options in Ben Wilkins and Chris Kornowski. The latter delivered a perfect squeeze bunt to kick off the scoring in the third.
"This weather is probably better for us just because we're going to be playing a lot of games back to back, and we've got the pitching to do that," Bahr said. "For our team specifically, this game at Miller Park will help us prepare for bigger game experiences down the road. Our program has built itself into a perennial top 20 ranked team in the state and we expect to compete for conference, regional, and sectional titles each year. If we are going to successfully meet these challenges, we need opportunities like today's game to give us that big atmosphere feel and pressure that comes with trying to accomplish something special."
Janetzke, a one-time resident of the Houston area, used his connections to his advantage in creating the annual voyage, which featured 16 players from LCL and 14 from Martin Luther. The two schools went together by coach bus in 2010, then separately in plane trips in 2011 and 2012 before re-teaming this year.
"The first trip resulted in both teams realizing regional championships," Janetzke said. "We don't play any games, as it is the first week of official practices. We simply share the facilities at Concordia Lutheran HS in Tomball, Texas and run two-a-days while their students are in school. We also get the chance to do some spring break stuff with the guys like visit NASA space center, go to a college baseball game, visit the gulf coast. … The trip is optional for any boys that want to get the first week of practice outside."
The relationship between the two programs is thus pretty strong.
"We are such similar programs in the way we do things and our philosophies that it is an obvious fit," Janetzke said. "Personally, the best was experiencing the devotions that our upperclassmen led on the trip, based off of each team's theme verse for the season. They were picked separately but completely complement each other. Just further proof that this brotherhood is a blessing from God."
The two teams were originally scheduled to play Saturday anyway, so the timing was right. Fans were able to watch the game free of charge.
Now it's back to reality.
"We were supposed to have a game (Thursday) and Friday, and those just got canceled," said Sabol, who added a two-run single in the six-run rally. "We have a single game on Saturday that I assume is going to get canceled. It has been frustrating."
But for one night, it was something else.
Pictured: Tim Bahr steps to the plate for Lake Country Lutheran on April 10 at Miller Park. (Photo by JR Radcliffe)
Will the cream rise in 2013? Maybe it feels just a little bit less like winter with baseball back in town, and I'll gladly take the opportunity to muse about my favorite franchise in America, the Milwaukee Brewers.
Starting pitching will almost certainly be a storyline this year, either because it was better than expected and gave the Brewers a chance to make the playoffs or it didn't quite have the power, as anticipated. Though I still think the team lacks the rotation to compete for a divisional title, one thing I like is the newfound depth with the arrival of Kyle Lohse. A good team doesn't need a superior bench if it has a quality farm system from which it can draw its true depth - players who can contribute this year are still cutting their teeth in the minors.
The Brewers don't have depth of talent throughout the system, but the Triple-A team is built like a feeder system when the Brewers develop a need. Pitchers such as Johnny Hellweg, Tyler Thornburg and Hiram Burgos all have a good chance to start for Milwaukee at some point this year, and relievers Donovan Hand and Michael Olmsted both displayed ability in spring training. Olmsted throws heat, while Hand is more of a control pitcher, and I firmly believe both will be in Milwaukee at some point, even though Hand doesn't currently own a spot on the 40-man roster.
Position players such as Scooter Gennett, Caleb Gindl, Hunter Morris and Blake Lalli are on the cusp of contributing for the Brewers. Outfielder Khris Davis, who made the team out of spring training, may also have a big role if Ryan Braun's connection to Biogenesis leads to a suspension.
The Biogenesis situation worries me. On the surface, I'm stumped as to how Major League Baseball will find evidence damning enough to suspend Braun after his name appeared on documents from the Miami clinic connected to performance enhancing drugs.
On the other hand, baseball suspended minor leaguer Cesar Carillo seemingly because league officials didn't believe his story (or for reasons that haven't been made entirely clear), which reads like a pretty far-reaching use of power. Major League players, of course, are protected by a union that doesn't oversee minor leaguers, but what if the Braun saga is in appeal right now (one that hasn't been made public, for a change)? The last time MLB didn't like what an arbitrator had to say, MLB fired him. Again, it sounds like conspiracy theorism at its finest, but one would presume baseball will find an arbitrator to share its views.
If MLB somehow gets the stars to align - corrupt as that may seem - and suspends Braun for the circumstantial evidence at the clinic, it eliminates the Brewers' already-tenuous postseason hopes.
I used to like candid athletes. I always shrugged at fans who grew irritated when players said exactly what they were thinking: that they'd maybe like to try free agency and not stay in our hometown, for example. I always liked it when athletes weren't afraid of simply telling it like it is instead of erring on the side of diplomacy. It's why I loved Zack Greinke.
As the face of the Brewers, Braun was far more outspoken when he was younger, and now he comes across as an intelligent, but fairly politically savvy, speaker. And with every passing day, I'm growing to appreciate that more.
Milwaukee Bucks guard Brandon Jennings has a long way to go to master the art of public relations. He complains about minutes, he gives every indication that he'd rather play somewhere else, and he's actually childish enough to go a stretch of games just passing the ball (racking up amazing assist totals) just to prove a point before reverting back to form. He's this town's next Gary Sheffield.
I like how exciting Brandon Jennings can be. But for a guy who can't shoot and can't defend, he should be a bit more judicious when sulking after a Bucks win, like Monday against Charlotte. "From where I was looking at, it looked like it was fun," Jennings said. "Monta (Ellis) was out there getting guys involved, and we were able to knock down shots."
What about in a loss to Philadelphia?
"This is the third time I've been benched in the second half, and it hasn't been under (Scott) Skiles. You always want to be out there to help your team. I don't see any all-stars in this locker room so I think everybody should be held accountable, like anybody else. There's no maxed-out players in this locker room; there's no all-stars. So don't try to put me on a pedestal and just give everybody else the freedom to do whatever they want."
This is a playoff team, and yet from where I'm sitting, it's downright unpleasant to watch. Some of that is because of inconsistency, but I've come to realize more and more that a lot of it is simply Jennings being impossible to root for. Ellis has had his ups and downs, too, but you don't see him complaining, and now he's thriving. Go somewhere else, Brandon Jen nings, and good riddance.
I like to think of myself as a sabermetric mind who prefers new stats and embraces frugality in building a ballclub. But I was surprised at the negative reaction to the Kyle Lohse signing late in spring training.
I didn't think there was enough evidence that Milwaukee had a rotation that could compete, and an upgrade was worth the money and the contract risk. I also felt the recent track record of the organization in draft and development suggested a first-round pick wasn't exactly a gold mine.
The deal does compare somewhat to the one awarded Randy Wolf, with the same number of years and similar dollar amount, as well as similar statistics heading into the contract. Many consider that a bad thing. It's true Wolf was coming off a career year in Los Angeles in 2009 and never quite matched those numbers with the Brewers. Kyle Lohse has at least back-to-back years of success in his rear view mirror, rather than just one career year. Even when Lohse struggled, his FIP (a stat that attempts to weed fielding out of the ERA equation and put everyone on an even playing field) was better than what Wolf's.
Not only that, but in 2011, Wolf went 13-10 with a 3.69 ERA, and for people who only like to measure postseason success when considering a player's value, he delivered one of the top performances in the 2011 playoff run. I thought he played a huge role in the 96-win team in 2011. Throw in the fact that Lohse was available for likely cheaper than he was worth at this stage of the season, and I see it as a good hire.
Furthermore, I have all the confidence in the world that Doug Melvin can craft a winning ballclub on a year-by-year basis, and Mark Attanasio has demonstrated a willingness to spend such that no one deal will handicap future Milwaukee maneuverings. This team's leadership has allowed the ballclub to become a regular winner despite a small market size.
Pictured: Kyle Lohse (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel photo)
Lake Country/Mukwonago Publications released its All-Area basketball teams (boys and girls) for the 2012-13 season, a year that featured a number of quality candidates - including several who were on the team last year.
