March Madness is intoxicating, even for people like me who have absolutely no interest in basketball. I love hearing my husband and kids talk about brackets and busting. And it's also an excellent way to begin discussing the concept of a college search. All three of my children were eager to know where schools like Murray State, St. Bonaventure and Belmont were located. Thanks to my friends at Google I now know the answers are Kentucky, New York and Tennessee, respectively.
But "Madness" doesn't begin to touch the way I was feeling heading onto campus for a meeting last Friday morning. As I do every year, I'd forgotten about the traffic insanity caused by thousands of high school basketball players and their families descending upon the isthmus in hopes of a Wisconsin state hoops championship. I could have cart wheeled onto campus faster than it took me to drive from my front door to the appropriately named parking lot under the "Lucky" building ---I may just have snagged the very last parking place in the Library Mall vicinity.
But the twenty-minute standstill I encountered turning left off Johnson onto Lake allowed me time to reflect on what's so darn cool about having this tournament in town. Yes, it's inspiring for kids to get to play on the same floor as their beloved Wisconsin Badgers. And based on the overflow crowd at every State Street restaurant, the economic benefits of being the host city are pretty clear.
But as I sat stagnant, I thought about the fact that this tournament began just two days after I chaperoned my daughter's fourth grade class on a fabulous field trip to the state Capitol. We had perfect weather, an outrageously knowledgeable tour guide, and the chance to sit in the Senate chambers. The trip culminated with a private lunch in a marble-walled meeting room with Representative Leon Young of Milwaukee's 16th district---a classmate's mom is his legislative aide.
You'd think the kids would be impressed, right? But while they were polite and appreciative, especially of the corn chips given to us by the members of the Wisconsin Corn Growers Association who we met in the hall, this was a group of kids that the Capitol is old hat for. Probably full two thirds of them had dutifully joined their parents for a few rounds s of "What's Disgusting? Union Busting" at the height of protests last winter. I wouldn't be surprised if a couple of them had even participated in rotunda sleepovers. And when the tour guide asked this particular group of fourth graders who did the Capitol belong to, they didn't miss a beat. "It's our house," they all chimed in.
But it's possible many of the kids coming in for the state basketball tournament had never set foot in Madison before, much less seen the glorious granite Capitol building up close and personal. Sure, for many the hallowed halls of the Kohl Center might have had more meaning in the heat of tournament action. But hopefully they all got a sense that Madison is more than just the home of the Badgers and a chance to eat at Dotty Dumplings or State Street Brats. I hope being in the capital city served as a reminder that regardless of their or their parent's political persuasions, they should be proud to be from, not just to play in, the state of Wisconsin.
There have been many discussions surrounding the potential movement of the tournament from Madison. For me, it's not just a question of whether Green Bay says football instead of basketball. Or if their parking and hotels are more affordable.
Because Green Bay certainly does have a lot to offer---the iconic Lambeau Field, an interesting meat packing history and the National Railroad Museum.
But these students are playing for the Wisconsin State Championship. And Madison has their house.