Fourteen Wisconsin high school football teams will take the field Thursday and Friday at Camp Randall Stadium, all playing to bring home a state championship and a gold football.
This year marks the 41st anniversary of the championship being held at the historic home of the Wisconsin Badgers, with the games only missing one year in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The first Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) football playoffs were held in 1976, with teams being split into four divisions based on enrollment. WIAA football has since expanded into seven divisions.
This year’s championship will feature four teams with a rich history of playoff success. In Division 6, Stratford will face off against Darlington.
Stratford is tied with Kimberly for the second-most state titles in WIAA football history with eight, while Darlington ties with Lancaster and St. Mary’s Springs for second-most state appearances at 13. Stratford is the reigning Division 6 champion, while Darlington is fighting for their first gold football since 1995.
In Division 2, Waunakee will take on Badger High School. Waunakee is tied with Lancaster and fellow state championship qualifier, Edgar, for third-most titles in state history at seven and places third for most state appearances at 12.
The Division 7 matchup is between Black Hawk/Warren (IL) and Edgar. As previously mentioned, Edgar is tied with Waunakee and Lancaster for third-most state titles, but Edgar leads the state in championship appearances with 14.
While playing in a state championship is a huge goal for plenty of high school athletes, many also take pride in getting the chance to play at the historic Camp Randall stadium itself.
“The opportunity to play at Camp Randall means everything to me,” said Will Murray, Darlington senior tight end and defensive back. “You grow up dreaming about one day being able to play in this game with your buddies. This is what early mornings and late nights are for. This is why you give everything you have.”
Camp Randall, as well as the land the stadium is built on, has a rich history dating back to the Civil War era. The land was originally owned by the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society and hosted the Wisconsin State Fair.
The land was then donated to the wartime cause when Gov. Alexander Randall was in search of somewhere to train Union soldiers. Over 70,000 soldiers were trained at Camp Randall during the Civil War, according to the Wisconsin Badgers website.
In 1893, the UW Board of Regents purchased the land and granted it to the University of Wisconsin. It was used briefly as an athletic training facility for the track and field team and hosted several other sporting events. The facility had only wooden bleachers at the time, and after three sections collapsed at a 1915 football game, the state funded the building of a concrete stadium that still stands today.
The current stadium has been home to the Wisconsin Badgers football team since 1917, and many incredible badger football alumni have once called the stadium home. JJ, TJ and Derek Watt, Russell Wilson, Jonathan Taylor and Melvin Gordon are all widely known, successful NFL players who got their post-high school start at Camp Randall.
For many high schoolers, Camp Randall symbolizes success, hard work and dedication, and being able to play in a stadium where so many great athletes once did is a very inspiring and meaningful opportunity.
A full preview of the Wisconsin high school football state championship can be found on the official WIAA website.