By Alaina Bradds, 17, Hrishi Deshpande, 17, Glen Schroering, 15, and Aaron Velazquez, 16
Fifty-eight years ago, Milan High School’s run to the Indiana high school basketball championship was improbable. Under today’s four-class basketball system, it would be downright impossible.
Ever since the Indiana High School Athletic Association changed to class basketball in the 1997-98 season, a number of high school basketball fans have been clamoring for the return of the single-class tournament. Now, its return looks more possible than ever. However, some high-school athletes are not sure they want to change.
First proposed by state Sen. Mike Delph (R-Carmel), the IHSAA just completed 11 meetings around the state to open up discussion about whether high school basketball should return to a single-class tournament. For most of the 20th century, such a system was a key element of Indiana high school basketball, as schools across the state would play each other, regardless of size, in a quest to become state champions.
The tournament led to terms like “Hoosier Hysteria” and was a big deal within the state and even around the country. But in 1997, the IHSAA did away with the single-class system, changing to a four-class system similar to most other states’ in an effort to create greater fairness in competition. However some argue that in the process, they lost some of what made Indiana high school basketball so unique.
While there are pros and cons to the single-class system, people in Indiana are passionate about basketball and the Milan miracle, chronicled in the movie Hoosiers. A return to the system would not only create nostalgia around the event but result in higher game attendance and increased television ratings, according to Jeremy Bialek, a former junior varsity coach at Perry Meridian High School and current coach of the Homeschool Wildcats. “I think overall you would see an initial blastoff in intrigue and people wanting to see it again. I think you’d have people who have no connection to any school going to tournament games just to say, ‘I went back when it was no-class basketball.'”
The single-class system would give small schools a chance to be in a larger spotlight. As it stands now, the tournament play of the smaller schools is overshadowed by the larger audiences at the larger schools, according to Bialek. Also, players from small schools rarely get a chance to play the top athletes, who usually come from large schools. Bigger programs not only have bigger budgets and can provide players with special coaching and weight training, but they also tend to have more competitive players because the athletes must continually fight for a spot on the team.
Small schools would benefit from playing larger schools, Bialek said. “It would renew a passion for basketball and give them an opportunity to do something special,” he said. It would give these players a chance to prove that they are not just underdogs. They also would get a chance to be seen by college scouts, who generally don’t expect top-level play in tournaments for smaller schools.
However, students from Edinburgh High School —a 1A program that had a surprisingly strong performance in last season’s tournament — are not enthusiastic about single-class basketball. Said Dakota Sneed, 16, who played center for Edinburgh, “I think dominating in one class is just good enough. I really don’t feel that a small school should be put with a bigger school.” Dakota says his team would put forth a better effort, but in the end they would be defeated by the bigger powerhouse schools.
Even though that may be true, Edinburgh guard Ryan Burton, 17, said a return to the old system would not affect the level of play. “I don’t think it’d matter. I think basketball is basketball and it doesn’t matter who you play.” He says that no matter what school they’re playing, big or small, his teammates play their hardest. But like Dakota, Ryan would prefer to keep the class system the way it is.
No Edinburgh player could see an advantage for returning to single-class basketball, but they agreed that they have something that large schools often lack: a passionate town standing behind them at every game.
Ryan recalled the enthusiastic support he felt at last season’s games. “I loved how just about everybody in town was there, cheering for us, and that just made us want to work 10 times as hard, just to do it for them since they all came out and supported us.”
However, some big-school athletes are open to a return to single-class basketball. According to players at Carmel High School, who recently won the 4A state championship, single-class basketball puts all teams on an equal footing.
With a student body of more than 4,000, Carmel is the largest high school in the state. Though its basketball team had worthy opponents, it managed to dominate its class. Still, many of its athletes would like to see a return to the single-class system. “I think it would bring a whole lot more excitement to Indiana high school basketball,” said guard Michael Volovic, 17.
Other Carmel players see the single-class system as an opportunity for both small and large schools to prove who really is the best in the state. The size variation would result in unique competition and potentially exciting upsets, they said. According to forward Zach McRoberts, 16, “If you’re a big school playing against a small school, you know you’re going to get that small school’s best shot and you got to bring your best game every night.”
“It’d be fun just ’cause you get to play teams that we haven’t played the last three years,” added guard James Volovic, 17.
While the Carmel players acknowledge that 4A schools would likely dominate the tournament, it would not be a sure thing. “There would be those few smaller schools, year in year out, that would surprise everybody, that can upset other teams,” Michael said.
“In reality, you still have only five players on the court.”
Reporters Judah Officer, 10, and Zion Smith, 13, contributed to this story.
Copyright 2012 Y-Press