“Shootin’ the Stars” February 28th, 2023

Single-class tourney might be history, but it’s never too far away


By Mike Beas

Unless you grew up in Indiana at a time single-class high school basketball ruled the 31 days of March, it’s difficult to describe.

The “it” of which I speak was the hint of spring in the air that had to be smelled, felt and heard. These sensations combined with a nervous anticipation made the annual boys tournament the cherished commodity it was for 87 years.

Tickets were prized possessions. In hoops hotbeds such as Anderson and Marion, simply getting inside the gymnasium meant – in some cases – you had been willed tickets by an older family member or friend who had passed away.

Pep clubs. Fan busses. Pre-sectional pep sessions in your high school gym. Spirit sticks.

And perhaps best of all, the hope that filled every square inch of every gymnasium that hosted sectional, regional and semistate games regardless of your favorite team’s record.

Mathematical devices such as Sagarin ratings didn’t exist, which equated into ignorance being bliss.

We genuinely believed with every fiber of our being that the 4-17 country school had a real chance of eliminating the 17-4 city school, the latter boasting an enrollment figure six times the size.

It didn’t happen often, but it did happen. Enough, in fact, to whet our appetite and keep us collectively engaged.

Even during the 1970s and ’80s, times it seemed technology and the reality of more teenagers working might team up to lessen attendance figures, small-school programs like Argos, L&M and Loogootee had us pulling for another Milan Miracle.

Then came the punctuation mark of punctuation marks – Bedford North Lawrence, Concord, Anderson and Southport qualifying for the 1990 State Finals – with the BNL-Concord final played before jaw-dropping 41,046 fans inside the since-imploded Hoosier Dome.

You do your best to describe those games and the ear-splitting environments to today’s younger generation.

One could be a walking, talking thesaurus and still fail to do them justice.

I actually empathize with those who have known only the four-class postseason system of Indiana high school basketball, though it has been a positive for countless athletes, coaches and communities.

Old codgers such as myself tend to be ridiculously inflexible when it comes to defending the music and sports teams of our teenage years. My parents were the same way, as were their parents prior to that . . . and so on.

Even the long-since-passed basketball fans from Wingate, Greensfork, Bristow, Etna Green and other tiny schools eventually pulled into the vacuum of Indiana’s early- and mid-1970s wave of school consolidations probably thought their game, complete with final scores of 14-9 and 12-10, was the height of hoops competition.

And it might have been.

Like every other person who’ll be in attendance in the days and weeks ahead, I only know what I’ve experienced.

In Indiana, that’s both our blessing and our curse.

The new format isn’t so new anymore. Twenty-six years, this makes it. Many of those who screamed bloody murder and protested by shoehorning themselves into their old letter jacket back in the day are no longer among us.

The “It” of March in Indiana has been reduced somewhat, but in basketball, a good comeback is always possible.

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