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Portage Alumni Tournament tips off for 23rd year this weekend

February 14, 2019

In the strictest sense of the word, Jerry Foellmi is neither a Young Buck, nor a Soon-To-Be Wise Man, nor a Wise Man.

Yet he’s a longtime participant in Portage’s traditional Alumni Basketball Tournament, which is happening Saturday and Sunday in various Portage Community School District gymnasiums.

Tournament organizer Sean Malone said the event features not only Portage High School alumni in various age divisions (“Wise Men” being a euphemism for “old”), but also a “Wannabe” division for people in the Portage community who were something other than Portage Warriors.

Foellmi, president emeritus of General Engineering Co., graduated from Sparta High School in 1972.

For the last 30 or so years, however, he’s played weekly pickup basketball in the St. Mary’s Catholic School gym with a group of other men about his age -- and it’s these men who typically comprise most of the roster for the Wannabes, who will take on business leaders from Lodi at 3 p.m. Sunday in the Portage High School gym.

“At 64, I’m still running around,” Foellmi said. “Once a year, they let us come in to provide some entertainment on Sunday.”

The Alumni Tournament isn’t, and never has been, totally about basketball.

Rather, it’s mainly an opportunity for anyone who has ever called Portage home to get together -- on the court, in the bleachers or, often at local eateries -- to have fun and reconnect with schoolmates.

This marks the 23rd annual event, and Malone said a team representing the Class of 1998 is going for its 17th consecutive win.

There actually are two class of ’98 teams – one playing in the Wise Men bracket, the other in the Young Bucks. The team playing with the Young Bucks, against players as much as 20 years younger, is seeking to keep another group from claiming the title for the first time since the early 21st century.

The defending champs open their tournament play at 11 a.m. Saturday against a team from the class of 2011 in the Wayne E. Bartels Middle School gym. The Young Bucks final is scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday in the Portage High School gym.

Malone said he doesn’t believe the record-breaking winter weather will put a damper on participation or attendance.

The National Weather Service is calling for a “mostly sunny” day all day Saturday, with a 30 percent chance of snow after midnight and a 50 percent chance of snow during the day Sunday.

Nothing like the 10-inch snowfall from Tuesday is expected, and Malone said the forecast is nothing like the blizzards that have happened on Alumni Tournament weekends in years past.

“Several years ago, there was a huge blizzard,” he said. “We knew on Sunday that school would be closed on Monday, and probably on Tuesday, too. But the scorekeepers showed up to work, and the players showed up to play.”

Spectators also show up in droves for the games. The admission they pay -- $5 for adults, $4 for students 11 and older and free for children younger than 11 -- is donated to a variety of Portage youth-related activities, including school-based activities and community organizations like Portage Area Community Theater.

In other years, the Saturday-night games have featured music from a band composed of Portage High School alumni. That’s not happening this year, Malone said, because the principal organizer, Nathan Russell, is not available this year.

“He said they’ll do it next year, but they’ll take one year off,” Malone said.

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