Only 18 seconds were needed to turn former Milan player Bobby Plump into an Indiana high school basketball legend in the eyes of many diehard fans.
Plump capped off what is among the biggest upsets in Indiana basketball history when he rose up and nailed a two-point jumper to win the 1954 state championship against powerhouse Muncie Central. Plump and the rest of his teammates showed that a school of fewer than 200 students had a chance to knock off a high school juggernaut with an enrollment of more than 2,000 kids.
Many fans also remember the Bloomington North team that beat Delta 75-54 to win the 1997 state title. The 1997 Cougars hold a special place in the hearts of Indiana basketball fans because that season marks the end of an era that will most likely never return to Hoosier Hysteria.
Forty-three years after Plump’s historic upsetting buzzer-beater, Hoosier fans had come to the realization that they likely will never get a chance to experience an upset of that nature ever again. The IHSAA eliminated the one-class system and broke competition into four classes at the start of the 1997-98 season. That format still holds today, with Classes A, 2A, 3A and 4A based on school enrollment size.
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This week marks the 20-year anniversary of the first four-class boys tournament. The new format brought a number of different changes and opinions surrounding the sport at the high school level. Some fans, coaches, media and former players are split between which system they like the best, while others are strongly leaning one way or the other.
Columbus North boys basketball assistant coach Lance Barker grew up playing in the one-class system at Columbus East and said he prefers that system over today’s format.
“When you’ve played under that one system, and I think a lot of people that played under that one system would agree, that it’s hard to see the classes broken up,” Barker said. “Don’t get me wrong, I understand it to a certain extent, but then again, it’s hard to adapt to it that way.”
One of the biggest complaints about the four-class system from longtime fans is the difference in excitement surrounding the sport. Many fans who are in favor of the one-class system often point out the smaller crowd sizes of today, compared to the crowd sizes from two or three decades ago.
Columbus East graduate Carl Weichman noticed the drop in attendance but said that may not be solely on the difference in format. Weichhman credits some of the attendance dropoff to the fact that there are more high school sports and activities that basketball is competing with that were not around in the 1950s and ‘60s.
Weichman, like many other fans who support the class system, has acknowledged the exposure it gives to smaller schools who may not be able to ever accomplish what Milan did more than 60 years ago. Although he agrees with the fact that the overall attendance has died down, he thinks it lifted the game-by-game crowd sizes for smaller schools.
“I think it helps the small schools, but it takes away from the bigger schools in a way,” Weichman said. “We won’t see the Milan again, but you’ll see like Hauser or maybe Indian Creek one of these days or maybe even Brown County come out on top and win a Class 2(A), A or 3A championship, which is good for the small school … If you’re playing schools you’re own size, you’re going to have a better chance to win.”
Breaking high school basketball down into classes gives an opportunity for programs like the 2006 Hauser boys team to be able to showcase its talents by playing at Conseco Fieldhouse, now known as Bankers Life Fieldhouse, and winning the school’s only boys basketball state championship, a Class A title.
Former Hauser basketball player and assistant coach Griff Roth also played in the one-class system and is currently the Jets’ head coach. Being somebody who has been involved with both systems at the same smalltown school, he likes the opportunities he gives to his players that he didn’t necessarily have when he was wearing a Hauser jersey.
“In the single class, you always played bigger schools, and it was really hard to get out of a sectional,” Roth said. “The four-class system, I believe it gives our kids a little bit more exposure. They get to experience playing in a sectional and a regional, or a semistate and a state … It gives kids from a smaller school a better experience, I think.”
Would the Jets have really had a chance to make it through to the 2006 state finals in the one-class system and compete against a much larger school in Lawrence North that included the 2007 NBA No. 1 draft pick in Greg Oden and 10-year NBA veteran in Memphis Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley? The Wildcats didn’t lose a single game all season and beat Muncie Central by 24 points in the same year Hauser won its state title against Tri-Central.
However, last year’s Class 3A state champion, Indianapolis Attucks, lost to 4A North Central by just four points during the regular season just three days before North Central beat eventual 4A state champion Ben Davis by 11 points. Does that prove that Attucks might have been good enough to win the 4A state title? If this was two decades ago, fans would have been able to find out the answer.
The Tournament of Champions was immediately added into postseason play once the format changed, but it only lasted for two seasons. The Tournament of Champions was a tournament between the four state champions to see who would be come out on top.
Pike, the 4A state champion, ended up routing Class A state champ Lafayette Central Catholic by a 43-point margin in the first championship game of the Tournament of Champions.
Barker likes the idea of giving smaller schools a chance to see if they are able to compete with the bigger schools, but East boys coach Brent Chitty said having a Tournament of Champions is kind of counterproductive.
“I win a state championship one week, and next week, I get drilled by 40 by a bigger school, that’s not the way you want to end it,” Chitty said. “The thing I always say is this — I think our kids are lucky to play basketball in the state of Indiana. I think it’s a blessing. I hope that they understand that because not everybody gets this chance … I hope they enjoy it, no matter what class they’re playing in or who they’re playing against.”
The conversation of a one-class system versus a four-class system has been debated and will be debated for years to come. Some fans will argue that the class system has ruined certain basketball rivalries between schools, while others could argue it’s helped create new rivalries.
However, North girls basketball coach and Indiana Basketball Coaches Association sports information director Pat McKee said he believes the difference in formats has no bearing on the game itself and what players take away from it.
“The game is the game, and there are many good lessons you learn, whether it was in the old one class, or single class or non-class system or whatever you want to call it,” McKee said. “Players learn and develop and get great life lessons through basketball no matter the system. … The biggest difference is the crowd and the engagement of the common fan.”
Key dates in Indiana high school basketball history
1911: The first state tournament is held in Assembly Hall at Indiana University. Crawfordsville wins the first state title.
1954: Milan upsets Muncie Central in arguably one of the biggest upsets in Indiana high school basketball history.
1988: The 3-point shot is added to high school basketball.
1997: Bloomington North wins the final one-class state championship.
1998: First season of the four-class system and the start of the Tournament of Champions.
1999: Last year for the Tournament of Champions.