And once again, this year's All-Area team boasts a number of underclass entrants who figure to make serious cases for selection next winter.
On the boys side, it starts with two-time selections Dominic Cizauskas of Mukwonago, Brady Ellingson of Sussex Hamilton and T.J. Schlundt of Oconomowoc. Cizauskas is one the area's best rebounders and emerged as the top scorer for a team that made the state championship game. Ellingson has been a marksman leading the Chargers to new heights and a Greater Metro Conference title, and Schlundt remains one of the state's top juniors thanks to his premier shooting ability.
Kettle Moraine's Paul Miller, another junior, appears on the list for the first time this season after an electric showing that netted first-team All Conference and helped the Lasers take a step forward. Junior teammate Mitchell Oleson will conspire with Miller in a very talented and dangerous team next season.
The player who came closest to making this year's team without landing on the six-man squad is Pewaukee's Eric Lutzen, a 6-6 big man who demonstrated a remarkable penchant for rebounding and could also routinely score double figures. He's a beast and will be a contender for Woodland Conference Player of the Year next year.
Mukwonago also boasts a talented junior point guard in Aaron Nixon, already a two-year starter who obviously had a huge role in the team's ascent to the state-title game.
It will take a pretty remarkable season for someone to unseat that group of players next year, but there are candidates. Current sophomore London Cobbs of St. John's Northwestern Military Academy has posted some impressive numbers in two years on the team, juniors such as Billy Hirschfeld (Arrowhead), Austin Kendziorski (Hamilton), Ryan Stepanovich (Pewaukee) and Jordan Hass (Pewaukee) will play huge roles with their teams next year, and Oconomowoc junior Canton Larson will be running the point for a fourth straight season.
As with the boys team, four of the six choices on the girls side will be back next winter.
Junior Mackenzie Latt (Sussex Hamilton), a two-time selection who also netted the NOW Newspapers Player of the Year selection this season, will be almost possible to unseat. Kelly Smith of Arrowhead also enjoyed a strong junior season with honorable-mention All State status, and Mary Hirt of Lake Country Lutheran has developed into one of the area's top scorers and rebounders.
But perhaps the real story in area girls hoops has been a renaissance in the freshman class. Abby Gerrits of Pewaukee made the list in her first year, leading the Pirates and scoring and helping them maintain as one of the area's top programs despite graduating a ton of talent and spending most of the season without a single senior.
Mukwonago freshman Bre Cera and Hamilton freshman Taylor Klug will likely join Gerrits as the area's top players over the next three years. Both demonstrated an ability to contribute immediately for two of the state's best varsity squads. Cera has already committed to play for UW-Green Bay.
Hamilton point guard Hannah Menzia will also be back as a senior next year, a reason why the Chargers will be seen as one of the top squads in Division 1 yet again. Arrowhead sophomore Ally May also blossomed in 2012-13, developing as a top post player and hitting perhaps the season's most memorable shot - a jumper to defeat Kimberly in the sectional final.
If spots remain available after that crop gets a crack, Kettle Moraine will still have a number of talented players, including juniors Linley Achtenhagen, Chloe Tompkins and Emma Melotik. Pewaukee's Danielle Jasinski and Lindsay Wisniewski will be back, and don't forget about Oconomowoc's Erin Vande Zande, a sophomore who solidified the Raccoons' interior game this season.
Pictured: Dominic Cizauskas (back) enjoyed a standout junior season for Mukwonago (photo by Peter Zuzga)
The picture was taken by Dale Harper, a parent in Arrowhead's youth program. The three seniors on the Warhawks varsity girls basketball team - Tori Miller, Maggie Doleschy and Vanessa Voss - are shown shouting and celebrating on the Warhawks bench during the WIAA Division 1 state semifinal at the Resch Center in Green Bay.
It looks like a lot of photos you see from the state tournament, with jubilant players celebrating on the state's biggest stage. What you could never surmise from the photograph is that Arrowhead is getting dominated in that game.
The trio is demonstrating excitement for Bri Stemper, a Warhawks player who seldom saw the floor this year, after she recorded a steal and layup with one second left against Mukwonago. Even with that basket, Arrowhead fell by 20 points in a surprising outcome after two tense regular-season meetings with Mukwonago.
The three players, whom Arrowhead coach Rick Witte has repeatedly credited for shepherding a turnaround that led the Warhawks to their first state appearance since 1996, are literally witnessing the final moment of their high-school career and show no sign of the long faces or tears that usually come with an ouster from the state tourney or end of the season.
You could easily make a case that just getting to the Resch was a major accomplishment for an Arrowhead team that lost eight games and took third in its conference this year, plus the players did have some time to come to grips with the outcome. I'm not even saying showing disappointment is a bad thing. But it's a cool glimpse into the type of people the three seniors are, and a reminder of how much fun the state tournament and high-school sports can be.
Green Bay received good reviews for its work hosting the tournament this year, and I'll echo the majority opinion.
In the first of a two-year experiment - one that seems destined to become a more permanent solution - the Resch Center served as an ideal alternative to the cavernous Kohl Center in Madison.
The city had already drawn praise for its marketing of the tournament - including a massive banner draped on the exterior of the Resch and promotional efforts by local businesses. You could buy commemorative T-shirts at the Stadium View bar right up the street, for example, in a sign of synergy that isn't often apparent in Madison.
New Berlin Eisenhower coach Gary Schmidt, whose team appeared in the state title game for a second straight year, said he also appreciated the ease of finding practice space at Ashwaubenon High School - during school hours, no less - whereas finding court time in Madison had been more of a chore.
Madison had been criticized for neglecting the WIAA tournaments, with a challenging parking situation and expensive hotel accommodations among the issues. As Schmidt pointed out, Green Bay probably wanted to put its best foot forward this year, and it seemed to accomplish the goal.
Parking was ample at adjacent Lambeau Field among other lots, with plenty of nearby establishments to create a communal feel to the surroundings, just as much as the Kohl Center and its surrounding blocks one week earlier for the boys tournament. Plus, there was a steady stream between the Resch and Lambeau, where fans of both prep hoops and the Packers could tour the Packers Hall of Fame, shop the Pro Shop or tour the stadium.
Initial discussions had talked about a basketball "experience" at adjacent Brown County Arena, an idea that never took shape and one that probably would have made for an even better overall product. I was disappointed with the lower attendance turnout for the Division 1 games, though distance from Green Bay explained a lot of that. Thanks to a number of local teams (Algoma, Kewaunee, New London, Notre Dame right down the road), attendance figures were greater than last year. With Algoma and Kewaunee in two of the three title games Saturday afternoon, the Resch drew 9,122 fans - most for any single session since 2003. The overall total of 39,731 was almost 9,500 more than last year.
Some of that could be explained by the number of local teams. Given the success of girls basketball in the northern part of the state, it makes even more sense to locate the tourney in Green Bay, even if that creates a greater challenge among Milwaukee-area programs.
Mukwonago High School had a ridiculous winter season.
After some crude research, I can find only one other school since the WIAA-WISAA merger (Oostburg in 2011) that qualified for boys basketball state, girls basketball state and team wrestling in the same winter. The Indians reached the state quarterfinals in wrestling and both state championship games in basketball, not to mention sending two athletes to the state gymnastics meet and competing in the non-WIAA state skiing meet.
Strangely enough, Milwaukee King had a similar situation last year, falling in the state title games on both the boys and girls side at the basketball state tourneys. This year, the Mukwonago boys topped King in the state semifinal.
Realistically, both teams were underdogs in their championship matches, especially the boys - who had to face a Germantown team that has now gone undefeated in back to back seasons. The girls ran into a talent-rich Milwaukee Riverside squad that was seen as the favorite to win it all before a 1-4 start. The Tigers haven't lost since.
