What if I told you the Road to the Final Four began in Appleton, Wisconsin.
Well, here's the deal. Back in 1905, the Lawrence University Athletic Association had an idea. After running the successful North-Eastern Wisconsin Interscholastic Track and Field Meet for high school athletes since 1901, it thought it might find the same success in the up-and-coming sport of basketball.
So, in 1905, it put on the first state high school basketball tournament in the country.
It proved to be a grand idea. It spawned high school tournaments in other states across the country, and eventually spun off college tournaments such as the NAIA, NIT and NCAA, which in 2011 sold the television rights to its tournament to CBS and its sister stations for $10.8 billion. It's a remarkable story.
But this is not that story.
This is the story of how the first high school tournament in the country was born in our back yard, and how for 11 years it grew and prospered and became a source of local pride, until another organization came along and thought it could do better. This is the story of how for three years these organizations held competing state championships, the frustration it created and Appleton's desperate attempt to hold on to what it created.
As the WIAA celebrates the 100th year of its state high school basketball tournament, it should remembered its unparalleled success is a direct result of a group of men at Lawrence University who had a dream and a vision, and made it come alive.
Hear ye, hear ye
The Appleton Daily Post first announced the event on its front page on March 6, 1905, with the headline:
"Will Decide Winner Here"
"Big High School Basketball Tournament Planned."
The tournament was to be conducted just off College Avenue in the old Alexander Gymnasium, which in the early 1900s was located approximately where the Buchanan Kiewit Wellness Center currently stands.
Details were sketchy, at best, and it was apparent early on there may be an issue with finding quality officials.
"The Lawrence University Athletic Association is planning a Northeast Wisconsin Interscholastic Basketball Tournament to be held in this city some time the latter part of this month. The meet will be held for the purpose of determining what school in the section of this state shall be accorded the honors for the basketball season of 1904-05.
"At present Fond du Lac, Sturgeon Bay and Sheboygan are making the loudest claims for the state championship and the meet is calculated to bring together all the strong high school teams and give all a chance to win state honors at the close of the present basketball season.
"Lawrence students who possess a practical knowledge of basketball will preside as officials at every contest."
And then, silence. Not another word about the tournament as March continued to slip away. Finally, on March 30, there was more news in the Daily Post.
The tournament would be held the first week of April, and the event would now last three days instead of two because, a week before it was to begin, there was still a question as to how many teams would show up.
"The change was decided upon this morning when it was learned that at least ten and possibly 12 teams will participate."
Then, what was common in those days, the Daily Post took aim at the competition, and fired.