The sport of lacrosse in Wisconsin has a unique history which began on the other side of the country at the University of Arizona. Bruce Tully, the man accredited with starting not only the University of Wisconsin Men's Lacrosse Team, but being the spark for sport throughout the Badger State, spent his college years as a Wildcat and a part of the first varsity lacrosse team in the NCAA, and the nation¹s second collegiate level team behind the Air Force Academy. Upon completion of his undergraduate degree at Arizona, Bruce decided to pursue a Masters of Science degree in landscape architecture and environmental science from the University of Wisconsin. After graduation in the spring of 1974 Bruce realized how much he missed the game of lacrosse and saw an opportunity to introduce the sport he loves to a new generation of athletes. "I would create the opportunity to play lacrosse in Wisconsin."
Bruce utilized his strong ties to prominent members of the University system in order to inquire about funding for the team. Bruce held a meeting with the director of the UW Alumni Association Arley Mucks and Athletic Director Elroy Hersh to sell his vision of Wisconsin Men¹s Lacrosse. Both men were highly supportive of the idea, and Mr. Mucks supplied Bruce with the necessary information to raise the funding he needed; a list of strong athletic backers in the greater Madison community and the businesses they were associated with.
Area businesses began to be searched for community members who saw a future in the sport of lacrosse and were willing to help bring Bruce's dream into reality. He received the financial backing to begin to fully equip a team of 35 players from various businessmen including the original owner of the Howard Johnson Hotel (now the Double Tree Inn); the Goodman brothers, owners of Goodman¹s Jewelers on State Street; along with numerous other businesses, which included local banks and real estate firms.
Once the foundation for his team had been set, the next step Bruce took was to name the first team of Wisconsin lacrosse players. According to the University of Wisconsin Club Sports Handbook, "membership is open to currently enrolled University of Wisconsin-Madison undergraduate and graduate students. Students from other colleges and/or universities and high schools are not permitted to participate in any club activities." Bruce believed in using the game of lacrosse to reach out to the community, and wanted to include everyone who expressed a desire to play. Due to the University¹s regulations, Bruce could not realize his vision and hold the official Wisconsin Badgers team name. These regulations were bypassed by forming the Madison Gladiators, using the same red/white color scheme as the Wisconsin Badgers, but as a non-university club team he gave anyone in Madison the opportunity to play.
The next task was to find some competition to play against, and Bruce began to construct a schedule of games with teams nationwide. Most of the schools which committed to play had only club teams, but the schedule did include Midwest Division-I powerhouses Ohio State University and the University of Notre Dame. Other post-graduate men¹s clubs were also starting in the Midwest at this time, including the Chicago Lacrosse Club, whose team was a collection of former All-American collegiate athletes. They also agreed to be a part of the Gladiators first season.
Bruce began to spread the word about lacrosse and looked to recruit players by hanging signs throughout campus and along State Street advertising the schedule of games, and calling for players to show up at the organizational meeting. When the first meeting for the soon-to-be Madison Gladiators arrived, Bruce simply set-up and "sat to see who would show up." To his surprise the meeting hall was filled with University students from the graduate and undergraduate levels, a number of local businessmen who had once played at the colligate level and were anxious to get a stick back in their hands, as well as a number of high school students seeking to learn more about the sport of lacrosse. Bruce accepted anyone who wanted to learn the game, and this diverse group of individuals eventually formed the Madison Lacrosse Club (MLC).
The makeshift team of men and boys of all ages and all skill levels practiced in high school gyms and the parking lot of the Dane County Coliseum through the winter months. Bruce even organized a Christmas banquet for his players, held at the Edgewater Hotel where the head coach for the University of Notre Dame was the guest speaker. Team unity was beginning to form amongst the players both on and off the field, and was solidified by the purchase of official team jackets to start the Madison Gladiators first season.
In order to generate interest in the community Bruce knew the public must first be exposed to the game and understand how it is played. By contacting local sports broadcaster Gary Bender, who is now regularly seen on ESPN, Bruce utilized the media and created "This Is Lacrosse," broadcasted weekly during Sunday evenings on cable television. As host of the program Bruce used the first half of his segment to educate the viewer on the game of lacrosse. Rules of the game, instructional videos, and the history of the game itself were all included. The second part of Bruce¹s show was used to broadcast games, including the NCAA championships played that year. Once the season got under way, "This Is Lacrosse" became the "Barry Alvarez Show" for lacrosse fans. Post-game interviews from both players and coaches were shown, along with highlights from the past week's game and the coach's analysis. This show ran from September through June during the Gladiators first lacrosse season.
Home field for the Madison Gladiators was also home to the Madison Mustangs, a local semi-pro football team at the time. Tickets were sold to every Gladiator home game, and the University as well as the local community began to embrace the sport of lacrosse. The pinnacle point in that first season came when the Gladiators were granted to opportunity to play inside Camp Randall Stadium. Immediately following the annual red/white scrimmage of the Wisconsin football team, the Gladiators took the field in front of an estimated 25-30 thousand fans that knew little about the game of lacrosse, but stayed to see Wisconsin play rival Ohio State. This lacrosse game held the unofficial record for most fans in attendance during a single game for many years, beat out by the official record of 43,898 set during the 2004 NCAA Championship in Baltimore, MD (laxpower.com).
After just one season as the Madison Gladiator¹s head coach, Bruce Tully made the decision to leave Wisconsin. The Gladiator's first season came immediately following the completion of his Masters degree from the University of Wisconsin, and Bruce was offered a teaching position at the University of Miami, where he went on to coach the Hurricanes Men's Lacrosse team. Fortunately for everyone who did play or currently does play for the Madison Gladiators (now officially the Wisconsin Badgers) a young, eager-minded graduate student named Hal Rosenberg took up the reins and transformed the sport of lacrosse both at University of Wisconsin and throughout the rest of the state, to a level only imaginable by Bruce when first starting the team. Bruce recognizes that he gave life to the idea of lacrosse in Wisconsin, but is quick to point out that, "Hal deserves all the credit for sustaining the program throughout the community for the last 30 years."
Currently Bruce Tully is the President of TRC Bellatrex in Arizona, where he is still involved with the game as coach of both the local high school junior varsity and varsity teams. Bruce also assists the community college with the men's lacrosse team they started in the fall of 2005. Bruce believes that lacrosse players are a unique breed of athlete who "can never take lacrosse out of their blood." His goal is lifelong advancement of the game and finds serenity in helping younger generations of players learn the sport that helped shape the person he is today. "You will find yourself involved in lacrosse one way or another for the rest of your life."
Beginning with fall 2004 , the team went 29-1 ,winning the Mad City Tournament , the NIU Tournament , the St Cloud Tournament , as well as the Great Lakes tournament ,We also came in 2nd in the MacDaddy Tournament , losing to Mich. State 4-2 ,our only loss. The team is 15 -0 in 2005, our only undefeated season!
We had such a large turnout in 2004-'05 we ran a second "Badger" squad who compiled a 8-3 record as well . In total the teams played 41 games and won 38 of them.
Enthusiasim has been as Lacrosse continues to grow in Wisconsin on the Collegiate and high school level. We have added a third GLLL team . Our top Red team has won several more GLLL titles as well as victiories against highly ranked Cornell and Ohio State and #1 ranked Navy . The team has continued it's famous trips to Mardi Gras and has expanded to play Tournaments in Italy , Spain , and Amsterdam .
In 2010 a fourth separate team that plays in the MCLA league was begun. In 2014 the MCLA team disbanded and rejoined the GLLL team.