The 2012-13 season was already off to a good start at MHS. A renewed energy in the football program - catalyzed by first-year coach Clay Iverson - pervaded a season that ended with a playoff berth, and Mukwonago swimmers won a second consecutive state title with the Waukesha South co-op at the girls state meet.
Both basketball coaches exude an easygoing attitude. Jim Haasser navigated some lean years after joining the boys program in 2006-07 but put the building blocks in place that have led to back-to-back tremendous seasons. Second-year coach Todd Frohwirth, who coached Whitefish Bay to the state final in 2006, piloted a 6-win team to a 12-12 record last year, followed by a 25-3 year this time around. Neither team's cupboard will be bare next year.
Pictured: Arrowhead seniors (from left) Tori Miller, Maggie Doleschy and Vanessa Voss celebrate the final points of the WIAA Division 1 state semifinal, a basket by Bri Stemper.
The score: 70-69.
The final numbers aren't important, but the shot is, the one that gave us one of the most memorable moments in NCAA Tournament history. Valparaiso University's Bryce Drew launched a breathtaking 3-pointer at the buzzer in 1998 to defeat Ole Miss in the first round. Drew, the son of then-Valpo head coach Homer Drew, famously dove to the floor followed by a pile of teammates after the basket, a remarkable shot that came after Jamie Sykes inbounded with 2.5 seconds left on a baseball pass to Bill Jenkins (now a Milwaukee-area business owner), then shuffled to Drew.
Few remember that Ansu Sesay of fourth-seeded Mississippi missed two free throws to allow for the heroics. Few even remember that Valpo advanced to the Sweet 16 that year after topping Florida State in the next round, a fact that nonetheless probably cemented the great buzzer beater as one of history's most memorable.
I know this pretty clearly because eventually, I wound up attending VU for four years -- not because of the shot, of course, but that certainly put the small Lutheran school in Indiana on my radar. And so, I was watching with prejudice when UW-Green Bay met Valpo in the Horizon League semifinals Saturday. The Crusaders' coach is now Bryce Drew, and I never get sick of seeing replays of his shot anytime Valpo snags some TV time on ESPNU during the season or during Championship Week.
As I sat on press row at the Kohl Center in Madison watching the Mukwonago boys basketball team battle Germantown, I watched as Green Bay played a stellar game, only to fall at the buzzer. Australian import Ryan Broekhoff, one of Valpo's senior leaders, took the ball off a missed Green Bay free throw, momentarily lost the ball, then launched a 3-pointer that swished through. The shot meant Valpo's chances of reaching the NCAA Tournament remained alive, with a ticket punched for Tuesday's Horizon League final (which the Crusaders eventually won, making their first NCAA trip since I was in college nine years ago).
The score: 70-69.
This is March, people.
At prep level, too
For Mukwonago, a weekend in Madison may have ended in disappointment with a loss at the hands of superpower Germantown, but the Indians were one of the true surprises at this year's tournament. Most people could have told you before the season that schools like eventual state champs Germantown, Randolph, Aquinas and Dominican would all compete for crowns, and several other schools (Onalaska, Milwaukee King, Oshkosh North, Lodi, Cuba City, Drummond) had been to the Kohl Center the year before.
In fact, seven of the eight sectional finalists in Division 1 were the same as last year, with the only difference Racine Case instead of Racine Park. With the possible exception of Pulaski winning its first-ever state title -- in any sport -- the Indians reaching the title game was the thing not many of us saw coming.
What's great for Mukwonago is how remarkable the winter has been. The girls team also qualified for state, two years removed from a 6-win season and finishing just 12-12 a year ago. The boys team had its first winning season in Classic 8 play just last year, then followed it up with its first conference title. The wrestling team qualified for team state and had a strong showing at the individual meet. In the fall, Mukwonago swimmers had a huge hand in the second consecutive state title procured by Waukesha South/Mukwonago, and the football team enjoyed a renewed energy in 2012 en route to playoff qualification.
Cuba City, East Troy and Lodi are also having good years with state qualifiers in both girls and boys basketball, but it just feels like the stars have aligned, and this is Mukwonago's time.
There are plenty more storylines for the NCAA tournament, which is the centerpiece of March's greatness.
Kerron Johnson chose Belmont over Murray State when making his college decision, then he hit a game-tying shot at the buzzer and a game-winning shot in overtime as Belmont beat MSU for the Ohio Valley title. It's Belmont's first year in the OVC since moving from the Atlantic Sun.
Harvard won the Ivy League title and automatic berth in the NCAA tourney. The Crimson were expected to win at the season's outset, but their top two players were forced to withdraw from school after an academic cheating scandal that involved 125 students. Despite missing its senior co-captains, Harvard managed to get back to the dance after a decades-long layoff that ended last year.
Florida Gulf Coast qualified in just its second year of NCAA Division 1 tourney eligibility, winning the Atlantic Sun. FGC happened to beat Miami -- one of the nation's best teams -- earlier this year.
Iona beat Manhattan in a battle between schools separated by 10 miles to win the Metro Atlantic. South Dakota State (Summit League) has one of the nation's top scorers you've never heard of, Nate Wolters.
James Madison (Colonial Athletic) is back for the first time since 1994. Liberty became the second team in NCAA history to qualify with 20 losses after winning the Big South tourney.
This is March, people. Soak it up.
Pictured: Mukwonago band members and fans get prepped for the Division 1 state championship game in Madison March 9. (Photo by Peter Zuzga).
Technically, young kids shouldn't play baseball in the street or climb trees or open a fire hydrant on a hot summer day and play in the water. There are rules against such things, many for safety reasons, but c'mon. They're kids. Let them have a little fun.
It's with this semi-blind eye that I think sports fans look at "court storming" in basketball. Yes, we all acknowledge the opportunity for danger. We acknowledge the combination of college students, close proximity, possibly alcohol and the frenzied atmosphere of a big game can lead to some unpleasant confrontations. Like so much about the college (or even high school) experience, risks get taken.
While it's an unpopular viewpoint, at least publicly, I still think court storming is great. It's one of the most memorable, fun things a college kid can do, and it's a perfect accent on a monumental victory. I don't turn the TV off in disgust when students rush the court; I watch and enjoy the jubilation.
I think dwelling on its practice is a pretty fruitless conversation.
When Virginia took down No. 3 Duke on Feb. 28, it marked the 19th time this season in NCAA basketball that an unranked team had defeated a top-five team. That's staggering. It was the fourth top-10 team to lose just that week. The 2012-13 season has been crazy, foreshadowing perhaps the greatest NCAA Tournament we'll ever see.
With all those upsets comes a whole lot of court storming. What's strange about this phenomenon is the haughty way sports personalities approach it, as if they have exclusive rights to the practice. Broadcasters and writers give their criteria for when court storming is "appropriate." Rules are created such as "you can't be fans of a team that was ranked, fell out of the rankings, and then beat a ranked team" or "you can't be fans of a team getting votes in the AP poll, defeating a team that's ranked." Rather than look at the practice for what it is - kids living in a sports moment they may very well remember forever - the approach has been to frown upon "unworthy" use of the court storming mechanism.
I've actually read people call the practice cliche, as if the perpetually young fan should care about how many times the practice has been used, or overused, before they got there. It's as if the sports media feels this need to protect the practice as sacred, dispensing it only for specific occasions instead of just any upset.
I prefer to focus on the greater issue: that personnel from the opposing team could get caught in the melee, or fans might become collateral damage (as well as the participants, though they kind of waive their right to safety by jumping onto the court). I like the response at Virginia, where security workers, arm-in-arm, created a human chain around the Duke sideline to shield the players from any maniacs. They were still able to conduct a postgame hand shake, and fans were essentially funneled systematically to the center of the court. I imagine many college venues have similar plans in place, and it's through those measures that I think court storming can co-exist with relative safety.
