INDIANAPOLIS – It was 20 years ago Wednesday when Bloomington North was crowned the final single-class basketball champion following its 75-54 win over Delta at the RCA Dome.
After 87 years, the Indiana High School Athletic Association put on a four-class tournament in 1998 and — despite various proposals through the years — has kept the format ever since. On the 20-year anniversary of the final single-class tournament, IndyStar revisited the 1997 tourney with some of the former players, coaches and officials.
Ben Davis was coming off back-to-back state championships in 1995 and ’96 and bidding to become the first to win three consecutive state titles since Marion’ (1985-87). But there were several other title contenders: New Castle, Bloomington North, Merrillville, Batesville and Anderson among them. But as sectional play began, the large school vs. small school matchups were at hand for the final time. At the Berry Bowl in Logansport, the host school opened with tiny Pioneer, a five-win team.
Andy Weaver (Pioneer coach in 1997): We decided we were going to hold the ball and be patient and give ourselves an opportunity. It almost worked to perfection.
Caleb Springer (Indiana All-Star at Logansport in 1997): We saw some funky stuff that year. Ed Schilling was my coach the first two years at Logansport and then my dad (David Springer) was coach when I was a junior and senior. We lost to Kokomo in the regional my first three years. Kokomo always had us dialed up.
Weaver: We had a 10-8 lead in the fourth quarter. We knew we couldn’t keep up with Springer and some of their other guys. We put our “1” and “2” guards in the corners and used our “3,” “4” and “5” guys to handle the ball. (Logansport) didn’t really leave the lane. They were content to stay back. Logansport fans were not happy. But we fouled them and they made a free throw to make it 10-9 and then missed, got the rebound and hit a 3. That was pretty much it.
Logansport won the game by the odd score of 17-13. But three nights later, the Berries were upset 44-39 by Peru in the sectional semifinal.
Weaver: In all honesty, they would have beat us 80-40 if we would have gone up and down with them. In our last regular season game, we gave up 100 points (to Maconaquah). Our goal was to win the game and that’s what we had to do if we had a chance. I think it ended up affecting Logansport a little bit, though, going into the next game against Peru.
For Springer, who played at Division II Rollins College, it was his final game at the Berry Bowl. Springer grew up in Lebanon before moving to Logansport.
Springer: My habit was to go to the park in Lebanon in the morning. I’d always see this other guy out there, but never knew who he was. It was Rick Mount. He was intimidating. I’d stay on my end of the court and he’d stay on his. But after a few months, he started working with me on my shot. You can’t imagine what that did for me. He was kind of isolated and intense but I liked all of that stuff. I was lucky.
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Meanwhile, Bloomington North — one of the tournament favorites — survived a 48-39 overtime win over Bloomington South in the sectional championship at Bedford North Lawrence. Delta won its first sectional in four years with a 73-72 win over Wapahani at Jay County. At Greensburg, Batesville was looking for its fourth consecutive sectional title.
Michael Menser (Batesville senior guard in 1997): From the time I was little and a ballboy for Batesville basketball, the Greensburg gym always had a special place for me. To this day, I can still remember how the horn sounds and how the nets held the basketball when it swished through. It really was a community event. People were lined up hours before the game. It was awesome to be a part of that.
Mel Seifert (Batesville coach in 1997): I didn’t feel like we were the torch bearers for single class. Our kids loved the game and wanted to win regardless of one class, two classes or 28 classes. I don’t think our goal was to prove it could be done. We just wanted to win.
Batesville defeated Jac-Cen-Del 71-69 in a sectional semifinal. Jac-Cen-Del, a Class A school the next year, finished 18-3 with all three losses coming to Batesville. The following night, Batesville defeated Greensburg to clinch its fourth consecutive sectional title.
Seifert: I remember the athletic director coming to me on Wednesday before we played in the sectional and saying Sports Illustrated is going to follow you the rest of the way through. After it was over, the Sports Illustrated guys told us they were either going to be in Batesville or Osgood (Jac-Cen-Del) for the week. I’m glad it was us.
Madison-Grant had won the Marion Sectional in 1996, defeating the host Giants in legendary coach Bill Green’s final game. Madison-Grant, which would be classified in 2A the next year, lost to Marion in the 1997 sectional.
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Kyle Runyan (Indiana All-Star at Madison-Grant in 1997): We knew it was going to be the last time the small country school had a chance to play in the Marion Sectional. It was a big deal. The year before, we’d played Kokomo in the regional and gave them a good game (a 56-50 loss). Marion was the team we wanted to beat again, but the ball didn’t bounce our way. Looking back, though, playing in that packed Marion gym in front of 7,000 people was something you never forget.
Boone Grove, which would be a Class 2A program the following year, knocked off host Kankakee Valley to win its second sectional title in school history.
