INDIANAPOLIS – Fort Wayne will be the site of the first in a series of town meetings examining class basketball, the Indiana High School Athletic Association announced Thursday.
The hearings are a result of a legislative effort by Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, this year to move the state back to single-class basketball.
"We are going on the road to have a public dialogue on the importance to the state of Indiana of this sport that we all love, basketball," he said. "Basketball in the state of Indiana is special and we should embrace that. It's part of our state identity. It's part of our cultural fabric."
Eleven meetings will be conducted statewide between April 10 and May 24. The Fort Wayne meeting will be at 7 p.m. April 10 at Northrop High School.
Residents including student-athletes will have two minutes to voice their opinions on whether Indiana should stick with a four-class format adopted in 1996 or revert to the tradition-laden single-class system that eventually was the impetus for the 1986 movie "Hoosiers."
A straw poll will be taken at each meeting. Coaches, principals and athletic directors have been invited to submit their views electronically, though recent surveys of these individuals by the IHSAA have shown overwhelming support for the current class basketball format.
Delph agreed to drop his bill during the session in exchange for a review of the boys and girls basketball tournaments.
One person already weighing in is Gov. Mitch Daniels. He said he is a traditionalist who was upset at the time the tournament was changed.
"But I've changed my view about it, honestly. Part of it is probably from spending so much time in small towns and smaller schools and seeing how much it can mean to them," he said. "I've come around. For whatever reason, I think the competitive gap has widened. I was a wrestler. The analogy that you wouldn't throw a 112-pounder in with a heavyweight probably applies."
Daniels went on to say the situation is none of the government's business and the legislature should "butt out."
"The grandstanding of that I've always thought was sort of penny-ante politics, whoever was doing it," Daniels said. "Where do adults around the outside of the process get off trying to tell them how to do it?"
It is unclear whether public sentiment or membership opinion – principals – will ultimately decide the issue.
IHSAA Commissioner Bobby Cox said he is confident the 408-member principals will listen to the data compiled and represent what their community, school and student body supports.
"It's appropriate to revisit," he said. "Let's see what the public has to say. Let's see what our membership has to say."
Cox said the feeling within the IHSAA is satisfaction with the current tournament format. He said attendance could be improved, though much of that has to do with individual matchups.
In the heyday of Indiana's single-class basketball, the boys tournament drew more than 1 million fans over the series. But attendance dwindled under single-class basketball, one of the reasons the IHSAA board of directors voted 12-5 to implement the multiclass system starting in the 1997-98 school year.
In 1999, the multiclass system was upheld by a 13-5 board vote and has continued ever since.
But attendance has continued to decline with the four-class format.
The 2011 boys basketball tournament had total attendance of 409,000. The overall number for 2012 is not yet available, though last weekend's four state championship games at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis drew just 22,820 – the lowest since the class format began.
Delph himself watched this year's tournament at home on television. He said one of his concerns with having four basketball champions is that it focuses too much on letting more kids win.
"Life is not that way," he said. "Failure is an important life lesson that young people need to learn."
He also said if there is no public groundswell for change he will accept that, though he encouraged Hoosiers to attend the meetings and let their voices be heard.