The NCAA tournament continues tonight; but basketball action isn’t limited to college. The high school level offers some of the best tournament play in Indiana. This so-called Hoosier Hysteria dredges up mythic stories of underdog teams beating all odds. But WBEZ’s Northwest Indiana reporter Michael Puente explains some people wonder if Hoosier basketball is as exciting as in years past.
Indiana high school basketball strikes a nerve way outside the heartland. Take the Hollywood film called “Hoosiers.” It’s a David versus Goliath story: a tiny town’s basketball team goes up against the kids from the big city. Here’s Gene Hackman, playing the coach:
HACKMAN: Forget about the crowds. The size of the school. Their fancy uniforms. And remember what got you here. And most important, don’t get caught up thinking about winning or losing this game.
This big - screen tale of a high school tournament is loosely based on reality - or at least how Indiana high school basketball used to be played. Back then, all high school teams played each other through the full season ...and tournaments ... so the small towns really could take on big cities. But that changed 13 years ago.
Now, kick-butt teams like Hammond’s Bishop Noll Institute - must play schools their own size during tournaments. The school has less than 600 students. Bishop Noll beat big-city teams during the regular season, but tomorrow, they’ll face a school that’s similar in size to their own in the championship in Indianapolis.
Bishop Noll’s star guard, 6-foot-3 Adonis Filer, says his team can play with anyone. After all, they are 25 and 0.
FILER: I think I can compete at any level of play.
Despite its talent, Filer’s team is limited to Class 2-A, the second-smallest division. He wasn’t around back when smaller schools could take on big ones in tournaments. Filer says it’s enough that they beat them during the regular season.
FILER: I don’t really think it makes a difference. If a team is good, a team is good. And, at the end of the day, we’re still undefeated so and we played 4-A teams, so it doesn’t really mean anything to me.
MILLER: I was not a fan at all of the change to class basketball. I think it was a giant mistake and I think it has taken away greatly from the tradition and history the game has in this state.
That’s Travis Miller. He follows high school basketball for a sports blog called SBNationIndiana.com. Miller was in high school when tournament play was broken up into a system of four classes. He says under the newer rules - something’s missing.
MILLER: You have some 2-A schools recently that very easily could have taken out 4-A schools on their way to the state championship. The die hard fans like myself, we still long for that old tournament and there’s still a lot of support for it.
But not everyone liked the old days of Hoosier high school ball. Here’s John Mutka -- a veteran sports writer for the Post-Tribune newspaper in Northwest Indiana.
MUTKA: Hoosier Hysteria was not quiet as hysterical as it used to be and it was starting to slip. These little schools, they were getting their rear-ends kicked every year.
Mutka says Bishop Noll’s winning ways are not diminished because they play in a smaller class.
MUTKA: Going unbeaten. I mean, they played some big schools up here. They just didn’t play schools in their conference, they played some toughies.
Bloggers and sports enthusiasts might still duke it out over what tournament system was best, but regulators say things are unlikely to change.
Here’s Bobby Cox, the commissioner of the Indiana High School Athletic Association.
COX: I don’t think those young people are going to think one thing different but be very proud of their accomplishment. And anybody that would want to diminish that just doesn’t really understand what education-based athletics is all about.
Cox predicts a sell-out crowd at tomorrow’s championship games.