Wednesday, February 16, 2005

North vs. South: A Lukewarm Rivalry

As noted, tonight took me out to Waukesha South High School with my buddy Brendan for the matchup between Waukesha South and crosstown rival Waukesha North. The draw, aside from three of the area's top players, was that our old high school teacher, and my old JV coach, John Ricciardi, is now the head coach of North. I guess he's probably been the coach there for 7-8 years, but unfortunately, between me spending college and grad school days outside of the Milwaukee area, I hadn't really gotten back to a game. Actually, I saw one game earlier this year at Cedarburg High School, but opted to sneak anonymously to the back of the gym just to observe on that evening. Tonight, however, Brendan had emailed the coach, and he told us to stop by and say "hello." I was pretty excited. I could gush on for paragraphs about the things that that man did for my psyche that he never even knew about. I guess, though, that I'll simply say that the only thing that compared to playing a season for him in terms of amount of work and rewards brought by that work was my first year of law school. Oh, and anything I think I know about basketball is based in some way on what he taught me. In the grand scheme of things, I know JV basketball is a pretty insignificant endeavor, but screw it--I still learned a lot from it. So yeah, I was excited to stop by and chat.

Brendan and I arrived and promptly wandered into the wrong part of the school, having never been there before, and incredibly, nearly walked into the North locker room (I see security wasn't at a premium this evening). Fortunately, on our way back to find the ticket window, we ran into the coach. Oddly, we were separated by a gate, which made it seem sort of like either he or Brendan and I were in prison. Nonetheless, we exchanged pleasantries, and he told us to stop by to chat after the game. He also joked that he wasn't sure if he could talk if his team lost. Well, the Northstars didn't pull the game out tonight, and that actually was the last we saw of the coach. The latter fact had more to do with the fact that we didn't know the layout of the school, and didn't really know protocol for tracking down a visiting coach after the game. There are still a few games left, though, so maybe our paths will cross again. I'm already planning on stopping by the next North game on Friday night, against conference co-leader Pius, which has plenty of intriguing plot points in my mind.

Anyway, enough of me going soft on you. Here are my game points:

1) I'm not sure if I've been to the Waukesha South fieldhouse before, but if I had, it would have been when I was about 9 years old. I know I watched early 1990s standout point guard Craig Aamot play for South, but that was in regionals, which often happen at odd places. In any event, I generally liked the layout. There was lots of seating on the near side, and the far side was smaller, but left entirely for South students. I think having an entire side of a court would be awesome if I were a student in high school. the side that the rest of us were on had the slight problem that there was a fair amount of co-mingling of adult fans of the different schools, but there simply wasn't the fierce emotion in this game, so it didn't come anywhere near causing problem.

2) Speaking of crowd issues, this was the North-South game, and the crowd was nowhere near capacity. As I recall, the teams had a hard fought contest at their last meeting. North was ranked 8th in the state coming into the game, and it was senior night for South. This game was begging for a capacity crowd, but it felt like a somewhat pedestrian game as compared to what I was expecting. Maybe part of it was my expectations. Since South and North are Waukesha's oldest high schools, I always assumed that they were traditional rivals. Maybe this isn't the case. Do they both just hate 12-year-old newcomer Waukesha West? Does everyone have a grudge against the private school, and last year's Division 2 state champ, Waukesha Catholic Memorial?
Are North and South not really opposing directions? Someone from Waukesha, clue me in. It could be that I'm just spoiled by growing up in a city that regularly fills the gym for the cross-town rivalry, even though one of the schools only wins about once every 10-15 years.

3) On the mild basketball celebrity watch, I was excited to see former Wisconsin Badger Julian Swartz acting as an assistant coach for his brother Billy, the head coach. There's not really much to say about him, other than I hope he's doing okay in his battle with obsessive-compulsive disorder, I'll never forget his performance in the state tournament when he was a senior in high school (and when the Kohl Center somehow sold me tickets in the South student section), and he's a sharp dresser. Like I said, I wish nothing but the best for the guy, who I've never heard a bad thing about.

4) Aside from the rivalry, the big draw of this game for the average fan would have to be the opportunity to, in one game, see North's Steve Shirley and Tom Erdmann, and South's Bo Richter, all sure to be all-conference selections in the Classic Eight. All had their strengths, but none of them blew me off the floor. I'm not sure which one I'd take if I was forming a team and could only take one guy. I'd probably go with Richter, since the name "Bo Richter" is just a great name. I couldn't make up a better prototypical high school athlete nickname. Erdmann kind of sounds like an accountant, and Shirley is a woman's first name, so those just can't compete. And though I don't know where any of these guys is going to school next year, Richter just seems like the kind of player that will be tearing up the WIAC, Wisconsin's premier D-3 conference, for years to come.

