Camp Randall Stadium will sit idle next week.
For the first time since 1981, the storied home of University of Wisconsin football will not host WIAA state championship games.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced roughly one-third of the state's schools participating in football to opt out of the fall season with hopes of playing in a truncated 2021 spring season. The Big Eight, Rock Valley and Badger Large and Small were among area conferences that opted out of a fall schedule.
The WIAA eventually made the difficult decision to not hold a state tournament series for football this fall. All teams that played in the fall were eligible for a two-game postseason format, where divisions were broken down by enrollment into regional groups of four.
As of Wednesday, 21 of the 98 first-round playoff games were forfeited, mostly due to COVID-19 concerns.
All of this makes me very sad. I was there at Camp Randall that first year in 1982 when the state championship games first came to Madison. As a freshman at UW, I was working for UW's Sports Information Department and typed the play-by-play for all six state championship games. (The WIAA did not add Division 7 to the mix until 2002.)
I spent the next five years typing play-by-play results (computers and the internet were non-existent back then) for wrestling and boys and girls basketball at the UW Field House, but state football at Camp Randall was my favorite.
Because I also typed the play-by-play for Wisconsin football, I knew the press box at Camp Randall better than anybody else. I knew exactly when the postgame hot dogs would arrive, so while reporters and other media personnel were filing stories, I was chowing down. I knew which bathrooms were heated and which was the quickest route down to the field.
So many great memories.
My senior year in 1986 (yes, I was on the five-year plan), I watched Pat Martin in what was the beginning of Monroe's 10-year reign at a statewide level as the Cheesemakers won their first of five state titles. That same year, Jerry Schliem won his first of two titles at Milton with a convincing 38-20 win over previously unbeaten Northland Pines.
And although my time at UW was over, the hits kept coming for this Gazette reporter, as a number of area teams prospered on the big stage. I felt like I was back at home reporting from the UW press box as Milton got its second state title in four years in Division 3 in 1989, while Beloit Turner won its only state title in 1988, as coach Dan Thorpe led the Trojans to the Division 4 crown.
Martin's powerhouse program at Monroe was nearly unbeatable. The Cheesemakers won state titles under Martin in 1990, 1991, 1992 and 1994. Monroe was state runner-up in 1995 and 1996.
I was also along for the ride in 2008 as Rodney Wedig and Walworth Big Foot fell short against Jared Abbrederis and Wautoma in the Division 4 state title game, and that next year when the Chiefs rolled to a 42-13 win over Kewaunee and the Division 4 crown.
Brodhead/Juda made state final appearances in 2003 and 2010, while Big Foot made a return trip in 2012.
I haven't been back to the UW press box since 2012, but I'm sure things haven't changed much outside of the advancement in modern technology. The hot dogs, I'm sure, are still lukewarm at best. The bathroom on the south end is still like a sauna, and it's a long haul from the press box to the lockerrooms--even if you know a shortcut.
I sure miss those days.
Game of the Week
Lake Geneva Badger (3-3) at Brookfield East (3-3), Division 1, Level 1, 7 p.m. Friday, at Brookfield East High--The winner advances to play Waukesha West or Waterford in the regional grouping title game next Friday.
Brookfield East is scoring 25.2 points per game and allowing 19.5. The Spartans are led by quarterback Luke Pluemer, who has thrown for 723 yards and rushed for 381.
Badger comes in averaging nearly 30 points a game. Quarterback Tannor Garrels is the catalyst. The senior has rushed for 755 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Best guess: Brookfield East 27, Badger 20