By Joe Henricksen

The good, the bad from Peoria

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By Joe Henricksen

The Elite Eight weekend in boys basketball is a festival, a hoops oasis as fans, high school coaches, media members, officials and college coaches come together to celebrate a season and a sport. After spending four days in Peoria last weekend -- my 21st trip in the last 23 years to the state tournament -- it was no different. Everyone came together as usual to socialize and talk basketball, be it in restaurants, bars, hospitality rooms, hotel lobbies or Carver Arena.

The basketball was better than most people expected, with the parity in Peoria much like what we saw throughout the season. Richards and Zion-Benton both stepped up and played at an extremely high level for themselves, playing a terrific Class 4A title game. If this were the NCAA Final Four, the Richards tandem of Carl Richard and Shaun Pratl would have made themselves millions in improving their draft stock.

Simeon and Marshall again showed why they are the two premier basketball programs in the Chicago Public League -- and the state. In three years Simeon now has a pair of state titles and a state runner-up finish. Marshall, meanwhile, has a state championship to add to its two third-place trophies in that same time period. Marshall's attack mode, both in transition and defensively, was fun to watch. And Stan Simpson's rapid rise gave Illinois fans hope for the future with a big man who could actually knock down free throws.

The Washington-Marshall matchup in the 3A semifinal was entertaining. And the Zion-Benton-Evanston battle was a classic state tournament thriller/heartbreaker, with Z-B's Ronald Steward ending a dramatic game with a steal and buzzer-beating 40-footer to stun the Wildkits.

In the end, though, despite the positive storylines and the quality, competitive basketball, it just wasn't the same. It was just as I expected -- tradition lost, probably forever, with very little buzz or electricity. So many people I ran into -- coaches, fans, media members -- had similar thoughts and phrases .... "It just feels different." .... "Why does the IHSA continue to try and fix things that don't need to be?" .... I watched a very competitive field of teams in both 3A and 4A and thought to myself, "There is no reason why any of these teams can't compete with any other team that is in Peoria." There is no need for these two classes to be separated. You felt as if there were more games to be played, maybe a Richards-Marshall title game?

I felt for Simeon and Marshall, who finished their tightly contested game with probably 2,000 fans in attendance. It resembled a midseason shootout. The atmosphere was stunningly dead. And while Richards and Zion-Benton played their hearts out and could probably care less if there were two classes or four, it's a shame these two worthy teams didn't get their shot at the two teams -- Simeon and Marshall -- that are perceived to be the two best in Illinois.

There is so much that will be missed.

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7 Comments

I was curious...

Since the IHSA administration refuses to realize and fix mistakes, is there a way we could organize a mass movement to remove them from office...
Even remove princi(not our)pals if they continue to follow this moronic agenda of the current IHSA administration?

Anyone interested???

Phil

Could someone please provide a thorough explanation of how and why the 4 class system came to be adopted?
I follow IHSA basketball closely and I still don't understand what happened. A majority of the fans I talked to in the stands this season seemed confused by the change, both in terms of the manner in which it was adopted and in terms of its effect on the regional/sectional structure of the tournament. I did not speak with any fans this season who actually supported the change.
From what I could tell, a majority of Chicago fans think the change was pushed through by downstate schools. Given the results (Public League wins 4 titles and the suburbs owned the Boys' 4A), I find this hard to believe.
So who wanted the change and why?
I guess I'm asking Henricksen and Tucker for an explanation, since you two seem to have more of an appreciation for the history and tradition of the IHSA tourney than other more Chicago-centric writers.
Thanks in advance, basketball fans everywhere will be in your debt.