When I conduct a search for "court-storming injury," it doesn't yield as many results as you'd think, though I realize that's beside the point. A high school boy in Arizona suffered a stroke in 2004 after getting smothered, and yes, there have been some bumps and bruises before and since. You can see it as a ticking time bomb, that someone is bound to get hurt again who didn't ask to be a part of the mess and didn't anticipate it soon enough to back away.
However, I do feel compelled to point out that the damage count has been low enough to consider those injuries anomalies, far less common than serious injuries from playing the sports themselves.
Then you have a logistical problem. Unless arenas and gyms are built to keep spectators elevated off the floor, throngs of people are likely to find their way onto the court after a thrilling upset win. The best approach, in my mind, is to control the chaos - to find ways to delay the rush or otherwise protect bystanders while still allowing for the practice. It can be done and has been done, particularly at the high-school level.
The SEC has banned court storming, so the semi-blind eye hasn't been enough at some universities. I'm not saying it shouldn't make officials nervous, but if it's going to happen, steps can be taken to ensure it achieves its goal of becoming an uplifting, memorable moment in a college kid's experience, and not a springboard for tragedy.
Few periods on the sports calendar generate as much buzz as the first weeks of March, when NCAA conference title chases melt into the thrill of league tournaments, followed by the granddaddy of all sporting events, the 68-team NCAA Tournament.
If you don't feel like filling out a bracket this year and want a rooting interest beyond the obvious Marquette/Wisconsin fandom, take a look at former local standout basketball players and how they may be impacting this year's March Madness (info through Tuesday):
Lake Country flavor
Ben Mills, Colorado
The former Arrowhead aircraft carrier, who led the Warhawks to a state title in 2010, has seen action in five games for the Buffaloes this year. Though he hasn't been a chief contributor, Colorado has put itself in position to make the NCAA Tournament though, at 18-8, they are in danger of falling back onto the bubble.
Kameron Cerroni, UW-Green Bay
The all-time leading scorer in Sussex Hamilton history recently left the team because of differences not associated with playing time, according to the Green Bay Press-Gazette. UWGB currently sits with the No. 3 seed in the Horizon League tournament, with a 16-13 overall record. Cerroni had 5 points earlier this year in the team's landmark win, a 49-47 upset of Marquette.
Charles Rushman, UNLV
A former standout for Arrowhead, Rushman started his career with the St. John's Northwestern Military Academy post-graduate team, then joined the Runnin' Rebels (21-7) as a redshirt. Though he hasn't played this year, UNLV is receiving votes in the AP and ESPN poll and figures to get an NCAA tourney bid out of the Mountain West.
TJ Bray, Princeton
The Ivy League awards an NCAA bid based on regular-season conclusion, and Princeton is one game back of Harvard in the loss column with a colossal battle scheduled for March 1 at Princeton. Bray, the former Classic 8 Conference Player of the Year with Catholic Memorial, has started all 23 games for the Tigers, averaging 8.6 points and 3.6 rebounds per game.
JP Tokoto, North Carolina
The Menomonee Falls phenom sees about 10 minutes a game for the Tar Heels during his freshman year, and though it hasn't been the typical tremendous year for North Carolina (19-8), it should still find a way into the Big Dance. Tokoto brings in 3 points and two rebounds per game.
Troy Huff, North Dakota
The Brookfield Academy product was second team All-Big Sky last year and leads the team in scoring at greater than 18 points per game for a team that sits third in league play. He missed a good chunk of the season after breaking his jaw in the season opener.
Dance shoes ready
Kwamain Mitchell and Jake Barnett, St. Louis
Nine straight wins for the Billikens, including back-to-back victories over nationally-ranked teams, have the Atlantic 10 frontrunner as a near-lock for the NCAA tournament, ranked 17th and 19th in the two polls. Mitchell, who won a state title with Dominican, averages close to 9 points per game, and Barnett, who also won a state title with Wauwatosa East,adds a little more than 4 per game.
Trey McKinney-Jones, Miami (FL)
The Hurricanes have been one of the biggest stories in NCAA basketball this season, and the South Milwaukee product has been one reason why. A transfer from UMKC, McKinney-Jones scores 9 points in 30 minutes per game. Miami recently saw its 14-game winning streak snapped, though wins in that stretch included a victory over No. 1 Duke and had the Canes flirting with the top spot themselves.
Korie Lucious, Iowa State
The former Pius and Michigan State player has landed with the Cyclones, and he was front and center recently when the team dropped a heartbreaker to Kansas in overtime on ESPN. Lucious averages 10 points per game for a team that should be one of the last at-large squads into the tourney field.
Zak Showalter, Wisconsin
The high flyer from Germantown has seen the floor from time to time on a team with several Wisconsin players, including Evan Anderson (Eau Claire North), JD Wise (Dominican) and Sam Dekker (Sheboygan Lutheran), who has become a freshman sensation off the bench for Bo Ryan.
Jamil Wilson, Marquette
At times, the Oregon transfer from Racine Horlick has been one of Marquette's greatest assets, and though he hasn't yet achieved peak consistency, he's still one of the X-factors for the Big East title contender. Vander Blue (Madison Memorial) has been a mainstay for the Golden Eagles this year, and Jake Thomas (Racine St. Catherine) hit a memorable four-point play in the team's recent win over Syracuse.
DeQuan Hicks, Northwestern State
The former Racine Park and junior college transfer leads the Demons in scoring at 14.2 points per game, and they're tied for first place in the Southland Conference.
You may remember
Paul Jespersen, Virginia. The Merrill product led his team to the state final two years ago. The Cavaliers are a bubble team.
John Kopriva, George Washington. The Marquette product played on the team Arrowhead defeated in the state semifinal in 2010. GW will need an Atlantic 10 tournament run to reach the Big Dance.
Jakob Gollon, Mercer. The Stevens Point graduate is the top rebounder (5.1 ppg) and also scores 8.6 points per game for the first-place team in the Atlantic Sun.
Phillip Nolan, Connecticut. The graduate of Milwaukee Riverside has seen action in 19 games for the Huskies, who will be one of the bubble teams on Selection Sunday. UPDATE: Oops, forgot UCONN is ineligible for this year's tourney because of poor academic marks. No bubble for the Huskies.
Flavien Davis, Montana State. Once a high-flying component of Wisconsin Lutheran's state-title run, Davis now scores 10.6 points per game for a team that needs to win the Big Sky Tournament to get into the dance.
Jake Koch and Chip Rank, Northern Iowa. The Panthers are third place in the competitive Missouri Valley, with Koch (Ashwaubenon) one of the team's leading scorers and Rank (a Cedarburg product who proved to be a huge challenge to Arrowhead during the 2010 Warhawks title run) coming off the bench.
Terell Parks, Western Illinois. Via Beloit Memorial and a community college, Parks is now the leading scorer for the Leathernecks, a squad sitting in second place in the Summit Leauge.
Carrington Love, Green Bay. Last year's Classic 8 Player of the Year from Pius has appeared in all 29 games for the aforementioned Phoenix as a freshman. Jordan Fouse (Racine St. Catherine) also plays a prominent role for Green Bay.
Ben Averkamp, Loyola. The Germantown standout has been one of the best players in the Horizon League, though he's been slowed by injury and the Ramblers won't be favored to win the league tourney.
Charlie Lee, Cleveland State. The Milwaukee Hamilton product averages double figures, but once again, this team has work to do if it intends to make the tournament out of the Horizon.
Drew Windler, South Milwaukee. The Samford transfer and former South Milwaukee player has been sitting out this season, but Belmont does sit in first place in the Ohio Valley.
Jamie Schneck, Hartford. A player who once hit a state-tourney buzzer beater for Whitefish Bay, he has seen action in 26 games for the fourth-place team in the America East.
