PARDEEVILLE – Some had waited 40 years for this moment.
In one hour on Tuesday, supporters of the Pardeeville High School boys basketball team purchased 1,100 tickets for the state tournament. The tickets sold out so quickly – before 8 a.m. – that Superintendent Gus Knitt immediately drove to Stevens Point to acquire another 500 tickets for Thursday’s game in Madison.
It will be the high school's first state tournament for boys basketball since 1978. The team plays Roncalli High School of Manitowoc at 6:35 p.m. in the Division 4 semifinals at the Kohl Center.
The especially ambitious supporters — the ones already decked out in school colors of royal blue and gold — had arrived at Pardeeville’s Middle/High School building at 6:15 a.m. to wait in line for tickets, which were made available for purchase at 7 a.m.
“Electric. Contagious,” Megan Middlestead said of the small-town vibe. Her son, senior Jameson Nedza, plays on the team that keeps winning close games. It defeated Mineral Point on Saturday in Baraboo to qualify for the state tournament, rallying from behind to win the sectional game by a single free throw.
“It’s crazy. I didn’t think we’d sell out all 1,100,” said Assistant Athletic Director Barb Pulver, who sold the tickets Tuesday in the school’s cafeteria alongside Connie Wiersma, an educational assistant.
Pardeeville’s total population is just over 2,000 people, according to the 2010 Census.
“It is absolutely awesome,” said Wiersma, who graduated from Pardeeville in 1976. She was a cheerleader for the school when its boys basketball team went to state in 1975, and she also remembered the town’s fever when the basketball team advanced to state in 1978.
“In the 1970s, it was crazy, all the pep rallies we did," Wiersma said. "They even made snow sculptures — it was just huge,” she said. “It’s very similar to what’s happening now.”
“The town’s all together as one,” said Jeremy Gray, one of the day’s earliest arrivals for the $10 tickets. He exited the building clutching a Bulldogs sign that he’d also purchased inside. “This is one big family. It’s a small school. We all know each other, and all the kids have grown up together."
“The team came this far and we hope they go a little bit further,” said Colleen Tisil of Rio. Her daughter, Emma Tisil, is dating one of the Pardeeville starters, Duncan Fleiner. “He’s no. 12,” she noted.
Pat Eberle waited in line for 20 minutes with her daughter Sheri Eberle, the latter a 1989 Pardeeville graduate. In 1963, Pat Eberle moved from Missouri to Pardeeville, where all of her children and grandchildren went to school.
“I went to the state tournament in 1978,” Pat said. “It was great to be there — a great feeling.”
Does the 2018 team feel similar to the 1978 squad?
“Yes,” Pat answered quickly. “Just in the attitude of the players. They don’t give up. They keep going.”
Resilience of the basketball team came up again and again, among ticket buyers and school staff. When asked if the team’s history of rallying from behind might benefit the squad in Madison, Knitt paused for a moment and came up with a nickname for them instead: “The Cardiac Kids.”
“Once they get down, it’s almost like they get a surge of energy,” said Middlestead, who noted that her son and some of his teammates have played together since pee wee games. “It pushes them up. They feed off of each other.”
The team’s never-say-die attitude seems to have spilled into the hallways, said junior Jenna Olson. “It’s unexplainable. It’s been 40 years, so it’s just crazy. I think it’s on everybody’s mind — even if it’s in the back of it, everyone’s thinking about it. We have a little pep in our step, and we’re ready to cheer on our boys."
“Savor this week, savor the moment," Knitt said. "Let’s enjoy what these kids have accomplished, because it doesn’t happen every year.”
Of the 500 tickets Knitt brought back to Pardeeville from Stevens Point, he expects at least some of them will be available for purchase Wednesday. If Pardeeville beats Roncalli, the school only will be able to sell tickets for Saturday's championship immediately after the game — Thursday night — in the Kohl Center, Knitt added.
The high school will hold a pep rally in its gymnasium at noon Thursday. It is free and open to the public.
For more information about the game, including tickets, travel opportunities and T-shirts, visit pardeeville.k12.wi.us or call the school at 608-429-2153.