Stranded in Chicago after Southwest flight canceled, WI basketball team gets creative to get to FL

Vel Phillips Memorial HS team bused from Madison to Midway airport and, eventually, to Florida

ByAndrew Bandstra, WISC
Wednesday, December 28, 2022
Stranded in Chicago, Wisconsin team gets creative to get to Florida
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Stranded in Chicago after their Southwest Airlines flight was canceled, the Vel Phillips Memorial High School basketball team got creative.

CHICAGO -- With 70% of Southwest Airlines flights canceled Monday, including a flight that was supposed to take a Wisconsin high school's boys basketball team to Florida for a holiday tournament, the Spartans had to get creative.

It ended up being a whirlwind two-day commute to the sunshine state for the team, WISC reported.

Each year, the Vel Phillips Memorial High School's boys basketball team flies to Florida for a tournament against the nation's top talent.

This year, the 24-person group bused from Madison to Midway airport at 5 a.m. on Monday for a 10:30 a.m. flight.

TSA was a breeze, and things were almost going too well.

Then, 20 minutes before takeoff, Southwest started changing those plans.

RELATED: Southwest flights Chicago: Thousands more cancellations announced Wednesday, including at Midway

"We changed gates, walked onto the new gate, and as soon as we got down there, our flight got canceled, not delayed, canceled," said Steve Collins, coach at Vel Phillips Memorial High School.

With 30 hours to the tournament's tipoff, they scurried to the nearest agent, only to find out they were rebooked for a Jan. 4 flight. That wasn't going to work.

"We started thinking bus at that point, bus to get home, or bus to maybe get to Florida. Florida wasn't really on the docket initially," Collins said.

RELATED: Poor planning, bad luck, systemic challenges | Why is Southwest really canceling flights?

They spent 10 hours in the airport looking for buses. With 20 hours to tipoff, they found one that'd take them to Florida. But without stops, it's a 16-hour drive.

"I think we're gonna end up rolling in and playing, shooting around for a few minutes, throwing our jerseys on and playing," Collins said.

As Southwest cancels more and more flights, the team already canceled their flight home.

This time, their bus is staying with them.

"We wanted to get down here for the boys, cause (they) wanted to really play, so that's why we really tried to make it work, you know, we could've found three more games," Collins said.

Memorial's 6-foot-7 power forward Sam Mickelson said squeezing on a bus isn't ideal for 32 hours, but "If I was to do it over again I don't think I'd actually change anything because I think I've gotten closer to a lot of teammates that I wasn't that close with, and I'm really excited to get out of the bus and start playing again."

The team lost Tuesday 65 to 34.