St. Paul's to host 45th annual basketball tournament

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Tom Miller
Friday, February 24, 2017

If it takes a village to raise a child, Mark Fenrick will confirm it takes dozens of volunteers to pull off the annual Janesville Lutheran Invitational basketball tournament.

Fenrick has led the running of the tournament since he became athletic director at St. Paul's Lutheran School in 1999. But his 18 years as the lead man is less than half of the 45 years the tournament has been going.

And Fenrick is just one of the many intertwining pieces involved in the history of the Janesville tournament.

“I actually played in the tournament,” Fenrick said Thursday evening on the eve of the 45th annual event. “And I have to brag. Our team won it that year.”

This year's tournament will have eight teams, just as it has had for the other 44 years.

Only two teams have participated in all 44 previous tournaments—host St. Paul's of Janesville and St. John's of Lombard, Ill.

St. John's of Portage has been in 41 of the previous 44, but reduced student enrollment prevented the Portage school from fielding a team this year.

Back in 1973, the late Wayne Schwanke was the St. John's principal. Denny Vierk was principal at St. John's in Portage, and Wayne's brother-in-law, Art Bathje, was principal of St. John's in Lombard.

All three agreed a big Lutheran school tournament was needed. Thus was born the Janesville Lutheran Invitational.

“Those three were the driving force,” Fenrick said.

Vierk also later ended up at St. Paul's in Janesville after moving from Portage.

Tim Ebeling ran the tournament as St. John's from 1973 until 1999 when Fenrick took over. He stresses that he has plenty of help.

But he did have a strenuous Thursday, making sure the school could survive the three-day wave of people and completing other needed tasks.

“It would not get done if it wasn't for the hundreds of volunteers,” Fenrick said. “We have a great group, fellow teachers and parents. It's more than just me.”

Minuteman Press prints the programs. Brodie Trophy supplies the trophies and medals. Others man the concession stands.

Fenrick estimates 400 to 500 people attend games, including past students and church families.

“The championship game is packed,” he said.

That is the final game of the 15 scheduled in the next three days.

Fenrick attempts to bracket the first games according to ability, but there is one exception.

“An Illinois team always plays a Wisconsin team on Friday night,” Fenrick said. “The three teams from Illinois play each other during the year, so we want to give them a different opponent.”

In most cases, players are seventh- and eighth-graders, with an occasional sixth- or even fifth-grader on the rosters.

Pilgrim of Green Bay will make its first appearance in the tournament tonight. Former Janesville resident John Schultz is principal at Pilgrim, and his son, J.J., is a former student at St. Paul's and is a staff member at Pilgrim.

In an odd twist, the Schultz family moved from Janesville to Michigan, and J.J.'s teacher in eighth grade was…Mark Fenrick.

“That was my first call (out of college),” Fenrick said. “There's a lot of connections.”

Other recent changes to the tournament include a girls game and cheer competition.

“We bring in four UW cheerleaders to judge the competition,” Fenrick said. “If we're lucky, they put on a performance, which is kind of fun.”

Church services also are part of the schedule. A 5:30 service Saturday night is set for the teams and their families.

“We have chairs in the aisles and in our narthex is practically standing room only,” Fenrick said.

Local motels and restaurants benefit from the out-of-town guests. And tournament profits go into the operating budget of St. Paul's.

Preparation for next year's tournament begins next week when Fenrick sends out information to schools on next year's tournament dates. In November, he starts lining up referees and ordering trophies and setting up programs.

“I inherited a very well-run tournament,” Fenrick said.

On the eve of the 45th annual event, another possible glitch was developing. A snowstorm was moving into Wisconsin but is expected to stay north of Janesville. Fenrick is worried about teams from Green Bay and Plymouth making it to Janesville.

He probably doesn't have to worry. This thing has been going on now for 45 years. Mother Nature can't mess with that.

Tom Miller is a sports writer/page designer for The Gazette.


Janesville Lutheran Invitational

At L.W. Gersmehl Gymnasium,

210 S. Ringold


St. Paul (Mt. Prospect, Ill.) vs. St. John's (Plymouth), 5 p.m.

Trinity (Rosell, Ill.) vs. Pilgrim (Green Bay), 6:15 p.m.

St. John's (Lombard, Ill.) vs. St. Paul (Bonduel), 7:30 p.m.

Immanuel (Belvidere) vs. St. Paul's (Janesville), 8:45 p.m.


Start at 9 a.m., eight games


Fifth place, 12:30 p.m.

Third place, 1:45 p.m.

Championship, 3 p.m.

n Weekend passes are $12 for adults, $7 for students. Daily passes are $5 for adults and $3 for students.

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