Matt McKay (Boone Grove coach in 1997): Winning a sectional in the final year of single class was a talking point for us. We wanted to make a statement and we knew we only had one shot at it. As a small school, it was our goal to win the sectional. It was a tremendous feeling to be able to do that, of all years in the final year of single class. I’ll never forget the following week at Michigan City for the regional and walking into that gym. It was a different sound, a different atmosphere, than anything I’ve ever experienced before or since.
The ride ended there for Boone Grove, which lost 80-49 to Winamac in the regional semifinals. LaPorte won the Michigan City Regional, defeating Valparaiso and Winamac. McKay went on to lead Boone Grove to nine sectional titles in class basketball before retiring in 2016.
McKay: I was always for single class, even today. I wouldn’t trade our (2A) sectional championships for anything, but that first one was pretty darn special. I’d been to the Michigan City Regional as a fan, but to be there as a coach was something I’ll never forget.
As national media outlets searched to find the best small school stories going into the regional, Union Dugger was hitting its stride. Coach Joe Hart started two freshmen and four players who would go on to score at least 1,000 career points. One of the freshmen was Brody Boyd, who ranks fourth in state history with 2,632 points. Union Dugger, a school of 150 students, headed to the Terre Haute Regional with much larger Mooresville, Terre Haute South and Bloomington North.
Jared Chambers (Indiana All-Star at Union Dugger in 1997): We felt like we could play with anybody in the state. Our guards were some of the quickest in the state and anybody could put the ball in the basket. We felt like we were a top-20 team. Brody wasn’t scoring yet like he did later, but he was still really explosive even then.
Union Dugger lost 80-62 to Bloomington North during the regular season. The teams would meet again in the regional final at Terre Haute after Bloomington North defeated Terre Haute South and Union Dugger took out Mooresville.
Chambers: We had the lead at halftime (22-19). We felt like we had a great chance to win it. But after that it’s kind of blurry. It kind of slipped away from us (Union lost, 62-51). We had such a good run there for quite a few years. I have nothing but fond memories of being a Dugger Bulldog.
Jeremy Sinsabaugh (senior guard at Bloomington North in 1997): They might have had 50-something boys in their school, but they were excellent. We knew they had multiple guys who could kill us, but we also knew our length could bother them. Everybody there who wasn’t a Bloomington North fan was going for them. But we started getting some baskets in transition and pulled away. That was an excellent team though.
Delta was authoring its own upset story at the Wigwam in Anderson. After defeating New Palestine, the Eagles stunned the host Indians 56-48 in the regional championship. Patrick “Petie” Jackson, a lightning-quick junior guard, scored 25 points to snap Anderson’s 21-game regional winning streak at the Wigwam to knock out the fifth-ranked Indians.
Patrick Jackson (Delta junior guard in 1997): The Wigwam experience probably sums it all up. That’s what stands out the most. Anderson had been nationally ranked that year and it was a home game for them. It was the last chance for us to compete and win there. That was definitely a highlight and after that your confidence goes sky high.
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In the regional championship at New Castle, a standing-room-only crowd awaited No. 2 New Castle and No. 3 Batesville.
Seifert: It was back and forth. We’d be up two or three and they’d take the lead. It was that way all the way through.
Menser: Joey Gaw was their big guy inside. We had trouble with him. That was the only game in my career that I fouled out.
Seifert: I had a friend, Jeff Giesting, who had come up from Anderson, Ohio, for the game. By the time he got there, it was sold out and he couldn’t get in. So he drove home and listened on the radio. He listened all the way back to Harrison, Ohio, and started to lose the signal. So he’s driving around old town Harrison and got stopped by the police. The next thing you know, the two cops are in his car listening to the game with him.
Menser made two free throws with 34 seconds left in overtime to give Batesville a one-point lead. But the 6-8 Gaw scored on a putback with 15 seconds left after a missed 3-pointer by Brandon Miller. Gaw made two free throws with 2 seconds left to complete a 61-58 overtime win.
Seifert: I’ve never watched the video. I don’t think I ever will.
Menser: It’s still pretty vivid. I remember sitting in the hallway after the game and getting those questions about single class. I said I’d still rather have it this way. We came up short but we competed against the best.
Delta joined Cathedral (which had defeated Ben Davis in the regional), New Castle and Franklin at the Hinkle Semistate. Delta defeated Cathedral 59-48 and rallied from 16 points down to knock off Franklin 71-65. The Eagles were headed to the state finals, along with LaPorte, Bloomington North and Kokomo.
Jackson: The New York Post was following us the entire week and we were on “Good Morning America” and received a lot of media coverage. The community support was everywhere you went in Muncie and all over east central Indiana. There were people wishing you well everywhere you went.
On the television broadcast leading into the Bloomington North-Kokomo game, analyst George McGinnis — who won a state title as player at Washington in 1969 — said the single-class tournament “goes down the drain today to a four-class system.” The game was a slugfest as Kokomo took a 20-16 lead into halftime. Junior Herman Fowler had 14 points.
