Indiana has long been famous for its love of basketball. That is true especially of high school basketball. Someone has probably figured out why Indiana fell so hard for basketball, but I haven’t heard why it happened. Maybe it’s just that really smart people tend to love basketball, and thus we Hoosiers had an unfair advantage. Our honorable and intelligent cousins just over the river to the south, people in Kentucky, are similar in their love of the game. Good for them.
When we go to a basketball game in Indiana, we don’t just attend the game–we review it. No critic attending opening night on Broadway takes his responsibilities any more seriously than we do. The game needs to be played in the right way, and if it is not we are quick to point that out.
For many years Indiana had a one-class high school basketball tourney at the end of the season. Out of 400 plus teams (more before consolidations began to occur), only one team emerged as a winner.
Things changed somewhat in 1997-98. That was the first year of class basketball. The state tourney split into four tourneys. Class 4A was for the biggest schools, 3A for the next biggest, then of course 2A, with the smallest schools in 1A.
This was a controversial decision, and still is. Some people loved the single class tourney. They still do, although it is long gone and not likely to come back. In all of the United States, only Kentucky and Delaware continue to have a single class tourney.
My own feelings are . . . well, complicated. I prefer the four-class tourney. It gives smaller schools a chance to win a title against schools of similar size. It is still hard to win a championship. Only one team emerges as a champion, out of about 100 competitors in each class. My local school has never won a title–neither a boys nor a girls title–in 20 plus years. Most schools have never won a title. But our local school might win one some day, if I live to be fairly old, say 350.
But I am not adamantly opposed to a single-class tourney. If it came back, I would not complain.
Cards on the table: I don’t believe in public education. How dare Christians expect our neighbors, friends, and enemies to pay for the education of our children? But I enjoy high school basketball, and attend local games constantly. I have a season ticket to our home games, both boys and girls. I am basketball fan, and I root for the local team–unless their laziness and incompetence occasionally causes me to root for the other team. Remember, I’m a reviewer as well as a fan.
Anyway, I repeat that I am not opposed to having a single-class tourney. What I am seriously, adamantly, and violently opposed to is pretending you have a four-class tourney, then massaging the rules so that modestly successful teams are kicked up a class, and thus end up playing in the tourney against bigger schools.
Here is what the Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) has started doing in recent years. (They did not do this beginning in 1997-98.) If a team in 1A, 2A, or 3A has a certain amount of success in the tourney for two consecutive years, they are bumped up a class for at least two years. This is done, I suppose, so that teams who have their feelings hurt by losing to a good team in their own class, can see that good team be kicked out of the way by throwing them out of the class. This seems to me to be a wretched way to treat good teams, and a good way to train losing teams to be sissies.
How much success is required? Not all that much, really. If a team finishes as runner-up or better in their class tourney two years in a row, the next year they are bumped out of their natural class. So that a team which finishes second place two years in a row, will not have a chance to win a state title in their own class for the next two years. Their chances of winning a state title in the new class with bigger schools, are much, much smaller.
Alas, this is not just theoretical. It has happened. And it stinks.
It happened to North Harrison, a high school in southern Indiana.
Looking back to 2011-12, North Harrison’s girls teams had, moving forward year by year, records of 11-11, 7-14, 11-10, 17-10. Decent but not outstanding seasons.
That was all pre-Lilly Hatton. Beginning in 2015-2016, freshman Lilly Hatton joined the team. For any school in the state, a player like Lilly Hatton comes along once in a generation–if then. She has excellent fundamental skills, is tall, is a skilled shot blocker, rebounder, and scorer.
The luminous Lilly Hatton immediately led North Harrison to a superb season. They are a 3A team, and got all the way to the state championship game in her freshman year. They lost 45-51 to Heritage Christian. They finished with a record of 28-3.
Her sophomore year was deja vu all over again. Once again they reached the 3A state championship game, where they lost 49-57 to South Bend St. Joseph. North Harrison’s record that year was 27-3.
You know what happened next. Their two runner-up finishes in a row meant that they were bumped upstairs into class 4A, with bigger schools.
In 2017-18 North Harrison had another superb regular season. When it came to tourney time, they were forced by IHSAA rules to play in the class 4A sectional. The result was a 39-47 loss in their first and only tourney game. Their final record was 21-3–but with no long tourney run.
In 2018-19 they were good again, although Lilly Hatton’s supporting class was not quite as scintillating. Once again they lost their first 4A tourney game, by a decisive score of 35-56. Basically a slaughter. They finished 17-7.
Lilly Hatton moves on to play college ball at Wofford. She is pre-med, and is intelligent as well as gifted athletically. I predict she will flourish in life. I appreciated being able to watch her play a few times. (North Harrison is in our conference.)
The IHSAA cheated Lilly Hatton and her teammates, they cheated the coaches, they cheated the school of North Harrison, and they cheated their myriad supporters in Harrison county. They cheated them out of a chance to compete for a state championship. There was no guarantee that North Harrison would win a 3A state championship in 2017-18. They fell short the two previous years, and might have fallen short again. But they deserved to have a chance to bring home a state championship. That year was their best shot. Lilly Hatton’s supporting cast was pretty strong. They might have done it. They might have done something that Harrison County, and indeed all of us in southern Indiana would have celebrated. They were cheated by the unjust bureaucrats running the IHSAA.
When a Christian civilization loses its sense of justice, the consequences on the ground show up in big ways (killing unborn children, preemptively attacking foreign countries, constructing a welfare state that destroys lives) and in small ways. Cheating a high school team out of a chance to compete for a state championship is I suppose a small thing, at least relatively speaking. But it is a symptom. And did I mention, it stinks.
What is most scary, perhaps, is how routinely the stench is accepted with no complaint. I did read one sportswriter who understood that the current rules are wrongheaded. Heaven bless him. But there doesn’t seem to be any outcry raised, statewide, to change the ridiculous rule that cost North Harrison a chance at a run for the state championship. If we lose our sense of justice, we are in deep do-do. We seem to have misplaced it, at least temporarily. I hope we get it back. It will be too late for North Harrison, but not too late for countless coming generations. That is, if we get it back. If we continue to shrug and say “Whatever” to unjust things big or small, who can predict if or when we will get our sense of justice back in working order?