In a blast from the past, the Indiana high school class basketball debate raged into 2012 on Monday in a town meeting at Vincennes, 16 years after the multi-class system was approved by the Indiana High School Athletic Association.
“Raged on” might not be the right characterization for the turnout at the Lincoln High School auditorium. There were 46 people in attendance for the meeting, designed partially to re-ignite the once-hot debate regarding multi-class sports.
Fifteen people spoke in two-minute segments to IHSAA commissioner Bobby Cox and Indiana Senator Mike Delph (R-Carmel), who sponsored a bill that proposed a change from multi-class basketball back to the single-class system used until 1996.
Principals in the IHSAA membership approved the multi-class system in 1996 which sparked contentious debate at the time.
“In my humble and personal opinion, basketball is a sport unlike any other sport in Indiana. It sets us apart from other states. It’s part of our national, and in some cases, international identity of as a state. With that cultural fabric, I think we need to respect that,” Delph said during the meeting.
Of those who said their piece in the 40-minute meeting, nine spoke in favor of the multi-class system, three spoke in favor of the old single-class system and three others expressed other concerns.
Among the nine who spoke in favor of multi-class sports, seven of them were either administrators or coaches from three schools — North Knox, Barr-Reeve and Boonville High Schools.
“To go to a one-class system would equate to one class for softball, girls basketball, and potentially, football. There’s a generation of student-athletes now who are developing their own traditions. I would ask that they find their own way and their own traditions. I would ask that we keep class sports,” Boonville principal Mike Whitten said.
“There are many points of view as it concerns the Indiana state tournament. Many have come people not directly involved,” Barr-Reeve boys basketball coach Bryan Hughes said. “To those who try to minimalize the accomplishments of schools like Barr-Reeve, Loogootee or Edinburgh, I say you’re wasting your time. Those accomplishments feel great and are of tremendous value to our communities.”
There were voices in favor of returning to the single-class system. The Vincennes area was once a touchstone of the single-class/multi-class debate as Vincennes Lincoln’s dominance of its single-class sectional (67 won during the single-class years) was often used as an example to give small schools opportunity in a multi-class system.
“I’m frustrated that this part of our society in Indiana was taken away from us. I’m frustrated that the desires of small-school athletic directors overtook this statewide idea we had,” Peter Askins of Vincennes said. “Sure it’s a big deal for [Vincennes] Rivet or Loogootee to win a championship, but it’s 25 percent of a trophy. That’s all it is to me.”
Others didn't express an opinion on the single or multi-class system, but rather, touched on some of the other woes they perceived the IHSAA Tournament has.
“I think what needs to be considered is the negative vortex the tournament is in and the apathy that’s pulling it down,” said Mike Ruff of Jasper.
One speaker, Horace Foncannon of Vincennes, provided a blunt opinion on the proceedings themselves.
“Why are we having these hearings?" Foncannon exclaimed to Cox and Delph. "You know nothing’s going to change. There’s more small-school principals than large school principals. Nothing’s going to change."
Cox agreed to the town meetings — the meeting at Vincennes was the second of 11 that are planned — to open the topic for state-wide discussion. Public meetings were not conducted in 1995 and 1996 when the move to the multi-class system was proposed and implemented.
In a pamphlet distributed at the meeting, Cox said, “Our objective this evening is to allow the public an opportunity to voice their opinions about the formats used to determine state championship teams in the sport of basketball.”
One of the observers at the meeting who didn’t speak publicly was Shakamak High School athletic director and boys basketball coach Steve Brett. The veteran coach has experienced high school basketball in Indiana in nearly every meaningful way at all enrollment levels.
He played at Loogootee until 1967, just before the legendary Lions’ teams that made the single-class Final Four in 1970 and 1975. He has coached at Class A schools, including Shakamak and alma mater Loogootee, as well as Seymour, a 4A school.
“When it first came out, I was totally, absolutely against it. I’m still not totally in favor of it, but it’s been around for 14 years now and kids today don’t know any different,” Brett said.
Brett admitted that a return to the single-class format would be very difficult.
“I’ve never been in favor of putting people in classes. The American way is that we’re one class of people. In reality, that’s not true, and in basketball, that’s not true either. It would be awful tough to go back to the single-class format,” Brett said.
Brett also noted that meetings like the one held on Monday would have done a lot more good had they taken place in the mid-1990s, when the topic was an emotional one for many Hoosiers.
“They should have had meetings like this when they did it the first time. I think people might have accepted it better. But, of course, us who were into the old way, it’s hard to give it up, us old-timers. The hysteria isn’t what it used to be, but the kids today don’t know any different,” Brett said.
The third meeting of 11 takes place at 7 p.m. today at Plainfield High School. It is the only meeting scheduled in the Indianapolis metropolitan area and the only one of two within the proximity of the Wabash Valley.