Nearly 50 years ago, during the 1965-66 school year, 15 men laced up their sneakers and hit the court as the first men’s basketball team for then Coleman Technical Institute. The team played home games at the Mary E. Sawyer Auditorium, which was located near 6th and Vine Streets, across from the college.
Coach Dean Morton lead the team to a 4-2 record, playing against Madison, Wisconsin Rapids, and Wausau. It was a small conference that first year. In 1966-67, the team joined the Wisconsin Technical College Conference, playing against team such as Madison and the La Crosse State University Freshmen. The team adopted the name “Cavaliers” and finished in third place for the season, earning a trip to the conference’s invitation tournament.
Over the years, the men’s teams have won several conference and state titles in the Wisconsin Technical College Conference, the Wisconsin Junior College Athletic Association, and the current conference, the National Junior College Athletic Association. Home games are now played at the Holy Cross Seminary Gym on La Crosse’s south side.
Current coach Eric Wuensch, is in his third year of leading the Cavaliers. He works hard during the season and in the off season, when he scouts the region for potential recruits.
“Eric does a great job of making contacts,” said Dave Fish, athletic director at Western. “He is out watching high school players and following up with students interested in playing here.”
There are many reasons that students choose to come and join the team at Western. “Our programs, our campus, and our coach are all factors that appeal to potential players,” said Fish. “Having to rent a facility off campus is a drawback, but the other three make up for it.”
“The cost of tuition and the fact that they will get to play as freshman is alluring to players,” adds Wuensch. Another enticing motive is the option to advance to four-year schools. “In the past two years, we have had three players go on and play at four-year colleges,” said Wuensch.
As the 2014-15 season winds down, we can look back at where athletics started in 1965 and how far it has come. Then and now, the option to play varsity sports at a technical college is not common. Only five of the 16 Wisconsin Technical Colleges currently offer athletics.
“There is definitely a place for sports at Western,” said Fish. “It’s a great opportunity to further develop teamwork, respect, and college pride.”
The college plans to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Men’s Basketball with the 2015-16 season.