Herman Fowler (junior on 1997 Kokomo team): We’d really been playing flawlessly going into state. In our minds, we were going to win the whole thing. But that game, we didn’t play how we’d been playing. I got two fouls in the first half and had to sit and our big man, Matt Brady, got in foul trouble.
Fowler finished with 27 points but Bloomington North pulled away for a 50-43 win. Sinsabaugh made four 3-pointers and finished with 15 points for the Cougars.
Fowler: We had some defensive flaws in our 2-3 zone and missed some assignments. That’s pretty much what made the outcome of the game. Playing for Basil Mawbey was great. I went to all the Kokomo games growing up so I’d been watching it forever. He prepared us for every situation, offensively and defensively. He was the best. We just couldn’t get it done that day.
In the second game, LaPorte jumped out to an 18-4 lead and appeared it might run away from Delta. The Eagles cut the lead to 32-24 by halftime. But Jackson and his older brother, senior Roosevelt Jackson, had a problem even before the game started. It had to do with a trip to the barber shop, where the Jackson brothers had their names cut into their hair.
Jackson: Funny story. My brother and I went to the barber the night before and got a cool design, something fresh. (Delta coach Paul Keller) was not impressed. It made for an interesting bus ride.
Jackson got back in Keller’s good graces in the second half. The smaller Eagles, starting Jackson and Billy Lynch at guard, used their quickness to battle back. LaPorte took a 56-55 lead when Ben Tonagel made a 3-pointer with 33 seconds left. After a Delta miss and LaPorte missed free throw, Delta had the ball back with 9.7 seconds left.
Greg Tonagel (LaPorte junior in 1997): “We were a tight group. My freshman year we won three games. So to be there, with the lead, that was a dream. The whole community was behind us and we’re playing for a spot in the state championship.
Jackson: We had the ball on the sideline out of bounds. There was two timeouts. At the end of the second timeout, (Keller) moved Tyce Shideler from the right block to the left block. That turned out to be a great adjustment.
Jackson caught the out of bounds pass from Rob Robbins and made a beeline for the basket. He dropped a bounce pass to Shideler, who scored the last of his 21 points on an easy layup with 4.5 seconds left. LaPorte failed to get off a shot before the buzzer as Delta moved on with a 57-56 win.
Charlie Hall (assistant at Kokomo in 1997): I scouted Delta and LaPorte, and Jackson was just so fun to watch play. It was pretty rare that he made a bad decision.
Tonagel: To this day, that’s the most disappointing game for me as a player or coach. Looking back, it’s probably the worst game I played that entire year. I’ve never gone back and watched it. I think I still need some more time.
Jackson: My dad always told me that speed kills. The way that play worked out, it was off to the races and I was just trying to make something happen as fast as I could.
Delta couldn’t recapture the magic in the championship game. Bloomington North, with an impressive frontline of Djibril Kante, Kueth Duany and Ryan Reed, won 75-54. Sinsabaugh finished with 14 points and was named the tournament’s most valuable player.
Jay C. Smith (official in 1997 state championship): We knew it was going to be the last one. It was somewhat of an emotional thing. I remember (Bloomington North coach Tom McKinney) shook my hand and said, “This is the last one of a lifetime.” I thoroughly enjoyed it. At the time, maybe you thought single class would come back, but it hasn’t.
Ray Tebbe (official in 1997 state championship): I did the 1993 championship game and to come back and do the last single class game was sort of the icing on the cake. I grew up playing in the one-class system so I was partial to it. I always thought it had a little more excitement to it. Every fan out there was hoping to see the David vs. Goliath game and rooting for the underdog. I worked four more state finals after that, but it was quite a thrill to do that last one.
Sinsabaugh: Because of Indiana’s history with basketball, everybody wanted to see the Cinderella story. But to be honest, Bloomington North probably only had 400 more kids than Delta. It probably wasn’t the small school it was made out to be. We felt like we needed to come out and set a tone on defense and we did that (it was 7-0 Bloomington North at the end of the first quarter). I remember my role was to never leave Petie. I wasn’t the basketball player he was but I just wanted to stay close to him.
Chambers: I always thought it was good to say we lost to the final single-class champion in a competitive game. I rooted for them after they beat us.
Playing in Class 3A the following year, Delta was upset by Yorktown in the sectional. Years later, though, Jackson is remembered for that 1997 state finals run.
Jackson: It’s amazing the impact of Indiana high school basketball. It never fails when I’m in a basketball environment that two or three people will come up and say, “We watched you guys in the tournament.” My wife is from New Mexico so she gets a laugh out of it. But it’s amazing. It goes to show how much it means to people.
Sinsabaugh: I went to Butler and stayed around (Indianapolis) after college. I played basketball with Jason Gardner (who won a Class 4A state title at North Central in 1999) for years and always told him, “Yeah nice win, but you didn’t beat everybody.” We were the last ones that had that chance.
Call IndyStar reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649. Follow him on Twitter: @KyleNeddenriep.
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