Oshkosh West vs. Fond du Lac: An Atmosphere to Remember
Saturday night I saw through the Oshkosh West-Fond du Lac game. At stake was a trip to Madison for the state tournament. The excitement was obvious as one walked UW-Oshkosh’s Kolf Center. I was excited to watch the game, and take in the type of atmosphere that’s just a tad different than you normally find in the Milwaukee area. Game notes below. Although let’s be honest–while the game itself was interesting, the crowd, and other things surrounding the game were the real fun, so that’s most of what I’m going to reflect on:
1) My arrival in Oshkosh to meet up with a friend was well before game-time, and I noticed on my drive by the Kolf Center, UW-Oshkosh’s fieldhouse, that there were several UW-Oshkosh lots offering parking for a nominal fee, ranging from $3-$5. I suppose with the number of people expected to attend the game, it made sense to have lots charging for parking, but I did just fine parking at one of the many spots a few blocks away. I’m no sucker.
2) I was somewhat concerned about getting to the game on time, since pre-game dinner at one of my friends’ apartments ran until about 6:50pm, and the game was starting at 7pm, but we actually timed things perfectly, walking in just as player introductions began. And to make things even better, though the gym was packed, we managed to sit in a corner that was pretty sparsely populated. Don’t get me wrong, I love seats at half court as much as the next guy, but there’s also something to be said for being able to stretch out. And in situations like Saturday night’s game, just the chance to get in the gym is all I’m looking for.
3) Going to a game in Oshkosh brought out one of those little things that I hate about myself. I was sitting there watching the game and thinking about things. I sat there knowing that Oshkosh West had legitimate talent in Andy Polka and Tim Jarmusz, and that Fond du Lac is a team that coach Dick Diener seems to take to the state tournament every year (even if their record didn’t reflect a typical Fondy team this year). I knew that it would be a slow, methodical, well-played game. I knew that Oshkosh West was ultimately very deserving of the trip that they would earn by the time the night was over. And yet, I also knew that at the end of the night, I would be thinking to myself (if not openly telling my friends) "These guys are pretty decent, but in Milwaukee they’d just be one of several on a short list of good teams." Yes, I’m a Milwaukee snob (which is sort of an oxymoron when you think about it). And I guess I sort of understand why people in other parts of the state often tend to hate guys like me. But after all these years, as illogical as it may be in situations like this, I still can’t stop myself. So feel free to hate me, I guess. I totally understand why.
4) Well, it wasn’t tough to pick out who Andy Polka, Oshkosh West’s star player was. He was the guy who was clearly bigger and stronger than everyone else on the court. Polka didn’t have an overwhelming first half, but showed some nice moves in the second half. I’ll be interested in seeing how he fares at the state tournament now. It was only a few years ago that I saw another big man from Oshkosh West (UWM’s Adrian Tigert) and got into an argument with a bunch friends over whether he was an over-hyped guy that was just built up because his team got to state, or if he was a solid player-in the making for UWM. In a rare moment of wisdom, I found myself on the right side of this argument. (It took my five years for my point to be proven, but take that Brian and Gus!)
5) As I noted yesterday, I absolutely loved Oshkosh West’s student section. Large, spirited, and loud, they’re exactly the type of crowd that the WIAA wants to have sitting on the baseline at the state tournament. Four things made them so outstanding. First, they were about the most organized group that I’ve ever seen. A few leaders in the front of the section took it upon themselves to give instructions to the crowd behind them on a giant dry erase board. That ensured a unified section. Second, they were diverse. Of the most visible crowd leaders, you couldn’t help but notice that one was a guy who was wearing khakis and a sweater vest, and another was a guy who had painted his entire body blue. Not really the two kinds of guys you’d expect to be sitting together in the cafeteria, but they were unified for the cause on Saturday night. Third, they were loud. And above all else, a crowd needs to be loud. Finally, they were creative. I always enjoy seeing a crowd do that thing where they pretend, in unison, that they’re riding on a roller coaster. The Oshkosh West students took this to a new level, though, and after finishing their own roller coaster session, sent the blue painted guy over to lead the adult section (I hesitate to say parents section, since I typically end up in this section, and as far as I know, I haven’t fathered any children) in the same deal. Seeing an entire half of the gym act like students, and then, upon finishing, get as pumped as I’ve ever seen a group of adults at a high school basketball game ranks as maybe the best crowd moment I’ve ever seen at one of these games. So here’s to you, Oshkosh West students–you’re the best I’ve ever seen.
6) In perhaps the only overzealous moment by a member of the Oshkosh West student section, two guys walked to the opposite end of the court to wave a school flag in front of the Fond du Lac student section. Security shut them down about 5 seconds into the flag waving. What puzzles me about this whole incident is that the guy with the flag even had enough time to get it unfurled. The kid had to walk the full length of the court with a flag during a stoppage in play. I’m no genius, but when he got 10 feet into his journey, I knew trouble would be brewing. I’d have been on the flag-bearer by the time he got to halfcourt. Let’s pay attention, okay security?
7) A lot of people see the 49-31 score and think that this wasn’t much of a game. They’d be wrong. The game was within four at the half, and the score didn’t get out of hand until Oshkosh West got up about 8 points early in the fourth quarter. From there, it seems like I looked down at one point, and suddenly the Wildcats were up 20. Between killing clock, and finishing plays on offense, West really turned it on to close the game. Fondy hung around longer than lots of people expected, or are even aware of now, though.
And so the game ended, with the undefeated, highly ranked team going to state. Oshkosh West did their part to help make this year’s state tournament one of the most talented fields in years. I retired to play cards with my friends, and spend an evening in Oshkosh. And while spending an evening in Oshkosh seldom means that you’re going to have an entertaining night, Saturday ended up being a rare exception. Thanks, high school basketball, for making Oshkosh a somewhat entertaining place to be.