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Ben Smith

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Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Norwell’s Caleb Featherston, left, consoles fellow senior Garrett Bucher after their loss to Guerin Catholic in the Class 3A championship game last week.

Class hoops foes behind the times

I’ve never met state Sen. Mike Delph. But I do know what century he’s living in.

Here’s a hint: It ain’t this one.

The man seems to think it’s still 1954 or 1965 or 1977, which is why he’s used his position as a crowbar to bludgeon the IHSAA into re-igniting a dead argument. Class basketball vs. single-class? We’re really digging up that thing again, 15 years after it was laid in its grave?

Yes. Yes, we are.

In the next few weeks, Delph and IHSAA commissioner Bobby Cox will visit 11 sites around the state – Fort Wayne is up first April 10 – to elicit public feedback on class hoops.

Despite Sen. Delph’s lost-in-the-past pining (“It’s my hope that the public turns out in overwhelming fashion and stands with me and demands that we restore a proud Indiana tradition,” he said the other day), it’s a pointless dog-and-pony show that will have zero impact on anything because there is zero chance the people who decide these things are going to vote to go back to one class.

Nor should they.

That’s because this isn’t 1954 or 1965 or 1977, and to think it’s ever going to be again is utter folly. If attendance has sagged dramatically in the last 15 years – this year’s boys state finals had the lowest attendance in the class era – and the sense of occasion is largely gone because the tournament has abandoned large population centers, it’s not solely because of the move to class basketball.

Granted, that didn’t help. And you can argue that the way it was done – against the wishes of the kids involved and the coaches and athletic directors – set the table for codgers like Delph to dredge all of this up again.

I was one of those codgers, back in the day. In 1998, I argued that the move to class hoops was fixing something that wasn’t broken because Indiana’s was still the most wildly successful high school basketball tournament in the country, by miles and miles.

That, however, was then. And this is now.

Now I recognize that the notion of reviving the single-class tournament is driven not by logic but mythology, the mythology being that the Little Guy Still Has A Chance. And that, in turn, is wrapped around Hoosier Hysteria’s core mythology: Milan, 1954.

Truth is, except in student population, Milan was no more the Little Guy that year than the team it played for the title, Muncie Central. The Indians of ’54, after all, were virtually the same team that reached the state finals the previous year. If Vegas had taken odds, Milan would have been one of the favorites.

And even at that, let’s face it: Indiana in 1954 bears such faint resemblance to the Indiana of 2012 that Milan might as well have won in 1354.

If the Little Guy had next to no chance then, he’s got no chance at all today. The disparity in resources between big and small schools, suburban and urban, has grown exponentially in the last 15 years. And a culture that was already beginning to turn away from high school basketball as its touchstone has continued to do so.

Sure, we can go back to single-class. And what we’ll get for it is not a return to Hoosier Hysteria, but even more 85-35 farces than we did back in the day.

I want to be there when Delph explains to the kids on the short end of those games how they should value the “experience.” Be good for a laugh.

Not that Delph would much care, of course.

After all, he represents Carmel – home of one of the largest and best-resourced school districts in the state.

So much for the Little Guy.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.

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