Part of the fun of college is seeing how you measure up against your peers, both in the classroom and out of it. Everyone wants to feel like a winner, and we asked you, our readers, to tell us how you fed your competitive spirit while on campus. Your responses demonstrate just how fierce Badgers can be — and how sometimes, the most important victories are the ones that transcend the playing field.
Competition? Ah, yes. I remember fierce games of Hearts played into the wee hours. Gathered on the floor of our room, stylishly clad in flannel jams and ratty slippers, trying to stick our “Lucky Bucky” perpetual winner with the Ace of Spades … the dreaded Black Queen. Hooting! Gnashing of teeth! Laughter! Chagrin.
—Lynn Jindra Gadzinski ’63
It was a beautiful summer evening during the middle of Hoofer’s Sailing Club social week. Halfway through the individual tech race, the wind stopped. Completely. I was new to sailing, but perhaps that helped me [to be able to] quickly switch to manually propelling my boat by pumping the sail. My first-place finish is proof that determination can be more valuable than skill.
—Brian Roeker ’00
Eau Claire, Wisconsin
I fed my competitive spirit by banding together with a group of rebel conservatives on the progressive campus to attempt to take control of the student government. Our slate ran as the Badger Party, and many of us won seats on the council. We were able to barely take control of several committees in the student government and ended up reducing the amount of student fees that year by nearly $300,000. We also instituted the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance at every student council meeting and gathered approximately 4,000 signatures for a ballot measure to allow students to opt out of student fees. The student court’s Nichols v. Reyes decision had a permanent effect on the way student-service financing decisions are made.
—Ryan Nichols ’01, MS’03
In the fall of 1973, our intramural hockey team, the Bluelight Special, needed some new members for the upcoming season. We recruited Linda ’72, JD’75 and Robin ’76 Leaf, [as well as] Laurette ’75 and Barbara ’73 Bates. They, of course, were women, and women were not allowed to play hockey. We registered them with just first initials. We won our first game against a team of football players. They appealed to the athletics department, and we were denied our victory. Linda Leaf and I were in law school, and we went to see [then-Chancellor Hugh Edwin Young MA’42, PhD’50]. He agreed under Title IX that Bluelight Special should be awarded the victory. We thought it showed “forward thinking.”
—R. Alan Bates ’72, JD’75
I joined Delta Upsilon Fraternity in 1988. One of the main things our fraternity stressed was winning Badger Bowl, a sports competition held over the entire year among all of the fraternities on campus. Some of the events [included] soccer, softball, basketball, and flutterball, [a game similar to] flag football, but you could keep throwing forward. Sigma Chi had won for many years in a row, and we had never won. By my senior year, we finally were worthy of winning the championship. It came down to the last day of competition on May 4, 1991, when our house won the golf event. This gave us enough total points to win Badger Bowl and claim the traveling trophy.
—Wick McLaren ’91
During the mid-1980s, the best thrill of competition for many cadets in the Army ROTC program was the annual Combat Soccer Game, played in the snow just north of Camp Randall Stadium, now a UW practice field. Picture a mass of sixty cadets, thirty or so to a side (but who was really counting?); one soccer ball; and two lines in the snow at either end. That was it! There were no “out of bounds” lines. As for rules: well, there really weren’t any that I can recall. I actually remember the score one snowy February day was four to three. Looking back at the competition, a lot of the activity took place away from the ball, so it was a great way for our instructor, Captain Stu Coker, to instill a sense of 100 percent situational awareness in the environment that would serve us all well in our army careers!
—Charles Olsen ’87, MBA’00
Even [though] graduate school at the UW was competitive enough, several of my friends and I would go to the ancient gym that was next to the [Memorial] Union to play intramural basketball. We all thought we were pretty good athletes, because we rarely lost. One evening after a game, we were taking showers, and some tall, sweaty, very muscular guys showed up. Feeling like a weakling, I asked one of them who they were. It was the UW rowing team.
—Robert Howe MS’62, PhD’65
Simi Valley, California
Intramural sports were a big deal when I was on campus, and I really wanted a “Wisconsin Intramural Champion” T-shirt. (I had long ago accepted that I would not be scoring points at Camp Randall or the Field House.) I was not much of an athlete if the sport required any sort of hand-eye coordination or special skills. However, I spent many hours running along Lake Mendota and through the Arboretum, and this helped me to capture intramural cross-country championships my junior and senior years. I don’t think these shirts got me as many dates as a Wisconsin letterman jacket would have, but they probably meant as much to me.
—Tim Ernst ’80
Walnut Creek, California
From 1988 to 1990, I competed for the UW ballroom dance recreational sports team, one of two competition ballroom dance teams at the UW at that time. (That’s me on the right.) This was way before Dancing with the Stars, and we were one of only a small group of collegiate teams in the country!
—Alice Lin Ferris ’91, MBA’94
I was a three-sport athlete in high school and was considered a competitive guy but didn’t understand the “desire to win” until I played on the Hodags, the club ultimate Frisbee team at UW-Madison. The Hodags reached the national final game three times while I was on the team, clinching a championship once. After I graduated, I had the team logo tattooed on my body. There are numerous others that have done the same. My blood pressure still runs on the high side in the springtime, when the team begins its playoff run at the end of April.
—Brian Frederick ’05, MS’06, MD’10
In the fall of 2010, during my senior year, I felt the thrill of competition as I crossed the finish line of Ironman Wisconsin. It was quite rewarding to know that I had been exercising for longer than most people had been awake that day.
—Yohannes Bennehoff ’11
Chula Vista, California
Although I regularly competed in intramural sports and even did a one-season stint on the crew, my most memorable competition was the annual Pizza Pit Box Top Contest in the 1980–81 school year. Pizza Pit used to hold a contest with several competitive groups — e.g., dorm floors, fraternities, private residents, etc. — to see who could collect the most box tops. The most box tops collected per capita, per group won a pizza-and-beer party. We had an upstart fraternity, small in comparison to most, but we poured everything we had into the competition. Dumpster diving and raiding trash cans on dorm floors and in other residential places that we could sneak into were among our primary activities during the competition period. I don’t recall the final number, but needless to say, we won the fraternity group competition by a landslide. The “taste of victory” was more pizza than we could eat and plenty of beer to wash it down!
—Mark Prahl ’81
I’ll never forget the thrill of competition in UW Humorology at the Wisconsin Union Theater during my year (2006–2007) as executive director.
—Johnny Tackett ’07, MD’11
New Haven, Connecticut