Monday, April 5, 2010

Indiana Basketball

There were not a lot of great things about growing up in the Calumet Region in the ‘50’s and 60’s, but high school basketball was one of them—especially tournament time. There was no class system then. Every school was equal—on the bracket, anyway—and every school had hope (no matter how small, no matter how absurd) that this was the year they’d make it to the finals.

The absurdity of this hope did not scar us, in the least. It was fabulous.

Sectionals started on Thursday, which meant we got a half-day off when our team played, and we’d pile into cars or take the bus and head for the game—dressed in our school colors, armed with crepe paper shakers and homemade signs. Our cheer section was a sea of red, our cheerleaders lined up before us, their hair sprayed into perfect flips, and whipped us into a frenzy as our team ran out onto the floor.

On the few occasions that we actually won that first game, we were sure we were on the way to the Regionals. When we lost, as we invariably did, we were crushed—but good sports about it. And picked another team to root for. When they lost, we picked another…

All the way to the final game, which was always held in Indianapolis at Butler University’s Hinkle Fieldhouse. Some rooted for those powerhouse teams. I always loved the underdogs—especially small schools in Podunk towns whose run-up to the Final Four seemed nothing short of a miracle.

My dad was a basketball nut. He was a wreck watching the final game on TV. He paced. He yelled at the players, coaching them from the living room. He yelled at the refs, challenging the calls, citing this rule or that.

“Oh, for Christ’s sake!” he said again and again.

I knew nothing about game of basketball myself. For me, tournament time was about a story: romance, passion, triumph, tragedy.

The players, so tall and cute--and so out of my league.

The wild joy of the new state champions at the final buzzer, each one climbing the ladder brought out onto the gym floor to clip bits of the net they’d keep forever to remind them of that night.

The abject despair of the losers, compounded by having to watch the victors clip the net—all the while thinking about what might have been.

In 1997, the Indiana State Athletic Commission insanely decided to go to a class basketball system in Indiana. It just wasn’t fair for the small schools to have to compete against the big ones, they said. So now we have four classes, four tournaments, four state champions—and nobody pays a bit of attention, except (maybe) the schools involved.

I feel like calling up the commissioners and saying, “Hey! Morons! Have you been following Butler in the NCAA the past few weeks?

Small school, small budget, modest stadium.


They're playing in the final game of the final game of the tournament this evening.

No doubt you have tickets. I hope any pleasure you might have in watching the game will be wrecked, remembering the tradition of the high school tournament you so stupidly threw away.


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