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Associated Press
Bobby Plump waits on the sidelines during a Milan High School alumni basketball game in 2004. Plump scored the dramatic final shot that gave Milan the win over Muncie Central in the 1954 state tournament final. The game was inspiration for the movie “Hoosiers” and a touchstone for traditionalists favoring a return to single-class basketball.

Legislating nostalgia

When Hoosier hysteria was in its heyday, nearly every city and town in Indiana had its own high school, which was a big sense of identity for small towns and big cities alike. Even many communities too small to be towns had high schools.

In many places, only three TV channels battled for Hoosiers’ attention in a pre-Internet, pre-cell-phone society. There were more traditional families and more family traditions.

When New Castle built a high school, its gym was the largest in the nation, and it was named after Chrysler, the city’s biggest employer. The second-largest U.S. gym was built in Anderson, home to a number of GM factories.

And all the high school basketball teams were in a single, winner-takes-all tournament.

Small towns lost some of their identity when their high schools closed and consolidated with others. Students from communities not big enough for much of a football team are now in consolidated schools that have competitive teams.

Families have many distractions and seemingly countless sources of entertainment, recreation and obligation.

Auto factories no longer supply an almost guaranteed middle-class income. That gym in Anderson, the Wigwam, closed last year amid declining enrollment, and the Chrysler name left New Castle’s gym after the company left town.

If Hoosier hysteria is not quite what it used to be, moving from single-class to multiple-class basketball is only a small factor, if a factor at all. State Sen. Mike Delph’s crusade to return to a single basketball tournament is largely an effort to legislate nostalgia.

Delph rightly dropped his well-intentioned but rash attempt to require a single-class basketball tourney in the past legislative session. But he is continuing with a series of 11 town forums in which he wants Hoosiers to speak out about class basketball. He will conduct straw polls among coaches, principals and athletic directors.

But it’s not exactly like the Indiana High School Athletic Association forced class basketball on its member schools back in 1996. The IHSAA is an organization comprised of the schools, and it was those very people – coaches, principals, athletic directors – who wanted class basketball.

If anything, schools and many fans have turned out to like it more than expected.

One such fan is Gov. Mitch Daniels, who didn’t care much for the idea at the time but has grown to believe it’s better. If anything, Daniels notes, the competitive gap between big schools and small schools has widened.

In any event, the legislature has no business stepping into this debate, and Daniels is right when he says the General Assembly should “butt out.”

Hoosiers who grew up in an era when the statewide basketball tournament was the most important event in the state for four weeks as winter turned into spring will never forget it. Nor will they forget the memories of small towns where they grew up, walking along railroad tracks, party-line telephones, Red Ball Jets, Green Stamps and the music, which was far better than what they hear today.

Now, the generations of students growing up with class basketball are creating their own memories of events and places and traditions that will be their own nostalgia when changes make them passé.

Yes, Sen. Delph, Hoosiers love their basketball. But everything changes, and legislation can’t stop it.