5) The Waukesha South student section continued a trend that I'm somewhat confused by: Student fans dressing up in costumes that bear absolutely no relation to the things going on in the gym. I'll admit that back in my high school days, I was no stranger to hanging out in the front row in my cape, a pair of tights, and my favorite pair of boxer shorts on the outside, but everything was in my school's colors. I was looking for ways to become the ultimate spirit guy. It never even crossed my mind to throw on an afro wig and a contraption that made it look like I was riding a gigantic duck. Maybe I'm becoming a crusty old man, but I feel like there should be a point to the wackiness. Tossing on a tight 70's jumpsuit with a sock in the crotch might be funny, but I don't get how it adds to one's support of the game. And of course, I feel further confused by a couple of young men from South who decided to dress up in stereotypically gay outfits last night? Again, I might be missing something, but when did this become a hip thing to do in high school?

6) Kudos to the South crowd, however, for a chant of “cankles” at North’s star player. “Cankles,” as you may know, refers to a large portion of a person’s leg where you can’t really tell where the ankles end and the calves start. If I’m not mistaken, it’s a term commonly used by John Madden when discussing fat linemen. Thought North’s Shirley is certainly not a fat man, nor does he truly have “cankles,” he does have thick legs (which I believe I commented in a long-since-past entry made him look like more of a wrestler than a basketball player). So, nice appropriate use of this pseudo-term by the South students.

7) The game itself? I’ll try to sum it up here with one long point. Why did South win and North lose? First, the obvious point. North’s foul shooting was terrible. And by terrible, I mean worse than Wisconsin vs. Illinois terrible. I doubt they even came near 50%, and they got to the line at least 20 times. It was one of the most mind-boggling displays I’ve ever seen, particularly from a good shooting team. South also controlled the lane on both ends, slashing into the lane with some frequency on the offensive end, and on the defensive end, simply watching North’s guards control the ball on the perimeter. Additionally, South largely handled North’s trapping defense. And finally, let’s not forget about South junior Eric Guth and his three-point shots, which always seemed to go in right as North was poised for a run.

8) South’s halftime show? I’m so glad you asked. The standard dance team show came out and did their thing. Fine. Then, a percussion ensemble came out on the floor for something like 2 minutes. It was a lot of prep, since there were 3 xylophones (I don’t think they were bells, but I wasn’t looking too closely), a drum set, and several marching bass drums and quads. Then they played their song, while 6 members of the ensemble did a mini-marching band routine on the basketball floor. I know that Waukesha is a state hotbed for marching bands (though North is actually THE powerhouse, as I understand it), but do we really need the marching to spill into basketball season? Either bring a pep band or leave the drums at home. It was a bit much.

9) Sometimes I lose sight of the fact that adults can get pretty irrational at high school basketball games. Though I like to think of myself as a fairly objective observer, I occasionally get caught up in the emotion of cheering for my old school when I’m at a game where they are featured. Last night it was fun to listen to crowd members complain about every foul call, no matter how simple a call it was. The guy behind me on my left hand side was a particularly adamant complainer in favor of South. Of course he also stood up at the end to do the scoreboard chant when the South students across the gym did it. Perhaps we need more people like this, to bring back some of the passion and hate to the rivalry.

10) Okay, so I’ll give my legitimate reffing complaints. First, there was one instance where the South called a 30-second timeout, but the refs originally reported it to the scorer and charged South with a full timeout. South was eventually only charged for a 30-second timeout (I believe, since my only basis for stating this is my close observance of reactions around the scorer’s table) after their coach pointed out the error. I agree that the correction had to be made, but North kind of got hurt in the deal, since South’s timeout was taken in response to a big momentum shift in North’s favor, and South essentially got a full timeout for the cost of a 30-second. You’ve got to be on top of that call. Then, at the end of the game, North was in semi-desperation mode and starting to foul with a minute left. As a South player drove to the hoop, it looked to me as if about 3 fouls could have been called (particularly given the way that the game had been called to that point), but none was called until the South player was shooting. South converted the 3-point opportunity, dealing a fatal blow to North’s hope of winning. As always with refs, they did a better job than I could have, and I thank them for their service, but there’s always room for improvement.

So, after a few moments in a cold hallway trying futilely to figure out how to meet up with the coach, Brendan and I headed out to my car and began the trip home. Not a bad way to spend a Tuesday night, if you ask me. It probably won’t compare to tonight, though, as I check out UWM’s final regular-season home game. Is it really that late in the year?


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