James Haarsma, UW-Milwaukee. The Racine St. Catherine product is one of the top rebounders on a team that features a number of Wisconsin players, including Steve McWhorter (St. Cat's), Kyle Kelm (Randolph), Evan Richard (Cuba City), J.J. Panoske (Brodhead/Juda), Quinton Gustavson (Racine Case), Austin Arians (Madison Edgewood), Christian Wolf (Kohler), Mitch Roelke (Waunakee) and Joe Tagarelli (Waunakee)
Darrell Bowie, Northern Illinois. The Tosa East graduate and teammate Sam Mader (Appleton East) will have an uphill climb in the Mid-American Conference.
Pictured: Zak Showalter comes off the bench for the Wisconsin Badgers (AP photo).
The year has already been a good one for buzzer beaters. Consider Kettle Moraine's Mike Ottusch hitting a shot from halfcourt to beat Lourdes Academy early in the season, or Marissa Landry of Mukwonago hitting a deep 3-point heave to help her team stun Waukesha West in a crucial battle for first place in the Classic 8 Conference.
Waukesha North has two great plays this year, with Cory Michaelis hitting a half-court shot to beat Beaver Dam at the buzzer, and Ruben Ortiz hitting a runner to shock Brookfield Central.
Oconomowoc's T.J. Schlundt added to the 2012-13 scrapbook with a 3-pointer that helped his team win a regional opener against Verona on Feb. 19. His shot went through officially with 1.8 seconds on the clock, giving the Raccoons a 76-73 win that included a comeback from 17 points down in the second half.
I'm a sucker for these sorts of plays, as I've written before. I tend to think buzzer-beaters are what make basketball one of the absolute best to cover in prep athletics.
It gives me yet another excuse to recount some of the recent buzzer-beaters, and in the spirit of the season, these are shots that took place in the WIAA playoffs. It's one of the things that makes this time of year so much fun for hoops fans.
March 3, 2012
Jake Knueppel scored one basket all night for the Hamilton boys basketball team, hitting a layup in the final second as the Chargers stunned Arrowhead in the regional final, 65-63.
Hamilton outscored Arrowhead by a 12-2 count in the final 1:11, with Brady Ellingson scoring 22 points in the second half and 33 overall. His 25-foot bomb with 7.4 seconds left tied the game, but he was a decoy after Hamilton procured a turnover, and the play went through Knueppel just before the buzzer.
"They had us down most of the game, but we never quit," Knueppel said. "We just kept playing hard. The coaches kept telling us to stay in the game. We never lost our confidence. Tonight we finished the game."
For Arrowhead, it was a stunning playoff ouster via last-second shot for the second straight season.
"I've suffered my share of disappointing defeats over the years, but this one just might hurt the most," said Arrowhead coach Craig Haase. "Our guys played some outstanding basketball until the final 18 or 20 seconds."
March 11, 2011
Defending champion Arrowhead sustained an equally stunning loss one year earlier in the sectional against Waukesha West at the Al McGuire Center in Milwaukee.
The Wolverines scored six points in the final 10 seconds, with Joe Schobert's baseline 3-pointer at the buzzer giving West a staggering 58-57 win.
Dillon Gilpatrick hit a 3-pointer with 7.3 seconds to go, and after a timeout and two missed free throws, West's Austyn Lingle brought the ball up court and found Schobert, who double clutched in mid-air against a hard-charging Blake Mattson but still landed the winner.
"He's probably the only athlete I know of who can make that play," said Haase.
March 5, 2011
St. John's Northwestern Military Acadmey senior D.J. Mlachnik took the ball at midcourt and launched a game-winning 3-pointer, lifting the Lancers to a 60-57 win in the regional semifinal against The Hope School.
"I told the guys in the huddle to just get me the ball because I am not letting us lose," said Mlachnik, who finished with a game-high 21 points.
Miles Holmes rebounded a Mlachnik missed free throw and scored to pull his team within 2 points, and as the Hawks inbounded, Mlachnik knocked the ball away to Holmes, who scored to tie the game with 21 seconds to go.
Hope missed with 1.4 seconds to go, allowing SJNMA to rebound and call timeout for the last second heave. Mlachnik grabbed the long inbound and hit the runner, though the team would be eliminated by Dominican one night later.
March 1, 2011
David Reese canned an awkward runner from 23 feet with just seven-tenths of a second on the clock, and Pewaukee emerged with a 51-48 win over Catholic Memorial in the Division 2 regional opener.
"I really didn't know how much time was left, I just kind of let it go and it went in," said Reese. "I took a peek once when I was dribbling and all I saw was a 3 on the clock. I didn't know if it was three seconds or three-tenths of a second. I just launched it and the ball went in. That was crazy."
Reese forced a turnover with 4 seconds to play that helped the Pirates set up a final shot.
March 19, 2010
Of course, not all the buzzer beaters went against Arrowhead. In 2010, the Warhawks etched some iconic moments into program history.
Against Marquette in the Division 1 state semifinal at the Kohl Center in Madison, Charles Rushman banked in a 3-pointer in the final seconds, helping Arrowhead hold off a late charge from the Hilltoppers and win, 60-58. The squad gathered its first state title one day later.
Marquette hit two free throws to take a one-point lead with 18 seconds to go, capping a 5-point surge in 40 seconds.
With seven seconds to go on an inbound, Andy Fox shuffled the ball to Rushman.
"When it came off my hand, it felt straight," Rushman said. "As it got closer to the hoop, I thought, 'Oh it's a little long, but oh, it's long enough.' I got a little lucky, but I might as well take it."
It wasn't the only buzzer beater from the playoff series. Michael Skarie, a senior known mostly for his defense, hit a driving layup with 4 seconds left to lift Arrowhead past Menomonee Falls in an absolute epic sectional final, 50-48, at the Al McGuire Center.
March 10, 2006
The shot Haase called "the best shot in Arrowhead gym history" came from John Hoch, now an assistant coach for the Warhawks. Hoch caught an inbound with less than 4 seconds to go and hit a runner from the free-throw line in the sectional semifinal against Waukesha South, giving his team a 50-48 win. The shot launched the Warhawks to the sectional final, where they won on their way to the state semifinals.
Will there be more buzzer beaters this season? I can't wait to find out.
Pictured: Pewaukee senior David Reese (24, center) is rushed by teammates and fans after scoring the game-winning 3-pointer against Catholic Memorial on Tuesday, March 1, 2011. Photo by Scott Ash.
On Tuesday, we were having a conversation that we had eight years ago.
When the International Olympic Committee decided to drop baseball and softball from its unit of 25 core sports in 2005, Americans adopted the defensive position immediately. How can sports so beloved by those in our country be too unpopular for the Olympics? The immediate response was to discredit the other sports sponsored by the IOC, "fringe" sports like synchronized swimming, ribbon dancing and horse jumping.
When the IOC delivered the stunning announcement that it would drop wrestling from the Olympics in 2020, we immediately defaulted to the same reaction. How can we justify things like racewalking and badminton but not wrestling, a sport that has been part of the program since the dawn of the modern Olympics?
I completely agree that wrestling should still be part of the Olympics program. But my rhetoric is a little different.
When baseball and softball got dropped, the reasons ultimately made sense. Softball just wasn't popular enough around the world, leading to gold-medal landslides for the United States. Baseball, meanwhile, had a couple strikes against it, including the pall of performance enhancing drugs across the landscape. Also, since the Games take place during the summer, Major League Baseball players naturally weren't taking part, leaving out so many of the world's best athletes in the sport.
Quite honestly, dropping baseball and softball made some sense.
My first reaction to the loss of wrestling was there must be a simple global participation disparity to explain it. It's so difficult for Americans to see beyond the bounds of the country's borders (as an example, see the dismissive attitude toward soccer), so I took the devil's advocate position. Surely, not enough countries put emphasis on wrestling.
Nope. The international wrestling federation, FILA, sponsors athletes from 177 countries. Meanwhile, another sport that figured to be in the conversation for removal from the Olympics, modern pentathlon, represents 108 countries.
