INDIANAPOLIS – For the first time since 2009, the Fort Wayne Community Schools district is represented at the IHSAA boys basketball state finals.
That fact, alone, holds its own weight in the mind of North Side coach Shabaz Khaliq as he and school administrators attended a state finals meeting and media day at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Monday.
"I think that’s a bigger deal to me than North Side as a whole because now you’re representing an entire city, especially at the 4A level," Khaliq said. "When you look back, Northrop was the last one to win it (in 1974) with a bigger school. Obviously, we’ve had success with Bishop Luers and Harding, but at that big level, we haven’t had success. Snider had a great team (in 2009), and they did a great job of representing our district and our city and came up a little short.
"It would be tremendous if we were the next team to do it and represent our city and our school district with a state championship. It means equally as much to bring a state title home to North Side."
Since the 1974 state championship from the Bruins, FWCS has been represented in the state championship twice: by Elmhurst in Class 3A 2003, a 78-44 loss to Indianapolis Bishop Chatard, and in 2009 by Snider, a 69-62 loss to Bloomington South.
"In class basketball (which started in the 1997-98 season), you’re dealing with bigger schools (earlier in the tournament," Khaliq said. "The Indianapolis schools, you have to get out of that tough regional as opposed to when I was playing at North Side (1993-96), we would go to the regional, the schools would be smaller. You don’t see a big school until maybe semistate.
"Those things, you look back on, and you understand why it’s difficult. There’s no better time than the present, so we’re excited."
Khaliq was a member of the North Side team that last made a semistate appearance in 1995 led by coach Glen Heaton.
"It’s a little surreal," he said of the setting at Monday’s media day, "because you’re still rebounding from the semistate and the success there and kind of coming to the realization that you have the opportunity to play for a state title, especially at the (Class) 4A level.
"It’s just a matter of taking everything in and learning all the steps and processes that you have take prior to getting on the floor. … Making sure that I have all that as we get prepared for that."
The Legends’ opponent Saturday, Indianapolis Ben Davis, won back-to-back state titles in the single-class system in 1995 and 1996, but the Giants haven’t returned to the state stage since three consecutive appearances after finishing runner-up in 1994 under coach Steve Witty.
"It’s a neat thing," current Giants coach Mark James said of the state championship appearance. "It’s something as a coach, you always look forward to, you always dream about. I’m one of those guys that I wasn’t going to come to games at this arena until I coach here (at Bankers Life Fieldhouse).
"I haven’t been to a Pacers game since they moved here. Now, after I coach here, I can start going to Pacers games again," he added with a smile.