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2:30 p.m. - February 08, 2006
Stupid Hoosiers - They Screwed Up The Best Thing Ever.
As you know I live in Indiana.

And while it is a nice state, with great people, there are not a lot of things that it’s known for.

Sure, it’s known for its farmland – we grow a lot of corn and soybeans here. We also raise pigs (mostly in those infernal, foul smelling huge industrial pig farms) and have our share of cows and sheep.

Sure, it’s known for racing, even as Tony George continues to try to screw up the Indianapolis 500 (another essay, for sure, in May, will be about this).

Indiana is also known for its asinine approach to Daylight Saving Time. Finally, they passed DST, but then the powers that be totally bungled the implementation. Central time makes the most sense for this state, but they didn’t make a decision so the Feds stepped in and had each county choose which time to be on, and then assigned the counties accordingly to how the Feds thought it would best served. Now, some counties that are changing to central want to stay with Indianapolis, instead of moving with Chicago.

Yeesh, I could have just made a dang decision. “We’re Indiana, and we’re on central time. QED.”

Indiana is also known for being the first state in every national election to be projected in the Republican column for president. Now, while that means that my usual votes for president are rather much useless (though I haven’t missed an election since 1984 and will never miss one), it still is a bellwether, somehow. When it took almost two hours for the networks to call Indiana for Bob Dole in 1996, we knew he was in big big trouble.

(And contrary to what some think – Indiana does elect Democrats – the statehouse tips back and forth all the time, and if Mitch Daniels keeps infuriating the GOP ultra-arch conservative keep Indiana in the 1930’s zealots (which I applaud him for) there may be a Democratic governor again – but I digress).

But of course, you say Indiana to many people, and there is one thing they think of.

Basketball.

Indiana University has won five national titles, and even though the program has had its ups and downs lately, it’s still a national force to be reckoned with (and would have definitely been better this year had they not had a key injury) and people still talk about the Hoosiers all of the time.

The Indiana Pacers draw very well, and the community supports them even after the dunderhead Ron Artest basically trashed two seasons with his antics. Some of my fondest memories as a child were following the Pacers to their ABA titles, and playing in my driveway with my red, white and blue ABA ball.

Thanks to the movie “Hoosiers”, Indiana is best known for high school basketball. And up until 1996, it was a single class tournament. One tournament, one champion, and everyone was invited.

Of course small schools had to play big schools. But that’s what made the tournament.

I have always heard about Milan winning in 1954. Heck, tiny Wingate won titles in 1913 and 1914, on the back of the immortal Homer Stonebraker (love the name).

My dad has fond memories of playing for Ladoga in the sectional against Crawfordsville. All the small county schools rooted for someone to beat the big town (heh) Athenians.

When I started following the tournament, I reveled in the fact that Loogootee went all the way to the finals against the big, bad Marion Giants. Loogootee had a team that started no one over 6-2, and they had a system where in seventh grade everyone was assigned a position, and they stayed their over their high school career. That meant their forwards and centers were all under 6-0 and the guards were 6-2. So be it.

Argos and Shenandoah also went to the state finals, and very tiny L & M went to the semi-state in the 80’s.

Basketball is much different than football. There is no way a small school could compete against Ben Davis or Penn in football. But they can in hoops, because you just need five guys who can play as a team.

But there were a group of principals and Athletics Directors that wanted more trophies, so they pushed for class sports. And it passed, back in 1996.

And with it, the magic was lost.

The sectionals used to have all of the schools from an area compete against one another. The games were always spirited and intense, because you were playing your neighbors. And either the teams were evenly matched, or it was David taking on Goliath. Both are compelling, and the gyms were always packed.

In the regionals, the sectional winners met, and they had them in gyms that seated at least 5,000. Those were played on Saturdays, and again, they were always packed. In bigger cities, like Lafayette, Fort Wayne, Indianapolis, and Evansville, the games were televised.

The next round was the semi-state, the sweet 16. Each newspaper around the state profiled the teams – everyone rooted for the small schools and the darkhorses. They were on regional TV and drew big ratings, and fans packed Hinkle Fieldhouse, Mackey Arena, and other large university arenas for the games.

The state finals were always huge. When Damon Bailey played in the state finals, over 30,000 came to watch him play. Everyone watched the games on TV – there was a statewide network. Everyone knew who won the state the year before as well.

Now? Because of the class system, the sectionals don’t have the natural rivalries anymore, and the casual fans don’t come to the games. Some teams have to travel over an hour for a sectional game, when they used to be right next door. And TV is limited to small stations that not everyone can receive.

Some proponents of class basketball said they wanted to alleviate blowouts. Well, here are some scores from yesterday’s girl’s sectionals.

Kokomo 71, Lafayette Harrison 35
Hammond 96, Hammond Clark 21
Kankakee Valley 69, Gary Wirt 28
Roncalli 71, Washington 17
Hebron 80, LaCrosse 26

Yeah, that really helped stop the blowouts.

The proponents also say it’s for the kids – it allows them a chance to compete. Well, in the real world, you have to compete against everyone. In college, schools self-select their divisions based on their philosophy, but it’s not by size. Some D-1 schools are less than 1,000, while some D-3 schools have 20,000 students. NYU is D-3, and it’s much bigger than Wake Forest or Gonzaga.

Lebanon has the only undefeated girl’s team in the state this year, but they have no chance to prove that they’re undeniably the best team in the state. The best they can be is the Class 3A champs, and then one can wonder if they could have beaten the Class 4A champs.

My friend the QB went to Delphi High School. They always had to go through big Lafayette Jefferson in the sectional, and he loved the chance. Lafayette Central Catholic, a 1A school, always competes well against the big schools, but has no chance for bragging rights when the season really matters.

I know a lot of kids just want the chance to compete, but you aren’t really competing unless you measure yourself against the best. Wins and losses are secondary, really, it’s about competing and doing the best you can do, no matter what the circumstances.

It’s too late to change it back – so the magic is lost. The pea brains have taken one thing this state was known for, and in the past 10 years have reduced it to a footnote.

I do take solace in one thing. The last single class champion crowned was in Girls’ Softball. The winner? Turkey Run High School, enrollment 217. They beat Center Grove, enrollment 2,260.

The little guys can compete, if given a chance.

 

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