Neenah Makes History with 27th State Appearance

Amanda Argall, Student of Journalism

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The Neenah Boys’ Basketball team capped off its season on March 15 with a trip to the WIAA state tournament held at the Kohl Center in Madison.

“In the beginning of the year we were counted out and projected to finish near the bottom of the conference. Then throughout the season as we won games and grew confidence we knew we could make a run,” Logan Morrow, starting senior forward for the Rockets, said.

Punching their ticket to state was no easy task for the Rockets as they had to overcome an abundance of obstacles on the journey. Obstacles such as, earning a regional title — something they have not been able to do since 2015 – defeating top-seeded Kimberly and rallying back from a 16-point halftime deficit against Hudson in the sectional final.

While Neenah was not necessarily anticipated to make it to the state tournament this year, seeing them in Madison was far from unprecedented. With this year’s appearance, Neenah is now tied for the most in state history — 27.

“I remember going to the state tournament as a kid in the ‘70s and seeing Neenah there every year,” Chas Pronschinske, who served as a head and assistant coach for the Rockets and lead his team to state in 2010, said.

Neenah’s rich basketball history dates all the way back to the 1920s when they were able to reach the state tournament in ‘20, ‘25 and then consecutively from 1928-’32, as listed on wiaawi.org.

The Rockets were then able to make six more appearances at the state tournament before having the team taken over by Coach Ron Einerson. Einerson immediately contributed even more density to Neenah’s basketball history by bringing them to five state tournaments in his first six seasons.

Unfortunately, the Rockets left all five of those tournaments without a state championship.

According to madison.com, “Twice Neenah lost because opponents sank shots (Beloit in 1969, Appleton West in 1970) in the final seconds of the championship game. Twice it lost big leads (Janesville Parker in 1971, Milwaukee Hamilton in 1972) against huge underdogs. When Neenah lost by two points to Green Bay Southwest in the 1974 quarterfinals, it looked like the Rockets would never win a title.”

By the time Neenah made it back to state in ‘75, they were the sentimental favorite to win a championship (Madison 1). Luckily, this time they were able to deliver.

A newspaper article published by the Post-Crescent after the Rockets won said, “There were tears — lots of tears — in the eyes of coach Ron Einerson and some of his fans and players Saturday night — but they were tears of happiness and joy.”

Following the 1975 championship, the Rockets made three more consecutive state appearances and even earned themselves another gold ball in 1978.

It was not for another 10 years that Neenah was able to return to the tournament in 1988, and then again in 2000, 2010, 2014 and, of course, 2019.    

It was unreal and something I will never forget. It means a lot to play my last game in a Neenah uniform on the Kohl Center floor,” Morrow said.

The 2018-’19 Rockets may not have walked out with another gold ball but they earned the  opportunity to represent Neenah at the WIAA State Tournament and contribute to the program’s legacy, leaving them with a great deal of pride.

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