Catholic boys and girls in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee dream of playing in the Padre Serra Tournament from the time they are as young as fifth grade (maybe even earlier in some cases). For 56 teams of eighth-graders those dreams will become reality starting Thursday, March 1, at Mt. Mary University.

The 60th edition of the tournament will start at 5:30 p.m. March 1 when St. Alphonsus of Greendale takes on Waukesha Catholic. By the time the boys championship game is played at 3:30 p.m. Sunday, March 18, the tournament will have hosted 63 or 64 games.

“We are not aware of any tournament that has gone on this long that has stayed true to its roots (eighth-grade basketball) like we have,” said tournament director Tony Gahn.

New this year will be a double-elimination format in the 20-team girls tournament once the field is cut to eight teams. The first championship game will be played at noon March 18. The “if necessary” game would be played at 2:30 p.m.

“That’s a little something different we haven’t done in the past,” said Bob Roloff, a member of the tournament committee.

A tournament that once saw college basketball coaching legend Rick Majerus coach the team from St. Sebastian’s and saw Mike Kelley, a member of Wisconsin’s 2000 Final Four team, play in it is ready to make some new memories.

“These kids start talking about this in the fifth or sixth grade,” Grahn said. “It’s really amazing to me there is that much of a focus on it. It’s really a blessing for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.”

Grahn, along with Roloff and Greg Sarandos, scouts teams throughout the season, looking for squads that should be among the tournament field. In late January and early February, the three of them start notifying teams they have been invited to the tournament.

The tournament started in 1959 at Gesu Gym and has also been contested at Marian Hall at Don Bosco High School and the Archbishop Cousins Center until earlier this decade.

“There is really nothing like it, even in the United States,” Roloff said. “It’s electric as soon as you walk in. Kids play as hard as they can. It’s something they look forward to.”

Grahn’s staff includes a crew of about 70 volunteers.

Proceeds from the tournament go to support vocations. Admission is $5 for adults and $4 for students and seniors, and attendees are given a hand stamp, so they come leave and come back between games if they choose. The entrance to gym at Mt. Mary University is on North 92nd Street south of West Burleigh Avenue.