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Column: Bring back the county tourney, but keep it simple

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2011-12 Girls County Basketball Championship. Dec 29, 2012. (Photo/Tom Russo/Daily Reporter)
2011-12 Girls County Basketball Championship. Dec 29, 2012. (Photo/Tom Russo/Daily Reporter)

Boys County Basketball Finals, 2010-11: Greenfiled Central vs New Palestine (Photo/Tom Russo/Daily Reporter)
Boys County Basketball Finals, 2010-11: Greenfiled Central vs New Palestine (Photo/Tom Russo/Daily Reporter)

With all of the snow cancellations, plus the normal slowdown of local high school athletics around the holiday break, I’ve had plenty of time to contemplate.

If National Geographic launched an expedition deep into Andrew Luck’s rain forest of a beard, how many new species would be discovered?

How did we reach the point where the Indiana University women’s basketball team is more of a national tournament threat than the men’s program? (Congrats to IU coach Curt Miller, who has incorporated homegrown female talent into the No. 22-ranked Hoosiers’ rebuild).

This snow and ice is a pain in the rear, but it does a soul good to see and hear of so many motorists stopping in sub-zero temperatures to help strangers who have driven into a snow bank or have a dead battery.

More than any other subject, though, my wandering mind keeps coming back to the defunct Hancock County Basketball Tournament.

The county tourney was put to rest following last year’s event, which featured, as it had every season since 2003-04, the Eastern Hancock, Greenfield-Central, Mt. Vernon and New Palestine boys and girls basketball teams.

The original Hancock County Tourney was a pre-consolidation, boys-only event that lasted from 1920 through 1967.

I wasn’t around the area when the local basketball showcase was resurrected over 10 years ago, but I have to assume it was brought back into the fold because … well, it only made sense. Hoops is a Hoosier tradition, and nearly every county in the state with more than a couple schools holds a county basketball tourney. I’m not sure why local organizers waited until 2003 to put the county tourney back together.

Strike that — after covering the county tourney those final few years of its existence, I understand why prescient administrators were reluctant to take on the task.

Doug Laker accepted some of the responsibility for the discontinuance of the tourney. A new sectional alignment was coming down the road, and Laker’s Greenfield-Central girls basketball team would be tasked with facing Mt. Vernon (and it was thought at the time, possibly New Palestine, as well) up to three times in three months — regular season, county and sectional.

Laker wanted to give his team a chance to face new teams, and the myriad matchups, styles, etc. that would follow. Although the county tourney and sectional draws would have to line up just right to produce a Cougars-Marauders pairing three times in any one season, I understood Laker’s concerns.

Mt. Vernon and Eastern Hancock coaches were in favor of continuing the tourney, but New Palestine officials agreed with Laker that it might be time to give the country series a rest, especially considering how difficult the tourney (which also included JV and freshmen events) was to schedule, plus dwindling attendance/interest.

Dragons athletic director Al Cooper termed the scheduling and organizing of the tourney a “nightmare,” and more correct he could not be.

My mind verged on exploding (yeah, I know, doesn’t take much) when it tried to wrap itself around the county schedule each year. The tourney took place over the holiday break, and here are some of the schedule lowlights from last year:

* Including the JV and freshmen portions, the county tourney took place at four different high schools. Four!

* Want to watch little Johnny play in the consolation game, then stick around for the potentially thrilling championship? Too bad! Consolation and championship games were played concurrently, in two separate gyms.

* As far as I can tell, six different gymnasiums at those four schools were used. There might been as many as eight courts — I’m re-reading last year’s docket and I still can’t make it out. And, again, with multiple games going on at the same time. You need an abacus to understand this thing.

Given the convoluted schedule of the county tourney, I was ready to accept any reason to kill off the albatross of a basketball showcase.

More than one fan wrote into the Daily Reporter wishing the county event was more fan-friendly. Why were we sending buses, kids and grandparents across the county multiple times per day when road conditions are often less than ideal? Last year for example, G-C and EH girls began the day with semifinals at EH, while New Palestine visited Mt. Vernon; later that day the semifinal losers and winners met at Greenfield-Central, in either the fieldhouse (consolation) and main gym (championship). The boys followed a similar schedule.

That format was nonsensical, to be polite. It would be much easier if fans knew, without a 307-word explanation, the location and a schedule of what should be a special annual event.

I’d like to see the tourney return eventually, but it has to make sense for fans. Here’s a constructive solution:

* Play the varsity tourney at one location, in one gym. Uno. Singular. Start with Eastern Hancock, then switch hosts on a rotating basis in alphabetical order.

* Girls semifinals on a Thursday night (say, 5:30 and 7:30 p.m.).

* Boys semifinals on Friday.

* Consolation and championships (noon, 2, 4 and 6, or whatever times you want to use) on a Saturday.

With this format, the tourney could be played when school is in session, allowing the teams that have already picked up new holiday tourneys to continue in those events, or accept one-off invites to special showcases, such as the Hall of Fame Tourney in New Castle.

As for the county JV and freshmen portions, I’m sure a spot could be found for those events somewhere in the three-month regular season. There’s no law that says they have to be shoehorned into the same dates as the varsity tourney.

Most counties cherish their basketball tournaments. Around here, it had become a headache for some. But it’s fixable.


Brian Harmon is the sports editor for The Daily Reporter. Contact him at (317) 477-3227 or at bharmon@greenfieldreporter.com.

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