RHINELANDER - You don't have to be in college to be part of March Madness. Young teams from Northland Pines and Rhinelander received invites to their version of the Big Dance.
"Our team has done very well, considering we weren't as good last year," Alex Fortier of Rhinelander's 5th Grade Team explains. "We've changed a lot and now we're going to state."
"All the kids are looking up to the March Madness people, the college players," Northland Pines 6th grade player Ryan Peterson adds. "But now we get to have our own tournament that's this big too."
More than 700 boys and girls teams from 5th through 8th grade will play in the Wisconsin State Invitational Championship Tournament.
"The jitters of the bigger gymnasiums, the big crowds- it's exciting," Northland Pines head coach Jim Swenson said.
This will be the Eagles second time at state. Several of them got a taste of the high level of competition last year.
"I was kind of happy, kind of nervous because last year we didn't do very good," Northland Pines player Joe Misina admits.
The boys had a scrimmage Monday night. Both squads saw it as an chance to improve.
It's becoming more and more important for young athletes to have opportunities like this. They need experiences on a big stage to prepare them for high school competition.
"The only way we're going to prepare these kids is to start them out now," Rhinelander head coach Todd McEldowney explains. "And not to play against poor competition but to play against the best kids we can. Because that's how they're going to improve."
Other teams taking part include Antigo and Merrill's 5th grade girls teams, Medford and D.C. Everest in 8th grade girls, and Rhinelander and Wittenberg-Birnamwood's 8th grade boys teams.
It runs March 29th through April 13th throughout the state. Appleton, Stevens Point, and Wausau are among several cities hosting the tournament.
- We take our Long Summer Weekend to Tomahawk to bring you the following stories:
We talk to the Tomahawk School District superintendent and a parent about how the district is getting input from the community regarding an application for a state grant for security upgrades in their school.
We'll show you how the Tomahawk Clay Busters youth team is teaching kids trap shooting and gun safety at an early age.
And the Tomahawk police chief is staying loyal to the Pittsburgh Steelers even here in Packer country. We'll show you how the avid Steelers fan exhibits his support for his team and talk to him about how it's being received by the community and his wife...who is a Cowboys fan.
We'll bring you the details on these stories and more on our Long Summer Weekend tonight on Newswatch 12 - news from where you live,
MADISON - The Wisconsin Elections Commission has agreed to lift overseas ballot restrictions to avoid a legal battle.
The U.S. Department of Justice warned earlier this month that it's preparing to sue because Wisconsin law doesn't let temporary overseas voters to obtain ballots electronically or to submit downloadable back-up ballots in case they don't have time to return an official ballot.
Federal law allows all overseas voters to obtain ballots electronically and submit back-up ballots. Assembly Republicans passed a bill that would have aligned Wisconsin's statutes with the federal law but the measure died in April after Senate Republicans added language limiting special legislative elections.
MADISON - Wisconsin Elections Commission staff plan to hire a half-dozen new employees and upgrade software to bolster election security.
The commission received a $7 million federal grant in March to upgrade security after Russian actors tried to access a state Department of Workforce Development system before the 2016 election.
Staff told the commission Thursday that the Department of Administration has approved hiring six new four-year security positions, including an information technology project manager, an elections security trainer and a voting systems specialist.
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