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Greg Peters column: The neighborhood team

Greg Peters

It's not because you have to; it's because you get to. When I was 10 years old, there were certain friends on our block that would fight like rabid honey badgers when we were together playing football. I'm talking about knock down, drag-out backyard brawls on a daily basis. Our "neighborhood team" would tear up more skin than blades of grass.

My mom would yell, "Boys, get off the new sod!"

Many of these roughneck rituals usually happened at 703 Revere Ave. where my mom would remind us saying, "We just put that sod down!"

"Candy, we're not raising grass, we're raising boys," my dad would say tongue-in-cheek.

A majority of the time, our character hopefully made our moms proud pertaining to school, sleepovers, and that one spring we all were signed up for ballroom dancing to "give us some culture." However, we never went to one dance class. We hid a Wiffle ball and bat in the bushes by the hotel ballroom holding the dance classes and played until we were picked up. So, upon further review, I guess dance class truancy would be classified in the "not proud" category on the mother list.

I can, without a doubt, say our sandlot football character about age 10 would only have made Ray Nitschke and Dick Butkus proud.

No matter how much our "neighborhood team" would fight when we evened up teams between each other, it was nothing compared to those certain days we found ourselves playing kids from a couple miles away or, God forbid, another school entirely.

We stuck up for our "neighborhood team," not because we had to; because we got to.

Things haven't changed for me 35 years later as I felt the exact same way watching our River Falls girls volleyball team recently play at the Division 1 Wisconsin State Tournament. Judging by numerous packed "viewing party" pictures at our local River Falls' bars and huge Wildcat Nation crowds at the Resch Center in Green Bay, I'm pretty sure most of us in our town felt the same as I did.

Even though River Falls was 41-0 entering the state tournament, RFHS was nearly half the size of our first and second round opponents in school population. Wildcat fans also had to drive two or three times as far as our three state tourney opponents; in each game, the River Falls' crowd almost doubled the other side of the Resch Center. It's not because we had to; it's because we got to.

Fox Sports Wisconsin televised the championship game against Burlington (eastern Wisconsin by Lake Geneva) and the color commentator, Michelle Griffin-Wenzel, for some reason, was unbecoming of sophomore Emily Banitt's play using her foot to keep the ball alive (which, amazingly, was the second time in two days she did this). Griffin-Wenzel said even though the Wildcats hadn't lost, they were likely playing much lower level of competition in western Wisconsin when the 'Cats found themselves down two sets in the championship game. Maybe there's some validity to her statement, as 33 of the 36 players on the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd All-State teams are from the eastern side of Wisconsin, but, whether you're 10 years old or 45 years old, them's fightin' words in my neighborhood. Nobody from outside of my neighborhood says something bad about my team. I'm no psychologist, but I think finding one person or one thing to direct my frustration towards is my motivational coping mechanism. I was mad we were down 0-2 and, by God, Michelle Griffin-Wenzel was the reason.

After Griffin-Wenzel's comment, almost on cue, River Falls came roaring back to win the next two sets in the championship game and the fifth and final set looked to be ready for the taking as we were up 13-11 (play to 15 in the fifth set). But, Burlington has been to four straight state tournaments and were runners up last year. The Demons have been there before and they found a way to notch the last four points for the title. Talk about a punch to the gut in about 30 seconds.

Kim Peterson said it best while talking about the game later Saturday night at the Tundra Lodge. "The ending was like going to a funeral for someone who was 105. You know they had an incredible journey and you're proud of that, but the fact that it's over is still sad."

To the River Falls volleyball team: your "neighborhood River Falls team" is EXTREMELY proud of you. We're proud of your journey and all your hard work. You play for River Falls and we cheer for you. That's how it works in our neighborhood.

I have a sneaky suspicion Wildcat Head Coach Sara Kealy has no intentions of having the last game of 2017 be a funeral. The Wildcats have a strong group returning and I'm looking forward to heading to the Resch Center next fall. Maybe I'll see Michelle Griffin-Wenzel there. Not because I have to; because I get to.

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