Now that I think about it, the debate Marquette boys basketball coach Donovan Garletts and I had on Wednesday afternoon following the Blazers’ practice was quite hilarious.
In general it was the difference between the 20th anniversary of something and being in the midst of the 20th year of said item.
Talk about dumb arguments, though it did end with Garletts saying to me, “I hate that you’re right about this.” That’s one of the few times a coach has said that to me since they rarely admit us media hacks are right about anything.
You see, I asked Garletts about the 20-year anniversary of the Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) implementing the class system in basketball. Garletts responded with, “that’s next year … 2018.”
Technically, he’s right in that the IHSAA began class basketball in the 1997-98 school year, meaning the first class basketball tournament was in the spring of 1998. But actually, if you do the math, we’re in the 20th season of the system. (Garletts actually took a pen and wrote down the years … 98, 99, 00, 01, etc. …and counted them, only to see that I was right.)
So with my point proven, not-so-happy 20th anniversary to class basketball.
Yep, I’m old and remember fondly the one-class system in which smaller schools felt great about long tournament runs (i.e., Milan in 1954, which is what the movie “Hoosiers” portrayed). I have two specific memories about state final runs.
In 1985 I was a freshman at Mount Carmel High School in Chicago (I went there one year since my dad taught there, before transferring to Hammond Clark for the rest of high school) when the boys basketball team won its only Illinois state title. It was in Class 2A, when there were just two classes in the state west of Indiana. Now there are four classes over there, like here.
In 1988, as a senior at Clark, I actually followed Hammond Bishop Noll through much of its IHSAA Final Four run before the Warriors lost to Concord, which was led by future National Basketball Association star Shawn Kemp. I had friends who went to Bishop Noll, including one of the key players. I still recall the excitement of semistate at Purdue’s Mackey Arena in West Lafayette.
Those days will never return, much to the chagrin of older basketball fans. I’m not technically one of them since I think the class system works. Garletts does agree with me on that.
“I’ve seen arguments both ways; I don’t remember the single class system,” said Garletts, who is 30 years old and has had success in the postseason in three different classes — as an assistant at 4A Bloomington South when it won the state title in 2009, 1A at Marquette, and last year winning a 2A sectional with the Blazers.
“If it was a different system, with seeding or something, I would schedule differently. But we schedule bigger and tougher schools because of the system.”
And it’s worked, though it would be better if one of those bigger, tougher schools was Michigan City.
Oh man, I’m sorry … I went Britney Spears on that subject (yes, that’s a reference to the hit song “Oops! I did it again," which is quite catchy).
Back to the class system … I hope we can all agree the IHSAA will never return to one class. No way, now how, I guarantee it. But how about making the current system fairer. If you’re going to have class basketball (or volleyball or softball or baseball, for that matter), then go all out. The IHSAA did in football a few years ago, adding 6A for the extremely large schools, which have an advantage in football with numbers.
Thing is, they have that advantage in all sports. Football is just a safety issue, too.
The largest schools in the state are humungous. Carmel has around 5,000 students, while Jay County — likely the smallest school in 4A — has 1,073 students. That’s one-fifth the size of the biggest school in the class.
Looking at local schools, La Porte is at 2,166, while Michigan City has an enrollment of 1,763.
Yikes. It’s a miracle if City could compete with schools like Carmel or Ben Davis (4,100) or Hamilton Southeastern (3,100) in anything. Makes you appreciate the Wolves finishing a close runner-up to Carmel in boys track state finals last spring, huh?
In the other three classes, the ratio isn’t as bad: Twice the size from highest to lowest in 3A (around 1,070 down to 531, with New Prairie at a little less than 1,000), less than twice the size in 2A and three times the size from the smaller Class A schools (La Crosse among them at 118 students) to the largest at a little more than 300. South Central has 303, while Westville is at 296 and Marquette has 273.
Why not add a fifth class for sports like basketball, volleyball, softball and baseball, and add a third for soccer, which has two classes right now?
The whole purpose of creating a class system in high school sports was to have competitive balance, but there is no balance in some of these classes as they’re formed right now.
After 20 years of class sports, the IHSAA needs to evolve like it did in football, even if old school sports fans like myself wish the good old days returned.
Reach sports editor Steve T. Gorches at email@example.com or (219) 214-4206. Follow him on Twitter @SteveTGorches.