So there must be some other reason to lose wrestling. The board voted after analyzing 39 criteria, including TV ratings, ticket sales, anti-doping policy and popularity. But the final decision doesn't necessarily figure in any of those elements, and results of the voting are not released to the public. Thus, political factors and pure emotion or preference can safely come into play, shielded from public consumption.
And that's where we have a problem. Let's take a look at our friend, modern pentathlon.
Conflict of interest
Modern pentathlon dates back a long way, too, to 1912. The sport combines fencing, horse riding, swimming, running and shooting. Essentially, it's a collection of random sports from other corners of the Olympic environment. I'm guessing you didn't know which five sports were included, and that should tell you something about its TV ratings.
The sport has been on the chopping block before, but it's survived each time. Juan Antonio Samaranch, Jr. - the son of former IOC president by the same name - is vice president of the UIPM organization, the worldwide equivalent to FILA for pentathlon. He's also on the IOC board, which means he has a vote.
With the last name Samaranch, he also probably carries plenty of weight with other members of the IOC. Basically, the sport of modern pentathlon has a patron saint.
Samaranch said he stressed the positives of his sport when the board met to decide which sport to cut, pointing to the tradition and the completeness of athlete involved. But it seems curious that this sport, one that has been scrutinized multiple times before and one that doesn't have the level of participation as wrestling, would be saved while one of the Olympic staples would be suddenly shown the door.
It sure helps to have some pull in a sphere that's supposed to be liberated from the ugly influence of politics.
The Olympics have a set number of "core" sports (28) and disciplines within those sports, with a set number of athletes and events in which athletes can participate. The committee has chosen to drop a sport to open a door for a newcomer in 2020, with wrestling among those welcome to apply for Olympic status. The others are baseball and softball (again), karate, squash, roller sports, sport climbing, wakeboarding and wushu. Golf and rugby will join the program in 2016.
It's important to remember how these core sports work when comparing wrestling to others on the list.
To argue racewalking (a component of "athletics," which is basically track and field), synchronized swimming (under "aquatics") or trampoline (gymnastics) should be ousted in favor of wrestling won't work, because wrestling is competing against the broader category. On the other hand, sports such as badminton, equestrian, fencing, field hockey and sailing are all among those the IOC has decided to keep in lieu of wrestling.
I'm curious to see how the advancement of Twitter and social media will play a role in what comes next. The IOC must stand up to new pressure with the world more capable than ever of voicing its opinion, and petitions have already begun to circulate to save wrestling.
At some point soon, I think the Samaranch/pentathlon connection will become the main story here. Meanwhile, instead of trying to decide which sports are dumber than wrestling, we will ask the right question. Why should a collection of other Olympic disciplines get to stand as a separate sport instead of wrestling, with greater participation and greater tradition?
Pictured: Ben Askren, formerly of Arrowhead High School (right) wrestles Cuba's Ivan Fundora in the 74-kg freestyle match in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
The "core" Olympic sports are as follows:
athletics (track and field and related events)
**golf and rugby will join the program in 2016.
J.J. Watt, the former Pewaukee star who has gone on to become the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year in his second year with the Houston Texans, continues to see his profile grow in a positive way during the offseason.
Watt, who has always shown a keen awareness of the social media world, visited a 6-year-old girl after a video of her went viral. In the video, the girl is upset because she recognizes she's not old enough to marry J.J., so he shows up and presents her a candy ring for a one-day marriage to the lovestruck Texans fan.
Weddings are apparently an offseason theme for J.J., who arranged another surprise visit after a viral picture of a massive wedding cake in Watt's likeness. The groom was working on a rig in the Gulf, but the newlywed bride was there to meet Watt.
We're already there. On Feb. 10, coaches will gather to hash out the seeds for the WIAA boys basketball postseason, charting out the path for five more state champions, soon to be crowned at the Kohl Center in Madison.
A look at what local teams could expect in the process ahead:
Oconomowoc (6-13) is a strong candidate to end up with either the eighth or ninth seed in its pod, which would result in a matchup Feb. 19 for the right to see the top seed, surely either Sun Prairie (16-3) or Madison Memorial (15-3). My guess would be Memorial.
Cooney (6-13) has some very good teams on its nonconference docket, like Mukwonago, Brookfield Central and Lodi, though the Raccoons haven't registered any wins against teams that are thriving in their respective conferences. They could argue they deserve a better seed than Watertown (13-6), having defeated the Goslings handily once and falling in overtime in their other meeting, but Watertown's record is probably too strong to bypass. Not only that, the Raccoons have the disadvantage of nestling in a pod with a ton of Big Eight schools, and it'll be interesting to see if those programs favor their bretheren, having seen them play up close. For example, Madison West (7-11) has a similar record but has defeated LaFollette (9-10) and Middleton (11-8) and played Sun Prairie tough twice, leading in the second half both times. You could see how Big Eight schools would appreciate that.
Others in the region: Madison East (8-10), Verona (5-13).
Mukwonago (16-3) has a fairly predictable destiny coming up Sunday. The Indians are likely to get the top seed and face either Janesville Parker (3-16) or Kenosha Bradford (3-15) after the two teams meet Feb. 19. Only two other teams have a strong record -- Burlington (14-4), a team Mukwonago defeated fairly easily this year by 50-41 score, and Kenosha Tremper (13-7), which lost to Burlington and just fell back into a tie for third place in its own conference.
It's no secret that this is a quadrant ripe for the picking, as it was last year when Mukwonago took advantage and surged to the sectional final. It seems a strong possibility that Mukwonago would have to defeat both Tremper and Burlington to get back.
Others in the region: Janesville Craig (10-9), Muskego (6-13), Beloit (6-13), Badger (7-11).
Arrowhead (15-3) is one of the area's best teams, but it has an uphill battle to get anything greater than a three seed. They have the misfortune of being in the same pool of teams as Sussex Hamilton (18-1) and Germantown (19-0), which looks like the unstoppable tour de force it was last year.
If anyone beats Germantown, it's going to be a shocker. Not only that, but it would probably have to come in a sectional final two days after the semifinal -- meaning a team wouldn't exactly have the luxury of full preparation for the Warhawks. Hamilton has its best team, maybe ever, and it would probably have to replicate its win over Arrowhead (which came on a dramatic last-second shot and insane final sequence of events) accomplished in the playoffs last year. Arrowhead will have to make it past fourth-seeded Homestead (13-7), which is a quality team that has played a number of top-flight foes this year.
Solid teams like Waukesha West (12-7) and Kettle Moraine (10-9) are likely headed for the back half of the draw and will thus have to face one of those juggernauts in the first round. At this rate, Hamilton would probably meet Menomonee Falls (6-13) in the first round as a 2-7 matchup ... and Hamilton's not going to want any part of that after the Indians gave the Chargers everything they could handle both times. The Lasers have improved over the past year, but it would still be making a big statement if it topped Arrowhead in the 3-6 battle.
Others in the region: Hartford (3-15), Waukesha South (2-16)
Pewaukee has run into Wisconsin Lutheran in the playoffs on previous occasions, but not right away this year. Wisco has been moved to the other half of the bracket, and there is a chance the Pirates could make it all the way to the sectional final with some good fortune.
The key for Pewaukee (14-6) is getting a top-five seed and netting a first round bye, with more teams in this quadrant than in Division 1 and six teams playing Tuesday. That's a slam dunk, as really only New Berlin Eisenhower (16-3) is a surefire higher-seeded team, though Catholic Memorial (14-5) probably will be, as well. The Pirates' recent loss to New Berlin West (6-14) does a little damage with a record so close to teams such as Bay View (12-7) and Whitnall (12-7). Even if the Pirates are fifth, they'd still get a bye.
