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Happy 10th birthday to class sports

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 10 years since the inception of multi-class basketball here in the state of Indiana.
It seems like only yesterday (though it was really March of 1998) I was sitting on press row at the RCA Dome, watching four teams ‘ instead of one ‘ cut down the nets as state champions.
The whole setup just seemed … well … odd.
There was a time I was all about keeping the one-class tournament. It was hip. It was unique. It was something I could brag about (even though I’m a native Kentuckian).
Not only did Indiana have the world’s largest high school gymnasium, it also boasted of a state final attended by more than 76,000 people.
That’s right: Seventy-freaking-thousand people.
But that was an anomaly.
The year prior to that staggering figure, there were ‘only’ 31,325 people who attended the state championship at the now-extinct Market Square Arena.
The years following the 1990 watermark tailed off from 66k, to 61k, to 52k, and eventually to just over 41,000 in 1996.
By then, the wheels were already set in motion for the switch to multi-class hoops.
I didn’t really understand why the Indiana High School Athletic Association would destroy Hoosier Hysteria as we know it.
Then, after seeing what hope looked like in the faces of athletes at places like small-school Lanesville and South Central during tournament time, I got it.
Prior to 2002, South and Lanesville had combined for exactly one basketball sectional title: South Central, 1974, at Floyd Central.
One championship, between four teams ‘ two boys, two girls ‘ over the duration of each school’s existence both pre- and post-consolidation.
Ouch. Since 2002, they’ve picked up the pace: Lanesville and South Central have won six sectional championships in basketball (South boys in 2002, South girls from 2003 to 2006, and Lanesville’s boys last year).
Here’s a little fact-oid: Lanesville and South Central have more appearances in the state finals of team sports (three) than the county’s two larger schools, Corydon Central and North Harrison (one).
When the boys varsity basketball teams from Lanesville and Borden tipped off for the sectional championship last year, folks in attendance were witnessing history.
Two clubs who had never won a boys basketball sectional were trying to erase 161 combined years of futility in the state tournament.
Fortunately for Eagles fans, then-junior Chris VanHoose sank a pair of free throws with :0.08 left to secure the title.
Were it not for class sports, that electric atmosphere and thrilling finish would not have happened (if you were there, you know how charged the air was).
With all due respect to the other teams in the field at Henryville, this year, the Eagles have a chance to repeat as boys basketball sectional champions.
I bet former Eagles coach Jerry Reinhardt never thought he’d have said those words 20 years ago!
If not for class sports, the girls basketball teams from Corydon and South Central would have probably never had a chance to step onto the state final hardwood at Conseco Fieldhouse in 2005 and 2006.
What about that overtime thriller between North Harrison’s and Beech Grove’s girls? Or Corydon’s boys advancing to the semi-state to face off against eventual 3A champ Bishop Chatard?
Those memorable moments probably don’t happen under the old format.
See, the tournament isn’t something for you or me to brag about. It’s for the young men and women who put in the blood, sweat and tears to reach an attainable goal.
As fans, we should just sit back, support the kids, and enjoy the ride.