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United captures history on tape at Wisconsin basketball tourney

How United Visual Rentals handled WISAA's final state championship

WISAA basketball tournament with video production by United VisualFrom the early morning strains of the National Anthem to the basket-at-the-buzzer that won the game, the memories from this year's WISAA Boys and Girls Basketball Championships will take a long time to fade. But the 2000 season has been a bittersweet one for all the schools that make up the Wisconsin Independent Schools Athletic Association. The 32 year old sports organization has come to the end of the road, and by 2001, the 56 religious and non-public schools that made up its roster will join with the state's public schools in the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association.

"This marks a new era for our kids," says Todd Van Order, who himself played in the association as a boy, later turned coach and ran the WISAA baseball tournament. Combining public and nonpublic schools into one athletic association will even out the playing field for all of them. One of the WISAA's drawbacks had always been the disparity in school enrollment. Schools in Division one could have enrollment as high as 1,300 or as low as 350. The change will put an end to that.

End of an era

United Visual crew captures fast action at WISAAFor the past four years Van Order had been Director of Sports Activities for the Association that hosted tournaments in a variety of sports for nonpublic schools across the state of Wisconsin. The Association had the oldest football championship playoffs in the midwest, and the year always brought tournaments in girls soccer, track and field events, volleyball and even cross country. Wrestling came up in the winter as did basketball, which Van Order calls "the pinnacle of our program."

February's WISAA boys and girls championship basketball tournament at the U.S. Cellular Arena in Milwaukee marked the end of a nearly 40-year run at the old facility and an even longer stint in the Milwaukee area. The organization had moved its tournaments from the nearby Milwaukee Auditorium to the Arena in the early 1960's. "I definitely think the tournaments are what I'll miss most," says Van Order. "We've had some great upsets over the years. This year the seventh seed girl's team upset the number two seed in a game that started at 8:30 in the morning and ended with a basket at the buzzer!"

Producing the video

But even this last tournament in February had its share of firsts. This was the first time since 1966 that the tournament was televised, although no one is sure why 1966 was such a magical year or who broadcast it. This year United Visual Rentals provided a video production crew that pulled the whole tournament together. They sent live play and instant replays to the Arena's overhead scoreboard from a production control center in the basement, as well as highlight tapes to Channel 4 and Channel 12 in Milwaukee and to Fox TV in Madison, all of whom broadcast portions of the games. United also provided play by play commentary, which was used by Fox and also by WISAA for full-game tapes later offered for sale. The Midwest Sports Channel was also on hand, and they ran portions of the games on cable TV.

United's production suite at the U.S. Cellular ArenaLundstrom managed the video production, created the graphics and ran the character generator. He placed five cameras throughout the Arena to catch the action during all 28 semi-final and final games, including three hand-held systems right on the floor. Lundstrom has worked shows in the Arena before, and has plenty of experience working commercial television and Marquette Basketball productions, so things went fairly smoothly. "Probably the most challenging situation was just getting all the crew to work together as a team," says Lundstrom. "But after producing the fifth or sixth game, you pretty much get things down to a science! Whenever you're working on a large production like WISAA, it's nice to work with a talented crew, who really know how to pick up the pace when things get hairy!"

"United Visual was fantastic." says Van Order. "I tried to stay out of it, just suggesting little things, like taping the national anthem and the pom pon girls at half time. But they already seemed to know what was needed. I saw a lot of people watching the scoreboard video more than the game! The crowd loved the instant replays."

United Visual Operations Manager Mike Hahn says it was a lot of long days but really enjoyable. The level of enthusiasm was definitely high. "All those high school kids would get so excited to see their faces up on the scoreboard. They'd go a little crazy!" Hahn says there was a lot of on-the-spot editing going on, because after every game the United Visual crew would edit and remaster the game tape so the WISAA could sell copies and recoup some of the expenses of running the tournament. It also gave many players their only chance to see themselves in a professional video production and offered parents and fans a chance to gather and relive tournament highlights once the event had come to an end.

There's no doubt the Arena will miss the WISAA. This tournament was the arena's largest draw over a three day period, bringing 27,000 fans to the event. They have a history together. "I played there in the '70's," says Van Order, "and I was in awe of the whole thing. Don Nelson would come out and shoot baskets with us." Appropriately the WISAA office was in the Arena's old Milwaukee Bucks locker room. "If you close your eyes you can probably see the ghosts, like Lew Alcindor walking down the hall. I guess we're about to join them." As for the future, "I think there will be a couple of bumps in the road, but it will all work out. Other states are looking at what we're doing. I think they're amazed at how well we get along."

The change didn't come as a surprise. The WISAA Board of Directors bowed to the pressures of the economy and the high cost of travel and voted to phase out the association in 1998. It was a great 32 years, but when the end of business came on June 30th, 2000, the WISAA became a fond memory for a lot of people. "We went out as we came in, I guess, kind of subdued," said Van Order. "I just turned out the lights, closed the door and went home."