While Indianapolis will be flooded with fans from Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee for this weekend’s NCAA Tournament Midwest regional, Indiana’s one-time signature event will likely get lost in the shuffle.
Perhaps the boys’ high school basketball state finals at Bankers Life Fieldhouse will see some walk-ins from the visiting college fans, but nothing can mask the fact that it no longer has anywhere near the magnitude it once did.
The state titles handed out in four classes will always mean a lot to the players and fans of the schools who win them. But when you compare them to the historic match-ups and achievements of the single-class era, whether it’s Milan ‘54 or 41,000 people in the Hoosier Dome to see Damon Bailey, today’s championship Saturday is a sad shell.
Indiana isn’t alone in this. Last weekend, I attended Illinois’ version, one that elicits the same “Remember when …?” reminiscence of a beloved time now gone forever.
The term “March Madness” was first used regarding Illinois’ 1939 tournament. Like its neighbor to its east, the Illinois state finals has a history jammed with amazing teams, with names like Cazzie Russell, Quinn Buckner, Isiah Thomas, Benji Wilson, LaPhonso Ellis, Michael Finley, Quentin Richardson, Derrick Rose and Jabari Parker among its incredible list of competitors.
Illinois had a single class until 1971, when it split into two. That didn’t change much, as competition and relevance remained high. In 2008, however, it went to four classes, and statewide and local interest has fallen off the map since.
Classes 1A and 2A run one weekend, 3A and 4A the next. Both include a 3-point and dunk contest, the former of which has qualifying at postseason sites throughout the tourney. It has a weekend-long interactive event in a connected exhibition hall, that features skills and shooting contests for children. The state wheelchair hoops championship is also part of the festivities.