I have commented about the officiating also in Peoria and for the last several seasons. I have had emails back and forth with Taylor Bell about the officials specifically in the Evanston-Zion Benton game. Both teams were playing equally aggressive defense but free throw discrepancy. ZB shot 25 free throws to 8 for Evanston. If you watch a tape or DVD of the game objectively you will see what I am talking about. Particularly Steven Rudnicki of Evanston getting knocked around like a pinball machine. Didn't shoot a free throw all weekend until 1:24 left in the third place game vs Lockport. It is not like Evanston shhots a lot of three pointers either. The guards Rudnicki and Zack Morton drive to the basket a lot. Also I don't like the four class system. Too watered down. Really should be one state champ. We are trying to teach kids about real life. It doesn't matter how big or small you are you still have to try and make it in this world. It's called competition and it is in everyday life. So what are we teaching the kids by giving a trophy to everybody. Life is about competition especially when trying to compete for a job. Great lesson the IHSA is trying to teach. At least Evanston kids have learned consistently in the last few years that life is not fair. Especially officiating. I did write a letter to the IHSA person in charge of officiating to voice my displeasure over the officiating.

As an avid IHSA Elite 8 fan (I have attended over 20 in my 42 years) I took a vow that I would NEVER walk into that tourney again unless one of my affiliated schools made it to Carver. That did happen this year.....I had to go BUT it wasn't the same. It wasn't even close.

I couldn't say it any better, Joe. Thanks for the great blog!

AWR .... Here is the background. There was a push made for four classes. And in the end, the lack of input by high school administrators in this state was embarrassing -- and cost us the two-class system. There was a survey conducted by the IHSA a few years back and only 57 percent of the principals of the member schools in the IHSA responded. Remember, this was a survey with a bunch of different survey questions, with four-class basketball casually put into the survey. Now here is where it gets ridiculous. Of those 57 percent that replied to the survey, 64 percent voted for class expansion. This means that only 36 percent (36 percent!!!!) of the membership voted for class expansion. We make a monumental and important decision for this state's athletic future on this? These were principals that voted. The Illinois Basketball Coaches Association voted unanimously against it. But the IHSA really could care less, obviously. I personally conducted a lengthy survey in the Hoops Report issue two years ago, with samplings from all different areas of the state and all different sized schools. Here is what those results were ...
Class 4A schools: 32 against; 2 for expansion
Class 3A schools: 35 against; 8 for expansion
Class 2A schools: 29 against; 7 for expansion
Class 1A schools: 10 against; 19 for expansion

The atmosphere was not the same. A team had to survive Friday to get to Saturday. The anticipation and drama was gone.
Now the afternoon sessions play...their fans go home for the reception...and no one is left for the 3rd place game. Before, the semi-finals on Saturday determined Saturday night's games. Fans had a reason to stay. The reason is gone...and so are the fans. Only the true diehards, coaches and casual corporate fans will attend.

Thanks for providing the background to the situation. I believe the IHSA has made a mistake and here's one reason why:
The sense of playing a weekend tournament for the state championship has been lost. Previously we had the Elite Eight teams show up to play in a single elimination tournament. To win the state championship your team had to win three consecutive games. If your team lost its Friday quarterfinal game, you went home. If your team won on Friday, there was a Saturday semifinal game. The winners of the two semifinal games advanced to Saturday night's championship game. Eight teams, three games, four trophies.
Now we have four teams from each of two classes, each class having its own tournament. To win the state championship your team must now win two consecutive games. Each team plays a semifinal game on Friday and a championship (or consolation) game on Saturday. Four teams, two games and four trophies. Everyone gets a trophy.
Heartless as it may sound to some, the threat of elimination tends to improve and increase the effort put forth in an athletic contest. Thus, the four class system has removed much of the drama and excitement from the state championship weekend tournament games. Previously, half of the Elite Eight field was eliminated on Friday and went home without a trophy. The remaining four teams had to play both semifinal and championship round games on Saturday in order to win a trophy.
Now, the four teams from each class are guaranteed a trophy before the first game is even played.
There are those who think that everyone deserves a trophy in order to soothe the heartbreak of the losing team.
But the possibility of going home without a trophy tends to focus a team upon its objective and a trophy earned under such heartless conditions surely means much more to its owners.

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This page contains a single entry by Joe Henricksen published on March 18, 2008 11:46 AM.

Peoria performances leaves 'em talking was the previous entry in this blog.

One last rant on four classes is the next entry in this blog.

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