Public hearings to measure support for multi-class, high school basketball

By Lesley Weidenbener
The Statehouse File

INDIANAPOLIS – Hoosiers will have a chance to express their views on the state’s multi-class basketball tournament – which is now 16 years old – during a series of 11 public hearings across the state in April and May.

The public meetings are scheduled for 7 p.m at the following high schools:

Fort Wayne Northrop High School, April 10
Vincennes Lincoln High School, April 16
Plainfield High School, April 17
Seymour High School, April 23
Pendleton Heights High School, April 24
Merrillville High School, April 25
Milan High School, May 1
Plymouth High School, May 8
Marion High School, May 10
Connersville High School, May 16
Gary Roosevelt High School, May 24

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The Indiana High School Athletic Association – under pressure from state lawmakers – will also conduct straw polls to gauge public opinion and survey coaches, principals and athletic directors on the issue.

“We’re going to collect all our input first and then see what the data tells us,” said IHSAA Commissioner Bobby Cox. “Eleven cities in two months will be a long road trip, but we’re looking forward to it.”

Cox promised to release the results to the public and lawmakers.

The public hearings came out of a deal struck between Cox and state Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, who calls basketball a key part of Indiana’s heritage and culture.

Under the agreement, Delph agreed to drop legislation he introduced earlier this year to force the state back to a one-class basketball tournament, while the athletics association agreed to host the public meetings.

Indiana High School Athletic Association Commissioner Bobby Cox said Thursday that he is eager to hear from the public about whether Hoosiers like the four-class basketball tournament in place now or want to go back to a single-class tournament the group abandoned in 1996. Photo by Lesley Weidenbener, The Statehouse File.

Delph called the hearings a “courageous step” taken by the IHSAA and Cox said he believed it important “for our organization to listen to the opinions of the general public.”

But Cox said a final decision about the tournament will still be made by the IHSAA’s board and member principals, which voted to move the state to a multi-class system in 1996.

The hearings will begin April 10 with a 7 p.m. meeting at Fort Wayne Northrop High School and end on May 24 with a 7 p.m. meeting at Gary Roosevelt High School. Attendees will have two minutes to comment on the issue.

The debate involves both girls’ and boys’ basketball but not other sports. The original 1996 IHSAA decision moved a number of sports – including basketball, soccer and volleyball – to class-based competitions.

That change led to a public outcry and calls for public officials to act to save what had been considered a storied, single-class tournament. But multiple legislative proposals to get rid of multi-class basketball failed.

Today, the students participating in the tournaments are too young to ever have remembered the single-class system and Cox said IHSAA member principals seem “content” with the tournament.

Still, Delph said he believes the state’s move to multiple-class basketball was a mistake that has led to lower attendance and produces no clear champion. He also said the multi-class tournament sends the wrong message to student athletes.

“You see this seeping into all kinds of institutions in our society,” Delph said. “We have this believe that everyone is going to be a champion, everybody should win and everybody should succeed. The fact of the matter is life is not that way. Failure is an important life lesson that young people must and need to learn.”

But Delph also said that if the meetings and surveys show that “the overwhelming response is counter to my personal position, I respect that.”

Lesley Weidenbener is managing editing of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

The public meetings are scheduled for 7 p.m at the following high schools:

Fort Wayne Northrop High School, April 10
Vincennes Lincoln High School, April 16
Plainfield High School, April 17
Seymour High School, April 23
Pendleton Heights High School, April 24
Merrillville High School, April 25
Milan High School, May 1
Plymouth High School, May 8
Marion High School, May 10
Connersville High School, May 16
Gary Roosevelt High School, May 24

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