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10+ local difference makers

(page 1 of 5)

From the pages of In Business magazine

Last year, as part of our Most Influential people of Greater Madison program, we began to emphasize people exerting influence under the radar. While there are still some “big shots” as part of our 2018 presentation, we continue to seek out people who don’t always operate in the limelight.

To demonstrate the diversity of people who can make a difference in a community (and beyond), we recognize a controversial governor, several nonprofit impresarios, an education visionary, a strategically focused foundation president, a flooring retailer who has grown to admire his adopted home, the creative director of a business improvement district, a local attorney with a strong passion for justice, and a couple of real smooth operators (of Breese Stevens Field).

As you read their profiles, we know you’ll be impressed by their accomplishments and their commitment to making Madison a better place to live. Even though popularity in Dane County is not a prerequisite for selection — Exhibit A: Gov. Scott Walker — that’s what the Most Influential feature is really about.

Vern Stenman and Conor Caloia

Soccer under the Big Top

For generations, we’ve been told that soccer would take its rightful place as a popular passion of American sports fanatics. For many, that assertion has been the sports equivalent of “the metric system is coming.”

Slowly but surely, however, soccer is gaining a foothold, and two people who are putting down stakes are Vern Stenman and Conor Caloia of Big Top Events. With Big Top Events, they operate Breese Stevens Field in Madison, as well as the Madison Mallards baseball team, and recently they announced the forthcoming arrival of a new tenant: a professional soccer team for Madison.

Now in their third year of operating Breese Stevens Field, they have viewed soccer as a key component of the facility’s best use from the very beginning. “Soccer, especially in the U.S., is in a rapidly growing, transformative phase,” Caloia states. “There are a lot of opportunities for the right fit.”

With forthcoming improvements to the facility, especially food service and standing-space-style bleachers for some fans, they envision a premier facility for outdoor soccer in Wisconsin, one that attracts people on its own merits. Fans should not expect quite the same environment as the Duck Pond, where Mallards Nation frolics in both baseball and non-baseball fun. “We’re going to create our own vision for what soccer in Madison will be like,” Stenman says.

In terms of concerts, legendary acts such as Steely Dan and REO Speedwagon already have performed at Breese Stevens this year. For both Caloia and Stenman, who appreciate the versatility of the venue, there is a special sense of satisfaction connected with appealing to nostalgia. “We seem to have done especially well,” notes Caloia, “with the classic rock acts.”

Becca and Matt Hamilton

Stache-ing goodwill

Photo: Rich Harmer, USA Curling

They were America’s first mixed-doubles curling team to compete in the Olympics. They are also brother and sister and McFarland natives who not many people knew just a few months ago. With their participation in the 2018 Winter Olympics, and the force of their personalities, Matt and Becca Hamilton helped raise the profile of an entire sport.

Since their Olympic success — the mustachioed Matt was part of the gold-medal-winning U.S. men’s team — they’ve been doing the media rounds, appearing on television with the likes of Jimmy Fallon, landing product endorsements, and in Matt’s case, tweeting with celebrities and professional athletes. (Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who is known to sport a mustache during training camp, was quite impressed with Matt’s cookie duster.)

As Matt explained, there is usually a spike in the interest of curling after the Olympics, but this time interest exploded because of social media. Curling clubs nationwide contacted them to offer their thanks for a surge in participation, school children chose curlers on “Dress like your favorite athlete at school day,” and one schoolgirl even depicted Becca in an art project. Her father sent an image of the art to Becca and the girl received a jersey from her favorite Olympian — her tears of joy captured on video and displayed on social media.

“That was the coolest thing for me,” Becca acknowledged.

Even people in the southern U.S. who had never seen a curling competition began to express an interest and remark about how much fun the sport seemed on television. “This time,” Matt notes, “the reaction was just incredible.”

Look for the Hamiltons to continue serving as ambassadors for the sport as they prepare for the 2022 Winter Olympics.


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