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Hancock County hoops tourney cancelled

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Mt. Vernon is the defending Hancock County Boys and Girls Basketball Tournament champion, and might never be knocked off the county perch.

That’s not a prediction of future talent; it’s just that a county tourney will not be held next year, or anytime in the near future.

After much discussion, coaches and administrators from Eastern Hancock, Greenfield-Central and Mt. Vernon and New Palestine have decided that a county tourney, which has been played annually since the 2003-04 season over the two-week holiday break, will not be organized for 2013-14.

Not all coaches are in agreement that the tourney should have been squashed — Mt. Vernon and Eastern Hancock leaders were in favor of it continuing — but two reasons have been given for ultimately dooming the local basketball fest:

* Some county teams do not want to play other county teams up to three times in one season, which would be a possibility next season if Mt. Vernon is bumped from Class 3A to Class 4A, as is widely expected to happen, and MV is put into a sectional with current 4A programs New Palestine and Greenfield-Central. The three “big” Hancock schools already meet in the regular season as part of the Hoosier Heritage Conference slate; county and sectional meetings would make for three intra-county games per year.

* Attendance at the county tourney has been dwindling, and agreeable dates for all parties to hold the tourney when school is in session, when attendance might improve, have been difficult to come by.

County athletics directors discussed the issue at their most recent monthly meeting, with the understanding that each A.D. would survey his boys and girls coaches on their desired fate of the tourney, then relay those results back to one another.

Greenfield-Central was the first school to officially notify its brethren that it was not interested in continuing the tourney. Cougars A.D. Kevin Horrigan said boys coach Josh Johnson and girls coach Doug Laker were in favor of eliminating the tourney, and Laker has already gotten commitments from 4A Fishers and 2A Centerville to play in a tournament at G-C next year, in place of the county tourney.

Laker said he wanted his team to face varying styles of competition, rather than potentially playing Mt. Vernon or New Palestine three times in one season.

“That’s just not something I’m interested in doing,” Laker said. “When you play almost a third of your schedule against the same teams, that’s too much. Twice against one team is enough.

“I’d like to add some different teams to our schedule.”

Laker’s first G-C team won the girls county title in 2009, the third straight title for the Cougars, who were previously coached by Donna Keck. G-C was eliminated by Eastern Hancock in this year’s semifinals, while Mt. Vernon claimed its fourth straight crown.

On the boys’ side, Mt. Vernon snapped New Palestine’s two-year championship streak, and MV coach Steve Lynch would have enjoyed the chance to defend the title.

“I thought it was a good tournament,” he said. “It was nice for the communities and the kids.

“Certainly was not a consensus (among coaches) to cancel the tournament. As far as I am concerned, it was not done over concern for playing three times in a season.”

Lynch declined to provide specifics.

Julie Shelton, the Marauders’ girls coach, was equally disappointed.

“I think the county tourney is great atmosphere and a lot of fun for the community and the players,” said Shelton, whose clubs won the first two tourneys in 2003 and 2004, then didn’t win the title again until 2009. “I have always really enjoyed it, win or lose, and there has been plenty of both. I honestly hate to see it end.”

Eastern Hancock, a Class 2A school, has never won a boys or girls tourney in the modern format (the original boys county tourney was held, pre-consolidation, from 1920-1967), but the Royals enjoyed participating.

This year, the Royals broke a long winless drought in the girls’ bracket when EH knocked off Laker's G-C squad in the semifinals.

“Even though we may not have had as much success as a program, in the two years I have been involved it always helped prepare us for the rest of the season,” EH girls coach Jeremy Powers said. “We got that taste of success this year with the win over Greenfield, and were hoping for a period of success in the county tourney.

“I understand why (the county schools) are wanting to do it, but just disappointed it can’t continue. At some point I would like to see it come back, but also am fine with the direction we are heading. “

The Royals plan to play in a girls’ tourney at Guerin tourney next season, while the EH boys will add two games to its regular season schedule to make up for the loss of the county tourney, EH athletic director and boys basketball coach Aaron Spaulding said.

“I personally would like to see (the county tourney) continue,” the veteran coach said. “We have enjoyed competing in it. It gives us a chance to play David so to speak.

“However, I do understand with the possibility of the other three county schools ending up in the same sectional why they might not want to play three times in a year.”

Without a change to their schedules, the EH boys and girls will not get a future opportunity to play the county Goliaths.

While the other six boys and girls programs play each other in the regular season, the Eastern Hancock boys currently face only Greenfield-Central during the year, and the EH girls don’t have any county foes on their regular season docket.

Laker, the Cougars’ fifth-year head coach, who also serves as assistant athletic director, understands that not everyone is in agreement.

“That’s fine,” he commented. “I’ll take the blame. I’ve got big shoulders.”

Laker was not alone, however, in the belief that it might be time to give the county tourney a rest.

New Palestine coach Adam Barton said the county tourney never truly took off as an event after it was resurrected in 2003.

“I liked the concept of the county tourney, but really wish we could have found a way to make it a bigger crowd draw,” he said. “It didn’t quite have the atmosphere of other county tourneys in the area. It will actually be nice not to have to prepare for two games right after Christmas. My wife is happy about that too.”

Barton also allowed that, “It would be tough to play Greenfield and Mt. Vernon three times a year.”

The IHSAA is operating in two-year cycles when it comes to four-class alignments for boys and girls basketball, volleyball, baseball and softball. For the last two years, New Palestine has been one of the smallest 4A schools, based on enrollment, while MV has been near the top of 3A.

Mt. Vernon’s enrollment has increased, however, to an all-time high of 1,116 students this year, according to principal Bernie Campbell,

And, with an influx of small private/charter schools coming online, and therefore making each class bigger as the IHSAA divides each class into an equal number of schools, Campbell believes the Marauders will be slotted as a 4A school when the IHSAA announces new classifications next month after the boys basketball state finals.

“That’s what we’re kind of expecting,” he said. “I think they’ve already got the alignments for next year, they’re just waiting to announce it.”

While MV appears headed to 4A, joining New Palestine and Greenfield-Central, specific sectional groupings for the team sports won’t be set by the IHSAA until June.

For the current two-year cycle, when New Palestine moved to 4A for the first time in school history, the Dragons were put in a separate sectional from county counterpart Greenfield-Central.

“That didn’t make a lot of sense,” Laker said. “You would think there’s no way they’ll put three county schools, separated by about 15 miles, into three different sectionals, this time.”

Even if the three larger county schools were slotted into only two different sectionals, there would still exist the possibility of two teams facing each other three times in one season.

The sectional issue, combined with what most coaches saw as a decline in attendance, was too much to overcome.

 “We looked at possibly beginning the seasons with the county tourney, that way we could space out the time we play each other, as it was a concern that we could play three times in a year anticipating a new sectional alignment,” New Palestine athletic director Al Cooper said.

“We just could not get everyone’s schedules to fit the suggested time frames that we considered, which also included Thanksgiving (and other time frames).”

Cooped noted that trying to coordinate schedules of four different teams is a “nightmare,” and that, “simply, a decline in interest in the tourney, and other scheduling logistics with JV and Freshmen tourneys that we have to get in (was a challenge).”

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