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Here's what the inaugural Martin Luther King Jr. Big Eight Classic will entail Saturday
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Here's what the inaugural Martin Luther King Jr. Big Eight Classic will entail Saturday

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Madison Memorial girls basketball coach Marques Flowers, facing left, will lead the Spartans into the first annual tournament.

Big Eight Conference athletic directors came together in the spring of 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic was just beginning, with an idea.

They wanted to create a platform to help put student-athletes at the forefront of conversations about social justice, Madison Memorial girls basketball head coach Marques Flowers said.

Saturday will mark the culmination of that initial meeting. Big Eight basketball teams will compete against each other in the first annual Martin Luther King Jr. Big Eight Classic. The day-long tournament will be split between two locations, with Beloit Memorial High School hosting the boys and Madison College hosting the girls.

A Timeline of the Life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. January 15, 1929 — Martin Luther King Jr. is born in Atlanta, Georgia. 1948 — At the age of 19, King graduates from Morehouse College with a B.A. in sociology. 1951 — King graduates from Crozer Theological Seminary with a B.Div. degree. June 18, 1953 — King marries Coretta Scott in Heiberger, Alabama. June 6, 1955 — Dr. King receives his Ph.D. degree in systematic theology at Boston University. December 1, 1955 — Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat on a Montgomery city bus, sparking the Montgomery bus boycott. Dr. King leads the 385 day boycott — enduring arrest and a house bombing — resulting in the end of racial segregation on all Montgomery public buses. September 20, 1958 — Dr. King is stabbed in the chest by a mentally ill woman in a Harlem department store during a book signing. April, 1963 — Dr. King is arrested for the 13th time during the Birmingham campaign. He composes his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail. August 28, 1963 — Dr. King delivers his iconic "I Have a Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln memorial during the March on Washington. The speech helped the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. October 14, 1964 — Dr. King is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. March 25, 1965 — During the march from Selma to Montgomery, King declared, "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." April 15, 1967 — King speaks against the Vietnam War, stating, "I would like to see the fervor of the civil-rights movement imbued into the peace movement." April 4, 1968 — Dr. King is assassinated by James Earl Ray at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN.

“We want to give them a great experience that they can remember and cherish from their time as a competitive athlete in high school,” said Bill Kegler, Madison College’s Sports Complex and enterprise manager. “Also, an educational piece to understand the importance of Martin Luther King Jr. and what he stood for, continues to stand for and what he did for the people he was leading in his era.”

“They formatted the tournament to have a component where different teams would come together and talk about different issues,” Flowers said, “just to begin to engage all the kids in our schools, and the community, and provide them a space to talk about their differences, and how they probably also have lots of commonalities … to be able to break down some of those barriers and some of the challenges we’re experiencing in communities all over the country, but especially here in Dane County as well.”

Second-year Verona boys basketball coach Reggie Patterson, who grew up in Mississippi, said he always cherishes the opportunity to compete in MLK weekend tournaments, something he did a lot of as a kid.

“I’m of African American culture, but you don’t have to be African American to celebrate MLK day,” Patterson said. “It’s definitely something that I take pride in, and I’m going to live in the moment and enjoy it.”

He said the event will also give some of the athletes a taste of what it’s like to play in a college environment.

“And for these kids who have goals and dreams to play at the next level, it gives them the opportunity after the game to look up and say, ‘OK, this is what I need to work on to be a better basketball player moving forward,’” Patterson said.

“It’s always a great experience for young people to see the next level, and see what it looks like,” Flowers said, “especially for young female athletes because they oftentimes aren’t exposed to direct opportunities to see up close what college women’s athletics looks like.

“It may open someone’s eyes and change some of their perspectives on what their prospects are as student-athletes beyond high school.”

At Madison College, the girls teams will get to watch the WolfPack women host Waubonsee at 1 p.m., and the men will host the Madison Mavericks at 3. Both games are free to the teams.

There will also be halftime performances. Competitive dance group Styles Defined Crew will play in the middle of the women’s game, and Black Star Drum Line plus the Dynamic Badgerettes, a youth dance team, during the men’s game.

Kegler said “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” known as the Black national anthem, as well as the national anthem will be performed before both college games by local singer and actor Theola Carter. Community center groups will provide entertainment and education on what Madison College offers.

He called the decision to host the tournament a “no-brainer.”

“It’s really amazing how many people in the Dane County area have never been to our campus,” Kegler said. “It gives them the ability to understand that this is a resource that’s available to them, it’s affordable and it is a secondary education that can lead them into something else in their future, whatever they choose that to be.”

The schedule

The girls schedule, which will be livestreamed on MadisonCollege.tv, is:

  • Beloit Memorial vs. Janesville Craig, postponed until Jan. 31
  • Madison East vs. Janesville Parker, 10:45 a.m.
  • Sun Prairie vs. Madison West, 5 p.m.
  • Verona vs. Madison Memorial, 6:45 p.m.
  • Madison La Follette vs. Middleton at 8:30 p.m.

The boys slate is:

  • Verona vs. Madison Memorial, 11 a.m.
  • Madison West vs. Sun Prairie, 1 p.m.
  • Beloit Memorial vs. Janesville Craig, postponed until Jan. 25
  • Madison La Follette vs. Middleton, 5 p.m.
  • Janesville Parker vs. Madison East, 7 p.m.
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