With the third seed, the Pirates would meet either the sixth seed or the 11th seed in the Feb. 22 opener, with a dangerous South Milwaukee (7-11) team that defeated the Pirates earlier this year as one of the candidates for that 6. However, Greendale (8-12) won the head-to-head with the Rockets and will probably get the nod there. Pewaukee defeated Greendale earlier this year, 69-60. Cudahy (2-18) seems like the best candidate to have the 11th seed, a team Pewaukee defeated 95-39.
Others in the region: Indian Trail (6-14), Waukesha North (6-13)
Records through Tuesday, Feb. 5.
Not long ago, I reached out to Racine Journal-Times writer Gery Woelfel, one of the foremost authorities on all things Milwaukee Bucks. Gery was kind enough to respond to my inquiries (which I tend to think are those of a casual fan not entirely plugged in to the Bucks) a second time this past week.
The Bucks are building some steam in 2012-13, with a healthy above-.500 record and solid playoff position, seeded seventh in the Eastern Conference entering a Wednesday night battle with the Chicago Bulls at the Bradley Center. With the recent departure of coach Scott Skiles and a number of surprising wins – and defeats – it’s been an eventful year.
JR: The Jim Boylan era has started on a good note, but the Bucks’ run of success has also coincided with the return of Ersan Ilyasova to full-time relevancy. The limited amount of minutes Scott Skiles bestowed to Ilyasova seemed strange to me, as I thought he was treated like a role player instead of a guy who had just signed a big-time extension. At the same time, I understand letting the hot hand play and not letting dollar signs set the lineup. Did you feel Skiles’ methods made sense at the time, and aside from “freeing” Ilyasova, does Boylan present certain opportunities that can legitimately help this team win ballgames?
GW: Nobody can question Skiles’ basketball acumen. Where he has come up short, though, is in his communication with his players. Throughout his tenure with the Bucks – and even before that during his coaching stints in Phoenix and Chicago – he had frequent run-ins with his players. Boylan seems to be a more effective communicator. I know he’s already spoken to virtually every player on the team and spelled out what he expects from them. He’s had several talks with Ilyasova, and they have proven invaluable. Ilyasova, who had a rocky relationship with Skiles, is playing at a high level. During a recent four-game stretch, Ilyasova averaged 25 points and 12 rebounds while shooting a white-hot 61 percent from 3-point range. Suffice to say, the coaching change has done wonders for him and the Bucks.
JR: I recognize that the parting with Skiles is “mutual.” However, my initial reaction anytime a decent (slightly sub .500 to above .500 team) team parts ways with a coach mid-season is that the franchise didn’t have a good plan in place to begin with. What factors compelled this move to have the timeline it did, and do you think I should still see a red flag with an organization deciding mid-stream that this coach wasn’t going to work, even though it seemed fairly evident to the outside world that it was a bad fit prior to 2012-13?
GW: The Bucks simply had to make a change. Morale was horrible and some of Skiles’ friends insist he wasn’t happy and wanted out. Just not a good scene. As for making a coaching change in the middle of the season, that’s more common than people expect. I think there have been five coaching changes in the NBA already this season.
JR: This is likely to be a hot topic as Feb. 21 approaches. With Rajon Rondo out for the year, can the Bucks become realistic players for Paul Pierce? Perhaps a better question: given that John Hammond just signed an extension, is it a foregone conclusion that he’ll be pushing to make a splashy move by the trade deadline to upgrade this team?
GW: I don’t have any doubt Hammond would like to make a splash. And he could because he now has accrued enough assets to make a blockbuster deal. I just don’t think a deal for Pierce makes sense, though. He is 34 years old and definitely on the downside of his career. If the Bucks were on the cusp of contending for an NBA title, Pierce would perhaps be a player to put them over the top. What’s more, why help the Celtics, a team in the Bucks’ conference, by giving them some young, talented players for their rebuilding process? The Bucks have an intriguing, up-and-coming team now and, if I was Hammond, I won’t acquire any player over 30 years old and just stay the course.
JR: Is it realistic or unrealistic to think this team is one acquisition away from being a serious contender to win in the first round of the playoffs or even beyond? What are the stumbling blocks, if any?
GW: I think they can reach the Eastern Conference semifinals and perhaps even the Eastern Conference Finals this season. Outside of Miami, and maybe Chicago if Derrick Rose returns 100 percent healthy, there isn’t a dominant team. New York and Brooklyn have better talent than the Bucks, but their chemistry is iffy. The door is open for the Bucks to make a serious playoff run.
JR: The inconsistency of this team seems to be a hot topic. From my perspective, as long as the Bucks win enough to get into the playoffs, I’m comforted by the fact that they seem capable of beating the good teams -- the teams they will see in the postseason. On the other hand, they sure would have a better seed if not for clumsy losses to Detroit, Cleveland and others. What does the Bucks’ inconsistency say to you? Is it an attribute that can be overcome when the playoffs roll around?
GW: A major reason factor for the Bucks’ inconsistency is their youth. Some of the Bucks’ best players are still finding their way through the NBA. Ilyasova is just 25, Larry Sanders is 24, Brandon Jennings is 23 and John Henson is 22. Unless you’re a phenom like Kyrie Irving or someone of that ilk, it takes young players a few years to adjust to the NBA.
JR: So much has been made about the Bucks middle-of-the-road situation -- bad enough to get eliminated in the first round, good enough to miss the lottery. As the team stands now, what would be a better situation for the Bucks moving forward, to get a lottery pick next season or getting a chance in the playoffs?
GW: Reaching the playoffs, no doubt. The Bucks need to get a feel for postseason play again; it’s radically different and infinitely more intense than the regular season. Considering the organization hasn’t been to the playoffs since the 2009-2010 season, it’s essential they regain that “winning’’ culture. One other thing: this year’s NBA draft is shaky. There isn’t a bona “can’t-miss prospect’’ in the entire draft. In fact, this could be one of the worst drafts in years.
JR: What are the characteristics of the universe in which Monta Ellis wears a Bucks uniform next year? Should there be interest on both sides?
GW: As you know, Ellis has an opt-out clause in his contract after this season. Ellis hasn’t discussed his future with any media members but I’ve talked to several of his friends and they all claim Ellis will exercise the opt-out and check out the free-agent market this summer. Before the season, there were some NBA officials who believed Ellis could make in excess of $11 million – the amount he would earn if he decided to stay with the Bucks. But Ellis has had a sub-par season and one NBA official recently told me Ellis would likely get $8-to-$9 million on the open market. If that’s the case, he’s not going anywhere. But there’s a lot of games to played yet and, if he comes up big in the playoffs, he could be one hot commodity.
JR: Brandon Jennings has been very solid at times, and yet I still can’t see him as a future superstar in the league. Tell me why I’m right or wrong.
GW: People have mixed feelings about Jennings; personally, I like him. I still think his upside is huge. Like I mentioned earlier, he’s only 23 years old. Yet, this season, he was twice chosen the NBA Eastern Conference Player of the Week. The only other players who received that award as many times or more were LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. That’s heady company. To me, Jennings is only going to get better.
Pictured: Larry Sanders has spent much of the 2012-13 season blocking shots and being awesome. (AP)
The zebras are herding.
The trend of a third official at high-school basketball games has spread, with the Woodland Conference adding three to its league slate this year and the Greater Metro set to adopt three-person teams next year, joining the Classic 8, Southeast, Wisconsin Little Ten, City and others.
It’s hard to see the evolution as anything less than hugely beneficial. The addition has created better game management, better communication with coaches and simply better assessment of the action. Even casual fans can notice the difference in officiating quality between two-person and three-person crews, even when the two-person officials happen to be talented veterans.
Officials have been one of the biggest driving forces behind the switch to three-person, and that shouldn’t surprise anyone; after all, with more jobs available on a given night, the opportunity for steady work increases significantly. But the motivation wasn’t purely about money.
