K-12 and High School Sports and Regional News and Viewpoint and Sports Business

3-class basketball is the right answer

November 17, 2008
There's a new direction to the wind that's been circulating around the multi-class system that has divided Indiana high schools into four classes since the 1996-1997 school year. Instead of four classes, the Indiana Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association has been surveying member schools to see if they support or oppose going to three classes instead of four.

Naturally, the tiny schools oppose the plan, while larger and middle-size schools seem to favor it. Of the 407 Indiana High School Athletic Association member schools in the state, most are in favor of going to a three-class format.

Once again, the dinky schools want to keep winning big trophies, too! As a practical matter, the class system in Indiana sports, especially basketball, has made winning the "state championship" in the smallest class mean next to nothing, except to the people whose kids attend the very small schools. The small schools argue that for them to have to play the "big" schools isn't fair. Fairness, however, isn't the only lesson to be learned from participating in high school athletics! The world isn't always fair and being the big fish in the tiny pond sometimes means nothing more than that it's still a tiny pond.

A three-class system would, however, be an improvement over our present four-class format. Does anybody remember who won the Class A state basketball championship two years ago?

What the IHSAA did, in its attempt to make everybody feel good about their school and their team, was to create a practically worthless "championship" title. Frankly, we've gone way too far trying to make self-esteem the central theme in our educational system. The way it is today, a kid gets a big trophy at the end of the season, regardless of the sport, for just showing up for practices! What are these kids going to do when they hit the big time—often called "real life"?

In the days when Indiana had a one-class basketball tournament, winning a sectional or regional title was not beyond the grasp of any high school in the state. Many small schools and communities took more pride in winning their sectional, or regional, or even playing in a semi-state than they do now winning a state title that means far less. On the other hand, I do feel sorry for the tiny high schools that have little chance of ever winning a state title in basketball. But in a three-class system, winning a sectional title would still be significant, and small high schools could still go as far as their talent, teamwork and desire would take them.

Now, because we want the little schools to feel good about being little, look what's happened as a result of our four-class tournament. Attendance is down, media coverage is down, revenue is down, and fan interest and attendance at tournament games are down.

Being called a state champion should mean being good enough to take on some of the "big kids" and beating them. Therein lies the joy and meaning of victory.

Maybe the solution is to make the winners' trophy proportionally as big as the school that wins it. That would mean the Class A boys' and Class A girls' state basketball champions would get a trophy about 4 inches high—a real eye-catcher in any trophy case—but reflective of the significance of the victory.
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Barada is an author and president of Barada Associates Inc., a reference-checking service in Rushville.
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