As a 25 year-old from Hobart, Indiana, where high school basketball is essentially an afterthought, I haven't loss much sleep over the current format for the State tournament. Apparently, Senator Mike Delph from Carmel has.
As Delph stood among members of the media and the IHSAA Thursday afternoon at a press conference to announce a "Town Meeting Series", a traveling circus to eleven sites across Indiana to give the public their chance to voice their opinion the class basketball format, he pined for the good old days of high school basketball ruling the state of Indiana.
"I have said this over and over again," said Delph. "Basketball is bigger than the IHSAA. It is bigger than the Indiana general assembly, it is part of our state identity. It should be respected, and the fact that we are able to get this public discussion going is a very positive development for a sport I hold very dear."
It was apparent that basketball is "very dear" to Delph, and just like any fan (short for fanatic) Delph was able to list many of the Indiana high school greats. From Bobby Plump to Oscar Robertson to Damon Bailey, and he listed them all just as easy has he mentioned that the State Finals attendance was at an all-time low since class basketball was instated in 1998 with a total of 22,820 people on Saturday.
"I think attendance will go up because interest will go up because of some of the runs teams will make in the tournament," said Delph. "It's very difficult to build a story-book storyline with four or five different competing tournaments taking place at one time. We learned about Damon Bailey, Scott Skiles, Mike and Chriss Heinemen in Connersville, Jay Edwards and Lindon Jones in Marion, during my lifetime. These were stories around coverage based on those that all of you in the media did of these schools and the run in the tournament."
Apparently in the past two years there hasn't been many tales of IHSAA-lore that will live through the ages that the public will rehearse to their grandchildren, which if that is the perception, it's too bad.
Just off the top of my head I think of the Cinderella story of Indianapolis Metropolitan (Class A champs of 2011), a tournament run that included a team with only eight team members, a three-fourths of the floor shot, and three tournament games being decided by five points or less. I also think of current Indiana Hoosier Cody Zeller leading Washington to back-to-back State titles, including a 65-62 overtime win over Gary Wallace that saw Zeller go for 20 points and 26 rebounds. Or Park Tudor Senior Yogi Ferrell leading a sub-.500 Panthers to the finals in 2010, and then winning the past two Class 2A State championships, including a dominant near triple-double performance this past Saturday in a win over Bowman Academy.
With 60 State championship games to choose from, there have been many great players and moments, and that's not even including the guys who lost. For those who did watch, will you ever forget Bruce Grimm Jr.'s 40 point, eight threes from behind the arc, in an 81-79 double-overtime loss to Princeton?
Of course you could argue that these these teams wouldn't have had those moments had they faced bigger and tougher schools in their sectionals or regionals. And if the public does help shape the opinion of the IHSAA by attending these Town Meetings and can steer the IHSAA away from class basketball, that is all fine with me. I think basketball is truly basketball, if it's one class, four classes, or a split between private and public schools.
But what about the schools like Loogootee, who won the Class A tournament this past Saturday with an exciting 55-52 victory over Rockville that seemed to have brought the whole town together? What happens if they get wiped out by a much larger populated school such as Terre Haute North earlier in the tournament, thus ruining the run of a lifetime for the players and their fans?
The message to them is clear: accept your fate in life, because life isn't easy.
"You see this seeping into institutions that everybody should win and that everybody can succeed," said Delph. "The fact of the matter is that life is not that way. Failure is an important life lesson that young people must and need to learn because it is part of what they are going to have to deal in their professional lives."
Delph did mention that he honors Loogootee along with Park Tudor, Guerin Catholic, and the Carmel Greyhounds for the jobs they did in their class. But ultimately, wants to know who is the best team out there, and then lost me on this line.
"Who is the best," asked Delph. "Is it Park Tudor, Carmel, or is it Guerin? You know a lot of the players at Guerin live in Carmel, and imagine a lot of those players on that team."
So wait, is it class basketball that is the problem at hand? Or is it the fact that since class basketball was formed, private schools have been able to win more then a fair share of state championships in the lower classes?
And who cares if you are the one on the court, dedicating your pre-teen and teen years with hard work, sweat, the coaches spending hours away from your family to game-plan. Not to mention, that goes for the athletic directors and principals who run the education systems that watch over the high school student for four years. Because your vote should count just as much as the old man at the barber still wishing it was 1963.
"Basketball is bigger than any one group," said Delph. "Principals are part of the decision-making process, are are athletic directors and coaches. But we also have people who are just fans of basketball, and they should be honored and respected as well with their opinion."
I respect Senator Delph very much after Thursday afternoon, and it is clear that he is following his heart on his mission to turn back the clock to the days of single-class basketball and 40,000-plus fans filling up the RCA Dome for a State championship game. Delph went out of his way to mention that he is doing all of this on his free time, is traveling across the State on his own time and money to the Town Meetings, and this will not distract him from his day-to-day dealings as Senator. Essentially, Senator Delph is doing this for the love of the game and the state of Indiana.
For that, I would gladly wish Senator Delph best of luck on his adventure and would sit down to talk high school hoops any time with him. I love the game of basketball in the state of Indiana too, and hope one day I can love it as much as him.
Though I just don't agree with Delph or his ambitions, and think people have so many avenues to spend their money and time, that high school sports have just clearly sunk out of the picture. Around 1998, when every basketball fan points to Class basketball ruining the sport, we clearly forget that along came a plethora of households that were just getting used to the idea of satellite, cable, and internet companies that can give people their sports fix.
It's a shame too, because as the main reporter for high school sports at Fox 59 the past two and a half years, I've seen some of the greatest sporting moments of my lifetime at high school venues. That of course goes outside the basketball scene, ranging from track, to swimming, and even girls' softball. The games are still great, and the talent is still there, but people just don't care like they did 50, 30, or even 15 years ago. That's not necessarily a bad thing for the state of Indiana, we just evolved past the point that a single sport doesn't completely define us anymore.
Basketball is just a part of us now.
But if I am wrong, and a large amount of people do voice their opinions in the eleven town meetings across the State (which I doubt large amounts of people will attend), if they can convince their coaches, athletic directors, and principals to vote for single-class basketball (which I also doubt), and if Commissioner Bobby Cox takes all the opinions in and changes basketball back to a single-class (something I also doubt would ever happen), I'll be at the games just like I would have been before.
The question is though, will you?
Senator Delph reaches towards nostalgia for change to IHSAA format
Senator Mike Delph, R-Carmel, gave his opinion Thursday afternoon as to why the boys basketball format should be changed to one class. But does the hankering for the old days solve the problems of the present?
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