Musings Of A Hoopster Looks at Bracketology the Delphi Way

by Shawn Martin columnist


Delphi, Indiana – Brian Tonsoni is a social studies teacher at Delphi Community High School. While he is a talented and respected educator, his passion has been all things sports.

Brian Tonsoni

His classroom is decorated with various sports themes and his infectious enthusiasm engages students of varying interests.

Delphi has a somewhat unique program called Power Hour, in which students choose one of several different topics – power hours – that they attend twice a week. Every Tuesday and Thursday, students and teachers have a 45-minute class period where they get a “break” from the normal school curriculum.

“I had made up my mind that students needed and deserved a bit of a “break” midday” said principal Kevin Sims in an email. “So, I began to question our faculty about possibilities that would be based on a “class” period that would allow faculty members to share their interests with our students.”

Sims was the head boys’ basketball  coach at Rensselaer Central for five years before coming to Delphi in administration. Tonsoni was the head coach at Delphi for four years.

Tonsoni, and fellow Delphi teacher Steve Painter, have had a Bracketology Club for several years, that was affiliated with the school, but was strictly an extracurricular activity that met outside of school hours. When Sims worked to create the Power Hour program, “Sports Talk” became one of the subjects that students could choose for one or more of their nine-week courses.

Steve Painter

When I attended, there were roughly 20 people in Tonsoni’s classroom. Half of the students were very engaged in the subject matter, the other half, are respectful and quiet, but treat it more like a study hall – although they are free to use their phones (no calls or sounds) – it is a controlled time where students get a break from the normalcy and monotony of “normal” school classes.

Each student has to select one of the places to go for Power Hour. They don’t necessarily have to participate much in that subject if they don’t want to. Many choose a favorite teacher or groups that their friends are going to.

The Sports Talk group that Tonsoni and Painter (no relation to the Purdue head coach) have, talks about sports, mostly in-season, and during this time of the year it is about a special passion that Tonsoni has had since he was young.

The NCAA Tournament is about to start next week, however, for all season, a group of people with backgrounds in college basketball have been pouring over statistics, watching countless games, talking, researching, deliberating, debating, voting, and narrowing the list of over 300 Division One basketball programs down to what will be the field of 68 announced on Sunday evening. Those 68 will play out over three weeks to determine a National Champion.

There is a cottage industry of people that crunch the numbers and try to guess as close to the actual field – both schools and seed numbers – what the NCAA will announce here tomorrow evening.

Delphi Bracketology was founded in March 2014 as a school club and recreates the work of the NCAA Basketball selection committee.

In the fall of 2015, they branched out to discuss college football by creating “Gameday” style videos. They do Podcasts involving students now over various sports topics throughout the school year.

In their second year of bracketology work, they won a national competition of bracketologists on and were featured on CBS Sports during the NCAA Tournament and March Madness coverage. They have a large banner in Tonsoni’s classroom to commemorate that incredible accomplishment.

The students – and actually a couple of the more engaged and involved students in the Delphi class are girls – go about the process is exactly like what is being done in the NCAA meetings going on as I write this.

They place the teams in seed groupings, those are very fluid with the ebbs and flows of the regular season and now the conference tournaments.

They have a list of several teams (15 in the pictured example) and they vote down to top eight, then down to three or four. Those will be hashed out as the final four in, and the final four out among the at-large bids.

It is not an easy exercise. They are literally splitting hairs when they are talking about the last ones in and the first ones out. They have to back their opinions up with facts and encourage their peers to vote for the teams they think should make the final cut.

Then some team gets upset in a conference tournament and it all blows up, and they go through the process again.

Votes are done by written ballot and then tabulated. The process has been going on in this classroom for nine weeks. The main club will pair things down and the school group’s input is an important part of the process. The nine weeks ended the day I was there, before the conference tournaments began.

Several of the club members get to attend periodic games at places like Mackey Arena for Purdue games, the Horizon League tournament, and several other colleges and universities. They have media credentials and are able to get the full media experience before, during, and after games. Mr. Painter is the schedule guru and sets all that up.

I was impressed with the knowledge of the students – seniors to freshmen – all working together, making valid points and observations about this team or that team. They would discuss in detail a good win, or a bad loss that team had. They would discuss same opponents of two or three different teams to try and come to a conclusion of who was more worthy of being among the final 68 teams.

Principal Sims added “Coach Brian Tonsoni’s POWER HOUR involves so much learning that students do not even realize they are analyzing math or dissecting information that requires very high levels of critical thinking. Plus, they communicate verbally without the use of a cell phone.”

Senior Cayden Gasser has been involved in the club for five or six years. He is kind of the chairman of the Delphi Bracketology committee this year.
Cayden Gasser
“I like sports and I also like putting numbers to things” Gasser offered as to why he has been involved in this. The future accountant plays football, basketball, and will do the throws at Vincennes University on their track team.
“People that you don’t think even like sports.” Gasser added “They come in here and you see a different side of them.”
One of the other Power Hour programs involves officiating. Fifty of their students have earned an IHSAA license to officiate one sport or more. Some of the other programs involve outdoor life, real estate, service to school and community, reading, board games, and exercise, among others.
Rainey (Alting) Jones was an Indiana All Star from Delphi and played basketball at Indiana. Her son Walker is one of the students in the Bracketology class.
“I think some of the kids love the bracketology” she said. “They get to do hands on things regarding the game that doesn’t involve playing.”
Walker Jones has also participated in a football Power Hour during the Fall. Tonsoni plans to do a baseball Power Hour program to finish out this school year. Both he and Sims said that some tweaking needs to occur after the first year of the all-high school program, but that the general premise will remain – giving students a little time each week to pursue varied interests they have. There are no grades given for these programs – they are all noncredit.
Here is a link to Delphi Bracketology’s latest bracket – Friday March 15th, two days before the real bracket is released for the 2024 tournament.
It was a neat experience to watch the students and their two teachers have fun in a more relaxed setting, talking about something that they are very interested in. Education is not just the “Three R’s” (Readin’, ‘Righten, and ‘Rithmatic). The interpersonal skills, the problem solving, critical thinking, decision making, and the ability to explain your reasons for your decisions are all very important things in the real world.
While this is a fun time for most of the students, they are gaining many life skills that will serve each of them well in their futures.
Congratulations to the administration, staff, and students at Delphi Community High School for thinking outside the box and providing their students with many life skills as part of their educational journey.
Sunday, the Bracketology class/club will see how their final bracket stacks up with many others from across the nation. I’m betting they’ll be pretty close!
Dave Gilbert

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