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Indiana legislators consider basketball tourney bill

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State lawmakers who want to force a return to Indiana's old single-class high school basketball tournament said Wednesday the Legislature should have a role in that decision because of the tourney's decades-long cultural importance.

The head of the Indiana High School Athletics Association, however, said such an action would be a sign of "big government" getting involved with something that should be left to local school leaders.

A hearing before the state Senate's education committee renewed a debate in the Legislature that lawmakers have heard several times since the IHSAA began its four-class boys and girls basketball tournaments based on school enrollment sizes in 1998.

Bill sponsor Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, said the current format has "failed miserably" and that the old tournament celebrated in the 1986 movie "Hoosiers" helped unite the state for decades. The committee held a nearly three-hour hearing on Delph's bill, which also has provisions to block school districts from starting their academic year before Labor Day and require the teaching of cursive writing.

Delph reminisced about watching tournament games with his grandmother as a child and following teams from places like Evansville, Connersville and New Castle.

"I learned the state of Indiana because of basketball," he said. "When we had a one-class basketball tournament it was a time that brought our state together."

IHSAA leaders defend the current tourney as promoting fairness by giving smaller schools a better chance to advance in their tournaments than when they sometimes had to face schools with perhaps a thousand or more additional students.

IHSAA Commissioner Bobby Cox said he hoped the Legislature would allow the organization's 408 member schools to decide how to run the basketball tournament.

"I think it's an example of big government imposing its will on a private organization that, quite honestly, has great representation," Cox said.

Brookville resident Jim Suhre told the committee he believed the state lost something "uniquely Hoosier" when the tournament was changed and hoped to see it changed back even though he was a four-year starter for a high school team that lost to bigger schools in the old tourney's early rounds.

He suggested putting the question up to a statewide voter referendum, saying "let people know that tradition is important."

Some legislators failed in the 1990s to force at least a voter referendum on the tournament format. The House in 2005 passed a resolution asking for the single-class tournament's return.

The debate over the teaching of cursive writing started after the state Department of Education in April dropped it as a required part of school curriculum and told the district that students will be expected to become proficient in keyboard use. It is unclear whether any schools have stopped teaching cursive writing.

A similar proposal from Delph on the school start date failed to clear the Senate last year.

Supporters argue that families lose out on summer vacation time together when school years start in mid-August as has become common in recent years and that a later start date would boost recreational and tourism businesses. Opponents say decisions about school calendars should be left up to local elected school boards.

Delph said the state constitution gives the Legislature full authority over public schools, but some committee members said they weren't sure these were issues with which they should become involved.

Cox said he expected Indiana sports fans would debate a return to a single-class tournament as long as there are still people alive who remember it.

"We're always going to have people that want to reach back and be nostalgic about the great old days and how great the tournament was," Cox said.

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  • Seriously
    If this is all our legislators have to worry about we really need to go to a part time legislature.
  • HOW IRONIC
    IHSAA Commissioner Bobby Cox said he hoped the Legislature would allow the organization's 408 member schools to decide how to run the basketball tournament.
    "I think it's an example of big government imposing its will on a private organization that, quite honestly, has great representation," Cox said.

    really Bob?.........maybe the ISHAA is the "big" govt dictating to a public which does not like "class" bball.
  • purge
    Get rid of any legislator that spends time on this issue. Take care of the state issues and get out of high school sports,the legislators are too arrogant for their own good.
  • Cox is a tool
    Bobby Cox is a tool. Fairness in the real world is competing against everyone else and coming out on top. Class basketball was and still is a dumb idea. Small towns compete against large cities in a global economy, so why can't small schools compete against larger ones? Fairness is beating the best!
  • Doomed
    This is doomed to fail - with the add on's of Labor day start and cursive. And I think the state has more to worry about than this - like getting the dems to play fair and show up!
  • Butt out
    As much as I would like to see a single tournament again in Indiana, I want the State to stay out of the decision process.
    Doesn't the State Senate have enough on its plate with Right to Work, highways, taxes and crime without interfering with high school basketball?

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