Readers expecting something other than football in this space of your favorite weekly newspaper will have to come back to this space next week.
In the space of 44 hours, Platteville High School played in only its second state football championship game in PHS history, and UW–Platteville played in its first NCAA football tournament game in UWP history.
One went better than the other, of course, but Platteville’s losing 28–14 to Winneconne and getting a big silver trophy instead of a big gold trophy does not lessen the accomplishment of merely getting to Madison in the first place.
One of the cool things about Platteville’s state experience was that it coincided with the state experiences of Lancaster in Division 5, Darlington in Division 6, and Black Hawk in Division 7. That group represents three of Platteville’s 14 football games this season — the most a Platteville football team has ever played, and the most a Wisconsin high school football team can play. (And kudos to WGLR-FM for carrying nothing but football from 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday. I was privileged to be part of the last 3½ hours.)
We got an email from a reader noting that “This whole run to state for Platteville football has been the best thing for this community and realizing that it is OK to have academic and sports success. When you run into people that are close to the sport or even just have someone that they know that is associated with the team, before you even get “Hi” or ‘Hello’ out, I have noticed we are both smiling as we walk towards each other and we both know what the conversation is going to start with. The handshakes are firmer and last longer and the euphoric feeling that is in the air of the community is intoxicating.”
Indeed. The signs you see pictured on page 1B are just two examples of visible community support for the Hillmen’s unexpected state trip. Unlike high schools in big metro areas, state trips are, if not community efforts, then efforts where the community lends its support.
I saw the football team leave past Platteville Middle School, where the students and faculty gave them a loud sendoff. I and my two sleeping passengers (who double as my sons — apparently my driving bores them) got to Business 151 around midnight (the earliest I have gotten home from a football game in a month, by the way, not that the Village Inn in South Wayne has anything to do with that), just as the Fire Department led the football bus from the Walmart parking lot to PHS, followed by an amazing number of cars for the hour. (Either that, or a bunch of people tried to get a one-week head start on Black Friday, and were unsuccessful.) I’m told the lights got turned off at PHS at 1 a.m. to get the football players to go home.
The evidence that PHS celebrates academic and sports success is obvious if you go in the front door and see the portraits of National Merit Scholars ringing the cafeteria, and the trophies in front of the office and in the gym hallway. I am unaware of any other high school in this area that similarly celebrates its student academic success. Then again, the Platteville School District has five nationally certified teachers; no other school district south of La Crosse and west of Madison has more than two.
By now, I hope the players’ disappointment of losing the state title game has been replaced by a sense of satisfaction for the job well done of getting to state. Because teams can have a bad game, or in Platteville’s game be forced to play without starters due to injury, the appropriate goal seems to be to get to state more than winning state. On Thursday and Friday, seven teams got gold trophies, seven got silver trophies, and the other 210 high school teams whose playoffs ended before last week (plus the nearly 200 football teams that missed the playoffs) would have loved to have finished where Platteville did.
In a quarter-century (pause to blow the dust off myself) of covering sports, I’ve covered everything from teams that won every game to teams that lost every game. The PHS football team fits in my list of favorite teams with a girls basketball team that got to state after a 9–11 regular season, and a baseball team that got to the state championship game after a 9–11 regular season. (Though in the latter case the 1989 Platteville baseball team might feel differently, since the Hillmen lost their sectional final to said baseball team.) A team that gets to state when no one thought they would — and in Platteville’s case I’d argue that preceded the three-game losing streak — has actually accomplished more than the team that got to state when everyone thought they would.
Thursday notwithstanding, football continues in Platteville, thanks to UW–Platteville and its 54–20 first-round win over one of the 10 Concordia universities in the U.S. (Really. Last week you learned about the namesake of Roncalli High School; now you know more than you did about Lutheran colleges.)
As someone thinks that in football (having neither played nor coached, but watched an awful lot) the shortest distance between two points is over, not through, the defense, I find UWP football enormously entertaining to watch. The games are wide open, and yet the Pioneers do run the football (because of their passing success), and as for defense, ask UW–Oshkosh — which watched, instead of played in, Saturday’s playoffs.
Platteville next plays North Central, ranked three places higher than UWP. It seemed unlikely to me that UWP, as a first-time playoff team, would host a first-round game, and yet there we were Saturday. As UWP chancellor Dennis Shields is fond of saying, it was a great day to be a Pioneer.