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The Death of a Game

1986 Hoosiers starring Gene Hackman

Basketball is king in the state of Indiana. The game has defined the culture of the state for over one hundred years and continues to do so to this day. The infamous story of the 1954 Milan High School’s victory over Muncie Central is considered the purest game of basketball ever played in the state. Milan, whose enrollment at the time was 161, managed to triumph over Muncie Central whose enrollment was nearly 8 times larger. The game later served as inspiration for the 1986 movie Hoosiers.

High school basketball is arguably the source of the state’s Hoosier culture. This importance can be seen in the size of Indiana High School gyms. Over the course of the fifties and sixties Indiana High Schools created, and continues to maintain 12 of the 13 largest High School gyms in America, the largest of which is located in New Castle, Indiana and holds nearly 10,000 people.

Unfortunately for the state the significance of High School basketball has begun to die. While the rise of the state major collegiate basketball programs and the arrival of the Indianapolis Colts in 1984 certainly have had an effect on high school basketball’s slow demise, the source of this death has come at the hands of the “class” system first enacted in the 1997-1998 season. Prior to this system, which has been enacted nationally, Indiana only had one high school basketball champion. Under this one-class system regular season games held increased significance because each school had to qualify to enter the postseason. Additionally this system led to notable David vs. Goliath matchups such as the infamous 1954 championship game. It even led to the largest witnessed high school game in the history of the basketball when 40,000 people watched Damon Bailey’s Bedford North Lawrence Stars win the 1990 championship in the RCA dome.

The system did have flaws however. During the late 90’s however a trend began to emerge. Larger schools seemed to be winning the championship and the fans of smaller schools wanted their schools to succeed. So in 1997 the Indiana High School Athletic Association instituted a class tournament system, which crowned our champions a year. While many considered this a solution to the problems created by the old tournament, new problems emerged. This emerging problem was most notable in the smaller classes where private schools began to dominate their competition. While similar in size to their public school opponents, these private schools seemed to be filled with much more talent than their public school competition. For the past 6 years a private school has won the state championship at the 2A level.

A similar trend began to appear in Indiana High School football as well as more and more private schools seemed to be dominating their competition. To combat this trend the IHSAA enacted a points system to the football tournament. Based on where a team receives one point for a sectional championship, two for a regional, three for semi state, and four for a state championship. If a team accumulates 6 points or more over two seasons they’d be bumped up a class.

This “private school” rule could be useful in Indiana’s high school basketball as well but one thing remains, high school basketball is dying in Indiana. Perhaps it’s the fault of the multiple class system, or the increasing publicity of the state’s college teams or the success of the Indianapolis Colts, but one thing is clear. Something needs to change, and change quickly, or else high school basketball will disappear from the state’s culture.