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Baggot: Field House’s Upper Deck memorable for all ages



MADISON, Wis. — During his time as a Wisconsin undergraduate in the 1950s, Gary Rose had his share of unforgettable experiences at the Field House.

He remembers seeing the Badgers win the NCAA boxing championship in 1956, crowning five individual titlists in the process.

He recalls watching the men’s basketball teams coached by Harold “Bud” Foster, a National Basketball Hall of Famer who produced the only national title in program history in 1941 and won the second-most games with 265.

Rose also has memories of attending a Homecoming dance at the corner of Regent and Monroe streets where he met his future wife, Ann, and listened to the musical stylings of iconic trumpeter Louie Armstrong.

That was then.

This is now.

Rose, now 82, was among those standing in line outside Gate B of the Field House, waiting patiently to watch the Wisconsin volleyball team play its first home match of the season on Sept. 1.

He had spent 10 hours in a car the day before, fighting heavy traffic, making his way from his home in Lexington, Kentucky, to Madison.

Rose had a busy Labor Day weekend itinerary planned, but a highlight was reliving his days as a UW student — a dairy husbandry major from Fort Atkinson who graduated in 1959 — when he regularly sat in the upper deck of the Field House.

“It was the catbird seat for everybody,” he said.

So it is once again.

Thanks to structural safety upgrades, Wisconsin volleyball fans can sit in designated areas of the upper deck for the first time since 2007. The response has been remarkable on a couple fronts.

A year after averaging a record 5,980 fans per match, UW sold a record 6,400 season tickets for the current season.

Capacity at the Field House has gone from 6,012 to 7,052. Not surprisingly, a sellout was on hand on a sultry Saturday night to watch Wisconsin top the second-ranked Longhorns, 3-1 (25-21, 25-22, 23-25, 25-12).

Rose, accompanied by his daughter, Sara, and grandson, Spencer, arrived at the Field House more than two hours early in order to secure general admission spots in the upper deck.

“Eighth in line,” he said proudly.

Upon entry an hour before the 7 p.m. start, Rose and his family climbed the 52 steps from courtside to their desired spots in the front row along the railing, situated right between the benches.

“The perspective up there is just unbelievably different than sitting on the sidelines,” he said.

How so?

“You’re looking down and you’re almost hanging over the court,” Rose said. “It’s a great spot to watch the ballgame from.”

Outside of the outcome, the highlight for Rose and his family was the atmosphere.

“The excitement and the electricity of the crowd,” he said. “It was more exciting being in there than it was being in Camp Randall.”

The holiday trip was designed to fully maximize Rose’s school spirit. The family left Lexington in two cars around 5:30 a.m. Madison time on Aug. 31 and arrived around 4 p.m.

“There were three of us with two drivers, so we kind of traded the driving around,” he said.

Rose and his entourage promptly watched the Badgers win their football season opener, a 34-3 night-time crushing of Western Kentucky at Camp Randall Stadium.

“It was kind of yawner because it was not close and it was never going to be close,” he said.

That gave way to the volleyball match vs. perennial powerhouse Texas as part of the HotelRED Invitational.

The excursion continued Sept. 2 to La Crosse, where Spencer is a sophomore at UW-La Crosse, before Rose headed back to Kentucky on Sept. 3.

An insurance executive for 55 years, Rose said he’s been to UW volleyball matches before and tries to make it back for at least one football game a year.

This particular trip to the Field House, built for $453,756 and dedicated in 1930, took Rose back in time.

“It brought back so many memories of sitting up there in the upper deck looking at the boxing pennants,” he said. “I was in school from ’54 to ’59 and went to all the matches in ’56 when they won the NCAA championship.

The powerhouse Badgers won eight national titles in boxing before the sport was discontinued in 1960.

No doubt Rose recalled the sound of bouncing basketballs and a legendary trumpet in the old building, too.

“It was déjà vu for all of that,” he said.

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