By Joe Henricksen
The Chicago Public League has certainly produced its share of basketball talent and memories over the years. But along with the big names, special teams and magical moments, plenty of controversy has come with it. A little more is on its way.
All Class 4A and 3A sectional seeds from high school coaches from around the state were due in electronically to the IHSA by Thursday at noon. Although it's not required by the IHSA for coaches to submit seeds, many Chicago Public League coaches have apparently joined forces in an attempt to make a statement by not submitting seeds in their respective sectionals.
In the rugged Class 4A sectional at Argo, as an example, only one school from the Chicago Public League, Hyde Park, submitted their seeds. And that program has an interim coach after Lamont Bryant resigned last month. The majority of the city coaches in the city-dominated Glenbard South Sectional, including Crane and Farragut, didn't seed. And five of the eight city schools in the Glenbrook South Sectional didn't submit seeds.
The issue at hand -- or "frustration," as city coaches say -- is the constant realignment of state sectionals and what brackets city teams are placed in leading up to Peoria from year to year.
Maybe even more important, according to many city coaches, is the lack of communication the IHSA has with the Chicago Public League. City coaches have concerns and questions they want answered regarding the changes from year to year, and the coaches claim they have had little to no dialogue with the IHSA.
"Our No. 1 concern with all of this is we have not managed to get a clarification of how and why sectionals change dramatically from year to year," says Whitney Young coach Tyrone Slaughter. "What is the answer to that question? And it's more than just a few changes in school enrollments and schools going from 3A to 4A and 4A to 3A.
"I can't speak for everyone, but it's frustrating that our voice is basically ignored."
Simeon coach Rob Smith was one of many city coaches who elected not to submit seeds, stating "our opinions don't really matter to them anyway."
"They [IHSA] make all the decisions without listening and do whatever they want, so they can go ahead and make these decisions too," says Smith of the seeding process. "I just want to have some dialogue so we can understand it. When are they going to move teams? Why and how are they moving them? They [IHSA] make statements like they don't care who wins games, and that's fine. But we do care."
Farragut coach Wolf Nelson has been around for decades and has watched the city give up its automatic state bid and has seen the changes from year to year. He believes things are going in the wrong direction, which is why he opted to join in on the seeding boycott.
"This isn't a major thing. It's not like we're pulling out of the state tournament or anything," says Nelson of the seed boycott. "But things have been going in the wrong direction, not just with city teams but throughout the sectionals in Chicago. And no matter how much complaining you do, they don't listen. Hopefully this leads to something, maybe a chance to have some dialogue."
For decades and up until 2003, the Chicago Public League produced one team that reached the Elite Eight via an automatic qualifier from the city playoffs. In 2003 the automatic city representative was eliminated, which would allow more than one Chicago Public League school to reach the state tournament.
The first year city teams were placed in various sectionals throughout the city and suburbs, Von Steuben was the lone city representative in the Elite Eight in 2003. Hubbard also reached a supersectional that year, losing to Evanston.
The following year three city teams reached a supersectional, with both Simeon and Farragut qualifying for the 2004 Elite Eight in Peoria, the first year the Chicago Public League sent two teams to state. And since the break from the automatic qualifier in 2003, the Chicago Public League has sent two teams to Peoria every year but two -- Von Steuben in 2003 and Crane in 2005.
Simeon and Marshall reached Peoria together in 2006, 2007 and 2008, playing each other for a Class 3A state title in 2008. Simeon and Whitney Young met in the 2010 Class 4A state championship.
There have been multiple avenues for the top city teams to reach Peoria, including a best-case scenario for the Chicago Public League in 2010. Simeon and Whitney Young both reached Peoria in 4A that March. Marshall and Crane met in a 3A supersectional, with Marshall advancing to Peoria with the win. Plus, Robeson was one game away from making it four teams in Peoria from the Chicago Public League before falling to Hillcrest in the supersectional.
Now, according to city coaches, those opportunities for multiple representation are drying up, and they want to know why? They believe it's more than simply some schools switching up classes, thus the IHSA is forced to move teams to keep things geographically balanced.
"I would love to have heard the dialogue,the conversation and the reasons for the change back when [former Chicago Public Schools CEO] Arne Duncan and the IHSA got together and decided to open up things for city teams in the state tournament," Slaughter said of the major decision that changed the landscape of the state tournament. "But I bet the plan wasn't for it to eventually get back to being closer to what it originally was, which is what we are slowly seeing happen."
City coaches have questions.
While it's just one example -- and it does involve two of the highest profile programs in the state -- many Public League coaches wonder why is it that Simeon and Whitney Young were able to meet in a state championship game just two seasons ago but two years later it's possible they could meet in a regional? These two schools have never even been in the same sectional until this year.
They wonder why the two Class 4A sectionals boasting Chicago Public League schools, one with South Side schools in one sectional and North Side schools in another sectional, play one another in a supersectional? They wonder why St. Ignatius, which dropped from 4A to 3A this year, is hosting what is arguably the weakest sectional in the state while city powers like North Lawndale, Orr, Farragut, Marshall and Crane are all grouped together and sent to Glen Ellyn for a sectional at Glenbard South?
But the fact of the matter is the city still has three clear roads to Peoria -- two in Class 3A and one in Class 4A. But the city powers, along with a few suburban schools, continue to wonder what is the rhyme and reason for the switches from year to year?
The other question is just what does this seeding boycott actually accomplish? In the grand scheme of things, probably not much at all. The seeds were not going to be altered all that much as a result. But really, all the city coaches have stated is that they hope it at least grabs the IHSA's attention and lets the organization know they have concerns and want to be heard.
Veteran Von Steuben coach Vince Carter pointed out the action was taken as a "silent protest."
"Hopefully it creates some dialogue," says Carter.
"At the end of the day we have to play the games, no matter where you're seeded," Smith adds. "But when you don't feel like something is right, we're going to ask questions, but we never get any answers."
But as a suburban coach stated to the Hoops Report earlier this week, "It's not just the Chicago Public League the IHSA ignores. They ignore everyone. They don't care. They do their own thing."