Thursday, March 30, 2006

The State of Hoops in Hoosierland

Pat Forde, former UK beat writer for the Courier-Journal, has a terrific article out on about basketball at all levels in the state of Indiana. With IU hiring Kelvin Sampson from Oklahoma yesterday some Hoosier fans have bemoaned both the hire and the overall state of basketball in the most hoops-crazed state in the country. Although I don't think it's fair to write off Sampson a day after he's hired, criticism of the decline of high school basketball's popularity -- part of the social fabric in Indiana -- seems fair as high school basketball is not nearly as meaningful as it used to be. I've heard my friend & Indiana native Brian Wise make many of these same points and comments that Forde makes.

Sometimes it's hard for things to go back to the way they were. A good read nonetheless.

If you understand all that, if you grasp the folklore and the sport's place in society, you can understand what the state tournament used to be. For that, take a drive through the rolling hills of Southern Indiana.

On Indiana Highway 37 you'll see a sign outside Mitchell, pop. 5,000. It commemorates the 1940 state tournament runner-up, the Mitchell High Bluejackets.

Not the champions. The runners-up. From 66 years ago.

Understand that Indiana is home to 19 of the 20 largest high school gyms in America, topped by New Castle High, Alford's alma mater, at 9,325 seats. Understand that the Indiana State Library's Web site lists no fewer than 33 books on its shelves relating to high school basketball, including, "Somebody Stole the Pea Out of My Whistle: The Golden Age of Hoosier Basketball Referees." Understand that if there were such a thing as a state sound, in Indiana it would be a basketball slapping off a wood floor in an empty gym.

"For smaller schools, the state championships were the sectionals," Bailey said. "If you could come through the sectional and win it, you had that one great weekend of games to remember."


There would be no Milan [the school "Hoosiers" is based upon] miracle under the current format. Nothing to talk about for the next 50 years. "Since they went to class basketball, Milan has been to the semistate twice, and nobody knows it," Plump said. "That gives you the idea that people don't care. The sectional winners in the old days will be remembered a long time after the four state champions are remembered.

"When you can play, you want to play against the big boys. You might get your brains beat out, but it won't be the last time that happens in life."

Basketball in this state is getting its brains beat out on every level these days. For the good of the game and the good of the people who love it more than anywhere else, that needs to change.

After all, in 49 states it's just basketball. But this is Indiana.

1 comment:

Brian said...

I strongly disagree with Forde's contention about the state of Hoosier Hoops and lay out my argument (with evidence) on my blog at I've got some credibility on the subject as I graduated from a small school in southern Indiana that just won its first state title. Let me know what you think.