By TRICIA HILL
Can you imagine owning season tickets for Badger basketball since 1967 and only ever missing five games? Well, that is the story for Muscoda resident John Kraus.
Kraus began following the Wisconsin Badgers basketball team back in 1951 when he was only 12 years old. Back then there was no television, so he listened to the games on the radio.
“I remember tricking my mom and I would suddenly be sick and stay home and listen to the games on the radio,” Kraus said.
Kraus attended his first Badger basketball game in 1953 when they were playing against Indiana in the old Fieldhouse. Indiana won the national championship that year, with help from their 6’10 center Don Schlundt and 6’3 guard Bobby Leonard.
“Having a 6’10” center at that time, I couldn’t believe how big that guy was because at that time the players were not that tall,” Kraus said.
Following that game, Kraus attended games on and off whenever he could until 1967, when he bought his very first set of Badger basketball season tickets.
“Wisconsin was very poor at basketball at that time and they won about four games out of 18 in the race for the Big Ten,” Kraus said. “I still enjoyed going because I followed all the teams and all the players.”
Even though the Badgers basketball team was not very good at that time, Kraus enjoyed attending the games because he was able to watch the other teams play and see some amazing players.
Kraus remembers back to 1995, when Dick Bennett became coach of the Badgers and made a turn around for them.
“I decided when they got in the regional at Albuquerque, New Mexico, that I would ride out and see them play,” Kraus said.
Kraus kept to that promise as Bennett helped the Badgers win their way into the regionals.
When attending the game Kraus recalled the Badgers taking victory over LSU and Purdue to make it into the Final Four for the first time in 59 years.
“I was fortunate to get tickets to attend the final four games,” Kraus said.
When the Badgers went into their first Final Four they were faced off against Michigan State and ended up losing, 53-41.
“If we could have played Florida or North Carolina in the first game instead of Michigan State, I think we could have won against either one of those teams,” Kraus said.
However, when Kraus would make a trip to Badger games he would do more than just attend the games when he was traveling. When Kraus made the trip to Albuquerque, he made a trip to New Mexico’s state capitol building in Santa Fe.
“I couldn’t believe how small it was,” Kraus said. “It was a third as big as the courthouse in Lancaster.”
Some other places that Kraus has visited during his travels to games were the Civil War Museum in Indianapolis, a ride around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, NCAA Hall of Fame, Butler Fieldhouse and visited Indianapolis’ state capitol.
Past attending his first basketball game, Kraus had another goal to make it to all the original nine team’s facilities that were part of the Big 10. Kraus was able to make that dream happen.
“I ended up getting to all nine, including Minnesota three times, Purdue three times, Iowa twice and the rest once,” Kraus said.
When Kraus would go to those places, he would find the old facilities that they would play in when he would listen to the games decades ago on the radio.
Out of all the games that Kraus had attended, he said he would never forget the trip he took with his friends to Michigan.
“We took off at six o’clock at night and it was snowing out at the time,” Kraus said. “It was snowing so hard, that we had to drive 40 mph from Muscoda to Ann Arbor.
“There was so much snow because the roads were not plowed and you could see across the other way and cars would go off the road,” Kraus said.
They ended up arriving at Ann Arbor around 8 a.m. Going through all that weather to get to the game was worth it to Kraus, as the Badgers beat Michigan that day.
Even though the weather made the game at Michigan, a game to remember there are other memories that Kraus is happy to say he was able to experience, including seeing Wesley Matthews Sr. make a half court shot to beat Magic Johnson and Michigan State in 1978, Dick Bennett winning against Minnesota the last game of the regular season to be part of the NCAA tournament for the first time in 59 years, meeting the fabulous five of Michigan’s team in Madison and being able to see an Iowa player slam dunk the basketball from the free throw line.
“He had his heel on the free throw line and he slam dunked the basketball,” Kraus said. “I have seen people do this in a slam dunk contest but never in an actual game, it is just incredible.”
Kraus also remembers getting the opportunity to go see Bo Ryan coach for Wisconsin for the first time in Las Vegas.
“I did real well on the slots and made $300 more than it cost me for the trip,” Kraus said. “I got lucky and it was the only time I had been to Vegas and I will never go back.”
Kraus became to know Bo Ryan when he was an assistant head coach under head coaches Bill Cofield and Steve Yoder from 1976 to 1984.
“The things I love about Dick Bennett and Bo Ryan is that they make the kids play defense and offense and pick out the kids that are coachable,” Kraus said.
Bo Ryan in Kraus’ eyes is a fascinating person because he has 681 career victories.
“I told Bo Ryan that I would like to see him win 800 before he retires,” Kraus said.
Ryan told Kraus that 800 career wins is just a number. However, that is not the view that Kraus takes on it because he feels that you can count all kinds of guys that get to 700, but you can only count a few that get to 800 career wins.
“As a person, Bo Ryan does so much for people outside of basketball like the fact that he has donated $108,000 to cancer research,” Kraus said. “He does many things for people that are not known.”
Kraus remembers when Bo Ryan had his students in Platteville and they had an emergency and needed to get home, but had no gas money to get there. Ryan gave the students the money to get home.
“Dick Bennett and Bo Ryan are both class individuals.”
Kraus figures it will take Bo Ryan five years to make it to 800 career victories, and his goal is to live long enough to see that happen.
“I am hoping that Bo Ryan stays to at least get another 100 career wins,” Kraus said.
Over Kraus’ 67 years of having season basketball tickets, he has missed a total of five games and the reasoning behind those five games missed were two illnesses, one when the roads were closed, one Army Reserve meeting and then the final one when he gave the tickets away to a friend.
“It was fun to go on the road and talk to different people at the different areas and see how passionate the other fans are,” Kraus said.
So far Kraus has managed to accomplish seeing through his childhood goals and now he hopes that he can continue by seeing Bo Ryan get his 800 career victories.
Even though basketball is a huge part of Kraus’ life, it is not the only thing that he has enjoyed doing. Kraus began working at the Riverdale school district as the K-6 gym teacher when Riverdale first combined with the Blue River school district. Kraus worked at Riverdale for 29 years before he retired.
During his time at Riverdale, Kraus also coached elementary basketball for boys and girls on Saturday mornings. At first he did it just for the boys but he thought it was unfair to the girls so he decided to include them as well.
“The first time I came in on Saturday morning I had 53 kids all by myself,” Kraus said.
After the first day of having 53 students arrive, he decided he was going to have to split up the time frame, since he was the only coach at the time. So he had the girls from 8:00 to 10:00 and then the boys from 10:00 to noon.
“I had great cooperation from parents, staff and students,” Kraus said.
Kraus retired in 1986 from Riverdale, but continues to attend basketball games.
“I like to evaluate players on how I believe they will do throughout the season,” Kraus said.
Outside of basketball, Kraus also enjoys duck hunting, playing a card game called Solo with a group of friends, reading and swimming laps five days a week.
Kraus has been able to accomplish many of his goals throughout his life and he feels that he has lived a long happy and fun-filled life.
“Life is what you make it and I believe that everyone should have some kind of passion in their life,” Kraus said.