Northwoods Spotlight - State-bound youth basketball teams - Mar 19Submitted: 03/19/2014
Story By Joe Dufek

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.

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PARK FALLS - Many people in the Northwoods go to church on Sunday mornings, and for some of them it may be begrudgingly.

But there are plenty of people, often elderly or sick, who want to go to church but have a hard time doing so.

Peace Lutheran Church in Park Falls wanted to change that. Since May, they've been undergoing some construction. On Sunday, the church had a dedication ceremony for a special new addition—an elevator.

Now people like 100-year-old Ruth Olson can worship with greater ease.

Before the elevator, Olson said she would get to church by literally pulling herself up the stairs using the railing.

Olson's story is like many. As the older population grows, church buildings don't evolve with them. The buildings are often old and sometimes lack accomodating features for the elderly or disabled, and takes money to update the buildings.

"We have churches where the people are getting older and it's very hard for people to get around," said Rev. Dwayne Lueck, the district president for the North Wisconsin District Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod.

Some parishoners couldn't do what Ruth used to do, and so they would have to worship at a service held across the street in the day care center, instead of in the beautiful church.

"Now all the services can be over here," said Rev. Dale Heinlein, the pastor of Peace Lutheran.

The congregation at Peace Lutheran believed in an elevator, so they paid for it.

"We been talking and planning this for...a long time," said Dick Ross, president of the congregation. "Pretty hard for some of the people, and I think you saw them, pretty hard for some of the people to worship here, so it was time."

"You can see it in their eyes more than anything when they know they have access and when they come up here and just enter the building and no steps, it's a great thing," said Buzz Peters, a parishoner who helped design the new elevator and space.

"We can finally have access for everybody to get into the worship facility, free access, that's what this is all about," Heinlein said. 

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MADISON - Two Republican legislators have created a bill that would shift federal road dollars from local projects to major state projects. Opponents say the bill is a backdoor attempt to make sure federal prevailing wage requirements don't apply to local projects.

The bill sponsored by Sen. Duey Stroebel and Rep. Rob Brooks would transfer $47 million in federal funding from local projects to state projects and move $47 million in state dollars from state projects to local ones.

Stroebel says the swap would save money by removing local projects from burdensome federal regulations.

He has been a vocal advocate for doing away with prevailing wage statutes, which require minimum salaries for workers on government-funded construction projects.

Spokeswomen for GOP legislative leaders didn't respond to inquiries about the bill's chances.

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MINOCQUA - It's that time of year again.

Minocqua kicked off its' Christmas celebrations Saturday.

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WOODRUFF - If they haven't already, people will start bringing out the Christmas decorations.

And it wouldn't be complete without that perfect Christmas tree.

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MADISON - New state data show that nearly 15,000 Wisconsin residents lost access to food stamps in the first three months of a new law that requires some recipients to seek jobs.

The Wisconsin State Journal reports (http://bit.ly/1Ple8j5 ) it obtained the data from the Department of Human Services under the state open records law.

The rule took effect in April for participants in the state's food stamp program, FoodShare. It requires able-bodied adults without children living at home to work at least 80 hours a month or look for work to stay in the program.

The DHS data show about 25 percent of the 60,000 recipients eligible to work were dropped from the program between July and September. But about 4,500 found work through a new job training program for FoodShare recipients.

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APPLETON - The U.S. Marshals Service says a convicted sex offender who was wanted for violating the terms of his release has been arrested in Appleton.

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WAUSAU - This has been Wisconsin's deadliest gun-deer season in the past five years, with two shooting fatalities already recorded.

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