When it comes to state championships, no one puts on a show like the WIAA.
Wisconsin's governing body for high school sports - the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association - goes to great lengths to put high school athletes on the biggest possible stage at the end of the fall, winter and spring seasons.
The University of Wisconsin hosts 2-3 day celebrations for tennis, swimming, basketball, golf and wrestling in Madison; Fox Cities Stadium in Appleton hosts baseball; the Resch Center in Green Bay hosts volleyball; and the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse hosts two days of track and field madness.
The WIAA's crown jewels in that bunch are boys basketball, wrestling and track - even if La Crosse lacks the hotels necessary to host the event.
It's a great experience for the student-athletes, coaches, families and even the media, but after making a return to the MHSAA Upper Peninsula Track and Field Championships last weekend in Kingsford, I've asked myself all week, "Is it worth it?"
Every year, the WIAA moves closer and closer in line with the NCAA, which is moving closer and closer every year to professional sports.
Like the NCAA, the WIAA has its "championship partners" in insurance companies, hotels, financial organizations, energy companies - and even the Wisconsin Department of Transportation - who plaster their logos across venues and air their commercials on scoreboards.
The WIAA's exclusive rights deals with its media partners are right in line with the NCAA's deals with ESPN and CBS, creating an encyclopedia of restrictions for local media trying to cover local schools.
Minus a little lawsuit bouncing around the courts right now over exclusive media rights, we've all tolerated the WIAA's continuous creeping away from amateurism toward professionalism because the athletes, coaches, fans and media all like being a part of something bigger.
We like the bright lights, plush accommodations, instant results and supreme organization. Like the WIAA and NCAA, we all sold out.
Saturday's event in Kingsford better resembled a WIAA sectional track meet rather that a state championship - Wisconsin holds regionals, then sectionals rather than districts then regionals.
There were no advertisements plastered everywhere and the event was not as plush or high-tech as a WIAA final.
But I'm OK with that, for the most part. The Kingsford High School-hosted final was a tight-knit gathering focusing solely on the student-athletes that didn't break the bank. It was everything that high school sports should still be.
My only argument with the MHSAA is the continued division between the peninsulas in track, golf, tennis, cross country and swimming.
I want to see Carly Saint-Onge, Garrett Pentecost and the Redmen's 800-meter run foursome take on the rest of the state.
Seven divisions in track and field - four in the LP, three in the UP - is also as insane, especially when the enrollment discrepancy between the largest and smallest school in the U.P.'s Division 1 is 1,102 students (Marquette) to 361 students (Westwood).
That's a high end Div. 2 school facing a low-end Div. 3 school downstate.
It's time to crown a true state champion - not Upper and Lower Peninsula - in every sport, just as long as the MHSAA doesn't turn into the NCAA, or worse, the WIAA.
Let's de-commercialize high school sports.
Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252.