George Hammond of Referee Magazine profiles Southeastern Wisconsin in his article “One and Won,” appearing in the Feb. 2013 issue. He dissects how area officials associations were able to unite and forward the three-person mentality, even as budget cutbacks had local conferences hesitant to maintain the more expensive model.
Three years ago, six officials associations in the Greater Milwaukee area, including Lake Country, began discussing ways to convince conferences to shift over to the three-person model, believing the method would improve the quality of basketball. Recognizing that budget constraints were top of mind for everyone, and paying another official wasn’t a sexy way to dedicate precious resources, the officials didn’t emphasize pay scale. Each conference pays its officials by its own rates, and officials weren’t asking to be paid the same for three-person as two-person games.
The Southeast and Classic 8 were both considering a shift back to two-person from three-person, with the Classic 8 going as far as determining which official to drop from three-person crews for the 2011-12 season. But it never happened. The Classic 8 released all officials from their contracts because they’d been signed under the impression that the games would have three officials. According to the article, the thinking was that the strongest two officials would re-up, and the trend going forward would be to have the strongest two officials working. Instead, most elite officials greatly preferred the three-person system and began declining opportunities to ref anything else. Conferences using two-person crews were losing some of the best talent.
Officials are essentially freelancers who contract directly with the school (nonconference games) or conference. Even though they belong to associations, those serve primarily as a coordinating and educational body. There aren’t consequences for passing on a game, and there are plenty of opportunities to work elsewhere.
The article portrays the situation as subtle persuasion on the officials’ part, perhaps even unintentionally, rather than an all-out “boycott” by top referees. But whatever it was, it worked, as both the Southeast and Classic 8 kept the three-person system, with other conferences jumping on board. Among area leagues, only the North Shore has no plans to use a three-person system by 2013-14.
To ensure the three-person system truly represents an increase in quality, the newly-formed Wisconsin Basketball Officials Association has created an intensified educational process. Members are asked to complete eight hours of classroom education, a 100-question study guide and a 200-question exam in addition to what the WIAA requires.
The WIAA has used three-person crews for the upper tiers of its postseason, but none of this means the governing body will switch from two-person crews at the regional level. Though the WIAA has been using three-person teams starting in the regional final since 2005, the unit isn’t likely to make all postseason games three-person -- it’s too difficult to find enough bodies for the rural parts of the state, and the WIAA prefers a uniform process for all state teams.
Most of us think the officials are wrong a lot. But since it appears their heavy involvement helped proliferate the three-person system, you have to like this call.
Pictured: Oconomowoc head girls basketball coach Bob Shea speaks to an official last March. The Wisconsin Little Ten was among the first transitioning to three-person officiating crews.
The Mukwonago Indians mascot is in the news again after a Wisconsin appeals court overturned a decision that allows the district to keep it.
Mukwonago has found itself in the cross hairs of a procedure put in place in 2010 that allows the Department of Public Instruction to review a school's mascot – should a citizen lodge a complaint about it – and compel its removal if deemed offensive.
On the one hand, I don’t think the state needed to spend resources reforming something as small as a hometown icon. This is an issue best left to the municipality represented, where everyone gets a vote.
Not only that, I detest the flimsy process aimed at igniting the reform, a complaint procedure that not only puts the school in a guilty-until-proven-innocent situation but also does no favors to the person making the complaint. A change like this needs to be universal, not through a series of test balloons.
On the other hand, I’ve written in the past what I prefer. I don’t think it’s harmless to be represented by the “Indians,” even if all the emotions present in most alumni and supporters are positive ones. And then I hear the rhetoric trying to defend the mascot, and that’s when I begin to feel my viewpoint is reinforced.
I think the more levelheaded onlooker will agree the mascot has potential to cause perception problems and damage to the culture represented. To combat that, it’s important to reinforce that the image is not truly representative of “Indians.” If today’s high schools are serious about limiting the bullying problem, then they should also be serious about educating about the cultures who share our soil.
Classes should be dedicated to teaching the plight of the Native American and also offer a glimpse at the modern Native American. Like Mukwonago has done, schools should weed out the actual visual representation of the Indian – by far the most-offensive aspect of the mascot issue, in my opinion – in favor of the word or something like the “Motion M” you see at midcourt at MHS.
All of that could work. I think harmony could be achieved between the represented cultures and the community at large, but then I hear retorts thrown at those who advocating changing the mascot, and I honestly have to wonder. Here’s what I hear:
“Gee, I guess we should change all the Native-American names, the town names, the river names, the county names!” There is a uniqueness in the high-school mascot that offers a far greater potential for damage than a simple name. Some of that is what I just said – the image carries great influence. A mascot is a caricature (think giant fuzzy tiger jumping around) representing a playful part of our school-going experience. Oddly, it’s also the part of our school-going experience with which many of us identify the most.
Most of us are not Native Americans. We do not have the right to assume their identity in this regard, especially because the portrayal has its flaws. It’s a complicated concept because, in a community that has limits to its cultural, racial and ethnic diversity, we don’t feel that marginalization. It’s not possible for us to imagine someone mimicking our culture because our culture has never been under siege, so we don’t see it with the degree of severity that Native Americans might see.
To say all Native American words in the proper names of our town should be removed is an overreach. A mascot is not the name of a river or town. It’s not just a word to represent an area. It’s a concept, one forwarded in a publicly funded institution dedicated to fostering global awareness.
“We are honoring Native Americans by showing them as a mascot.” They didn’t ask to be honored this way. Again, that might seem like a strange concept to those of us who haven’t been marginalized in our race and background, that we might need permission to pay homage. But without the guarantee of accuracy or the guarantee that those being portrayed actually feel the honor, then it’s a hollow thing to say. You can scrawl “JR is an awesome guy!” in egg yolk all over my car’s paint job, and I may not feel the warmness of the message.
“Well, anything can offend! I’m offended by bluebirds! A bluebird attacked me once!” This is, of course, absurd. Though I openly admit there are gray areas, cultural and human imagery is not the same as an animal. There are thousands of options, and most have a far smaller potential for harm.
Many opponents of “political correctness” prefer someone to tell it like it is. Here’s an example: It’s a poor starting point to a conversation if you try to convince me an animal has the same potential for offensiveness as a cultural icon. Speaking of which …
“You’re just being too sensitive. Why does everything need to be so politically correct?” My identity means a lot to me. Who I am, my family and my belief system are some of the most crucial aspects of my life. I would be sensitive if someone completely misunderstood that and, in my personal viewpoint, made gestures that were damaging to it. I would want a chance to right the misconception. This part of my identity is far more personal than what my high school used as a mascot, and I like to think I would respect that if given the choice between someone else’s personal heritage and my school logo.
This is the most basic institution of discovering ourselves and our world. Of all places, shouldn’t this be a place where “political correctness” is an OK thing, where every opportunity is given to portray the world accurately and from multiple angles? The real world is a sour place sometimes, and yes, there are some simple facts about life that aren’t fair. It doesn’t mean we have to start that way, forcing people to be unhappy just because we don’t see or care how the mascot could be so hurtful.
The change gang
Change is not something that comes easily, particularly when folks are being asked to change something they’ve been used to as long as they can remember. Furthermore, nobody likes the inference that harboring an attachment to “Indians” is racist or otherwise insensitive.
I can understand why people want to keep the Indians mascot. There are so many positive memories attached to it, and it’s something shared by generations within many families. I don't even think it's a bad reason in this case to say "I just don't like the idea of being forced to change." This issue can be discussed intelligently, and proponents of keeping Indians should be able to admit there is possibility for harm, increasing the importance for us to listen, to understand and to be thoughtful.
Those retorts undermine that intelligent discourse and, to me, offer glimpses that we might not be responsible enough to properly handle the Indians mascot.
Pictured: "This is Indian Country" will remain at Mukwonago High School until all the appeals have been hashed out. (Photo by Carol Spaeth-Bauer)
Mark Stewart and JR Radcliffe discuss high school sports in this weekly video.
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