January 16, 2006

An Old-time Hoosier Saturday Night

On Saturday I stood in line to buy a Pepsi and a hot dog at a high school basketball game. The line snaked back towards the gym floor. Seated in a wheelchair next to the bleachers was Sandy Allen. She was right beside me. She happens to be the tallest woman in the world. In her customized wheel chair she was still nearly as tall as I, even though she was sitting.

I was one of around 5,000 people at the game. I am sure any of you from outside Indiana are incredulous. Five Thousand people -- that is not a typo. Once upon a time such crowds were common at Indiana High School basketball games. For the record, the gym seats 5,832. The population of the city is around 17,000. There are around 1,000 students in the school. There are 19 high school gyms in Indiana that seat more fans. In fact, I believe that 19 of the 20 largest high school gyms in the US are in Indiana.

Did you see that forgettable movie Blue Chips? The interior shots of the "home gym" was filmed in my old high school. That gymnasium seats more than 5,500. It is named after Everett Case, the famous NC State coach. Case won 4 state championships at Frankfort and compiled a record of 385-99-1 (.794). His record over 18 seasons at NC State was 379-134 (.739) including six straight Southern Conference titles.

From the 1940's through the 1970's most high schools had crowds of this size for every game. The seats were made smaller and the gyms stuffed beyond capacity come tournament time. The crowds are much smaller now as there are more distractions and ways to spend the family entertainment budget. The advent of class basketball had a little to do with the declining interest as well. Can you name the largest crowd to see a basketball game in the RCA dome Indianapolis? It is not one of the NCAA final four games. It was one of the final single class basketball tournament games in Indiana (1997 was the last). More than 41,000 people watched Damon Bailey sink three free throws at the end of the game to lead his team to the State Championship.

Saturday, I watched the undefeated locals take on the 4th ranked team in the state (class 4A - the largest schools). It was one of the best ball games I have seen at any level. The home team won by three points. It was a well-defended, Larry Byrd-type shooting game from both teams.

I then came home to see the Patriots choke against Denver. Make no mistake -- the Pats lost. Denver did not win. On Sunday I watch the Steelers beat the Colts. Make no doubt about that game either. The game was never as close as the score, and the officials did all they could to help the Colts. In the end I think you can blame rust, and a huge choke for the loss. Oh, and again, the Steelers were a better team.

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