Westosha Central students Kylee Plants, Alexis Saad and Brianna Reid show frustration during the second half of the March 16 WIAA Division 2 state semifinal against Kaukauna (Mike Ramczyk/The Report),

Community, alumni rally around Westosha’s epic state journey

By Jason Arndt
Editor

By Kenosha County historical standards, the Westosha Central boys basketball team flew in rare air March 16 at the Kohl Center in Madison, where they became just the sixth squad since 1941 to make a state boys basketball appearance.

Although the Falcons lost, the appearance marked the first time in school history the team made the trip to the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association state tournament, which brought the community together.

Westosha Central Athletic Director Jonathan Lindh, who has been in the position since 2012, said the increased community support came at the end of last season when the Falcons came within one game of a state berth.

“Last year, we advanced to the sectional final and the whole atmosphere around the program and school really started to ramp up,” said Lindh.

Lindh recalled a conversation with his father, a strong supporter of the program and high school level coach of more than 30 years, after the Falcons secured their first sectional title in program history at Oregon High School March 10.

“After the sectional game was over we were talking, and he stated how much has changed. In the old days, we would have small crowds with mostly parents of cheerleaders and players,” Lindh said. “At that time the band didn’t have many members, and the gym was mostly empty.”

The atmosphere started to transform about three years ago, when the school hired James Hyllberg to lead the boys basketball program, which came off seven straight losing seasons.

Since Hyllberg’s hire, the Falcons collected back-to-back Southern Lakes Conference titles, two regional titles and their first state appearance.

In 2017-18, the team notched a school record for most wins in a season with 22.

“Now we have very large crowds filled with community members, alumni and parents,” he said. “It truly is a community event. The band is big and loud, the cheer team is amazing and we have dance team performances at halftime.”

The support showed last weekend, when Falcon fans filled seven busses, and did not include community members who traveled on their own.

Alumni buzz
At Madison’s Kohl Center, where more than 400 students represented their team, some alumni also made the trip.

Tre Williams, a former player who graduated in 2017, saw community support increase since he was a freshman.

“As the years went on, it grew to greater and greater heights, just like our team did,” said Williams, who saw some support early in his high school career.

Former cheerleader and 2013 graduate Sydne Johnson never envisioned seeing her school reach the state tournament.

“I cheered in high school, so I saw all the home games from the sidelines, and even though I always thought our teams were above average, I definitely didn’t think they’d ever make it to state and compete with the best in Wisconsin,” she said.

Johnson, meanwhile, said the excitement drew more graduates back into the community, including some who attended the March 16 state semifinal.

“When I go to the games, you see more people here supporting the Falcons than just students and parents of the athletes,” she said. “Just today, I saw a couple of alumni at the game wearing their letterman jackets from 1997 and 1998.”

The Falcons’ historical achievement also garnered more exposure by state standards, including the community as a whole, according to Williams.

“I think it was a very big deal,” he said. “I feel like it was very important because those accomplishments put our whole school and athletic program on the map.”

Within the community, Johnson has heard the chatter.

“I haven’t seen this kind of town buzz over Central athletics in awhile,” she said. “It’s really cool to see the stands filled with such a variety of supporters.”

Westosha Central senior varsity player Cooper Brinkman said the town has shown unconditional support of his team.

“It was pretty cool to see the whole town get behind us,” Brinkman said. “We had a lot of support from everyone from different schools and past players.”

Before Westosha Central qualified for the state tournament, the last team from Kenosha County to reach the tournament was St. Joseph’s in 2003.

In 1991, when Wilmot reached the tournament for the second time, the school picked up the county’s last state championship.

 
 

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