ELKHART — Even Bobby Plump — who made the loudest shot in Indiana high school basketball history, then later became perhaps the loudest opponent to multi-class basketball — sounds open to a sprinkling of compromise these days.
“I think a solution would be to go to two classes for sectionals,” Plump said Monday morning following a speaking appearance in Elkhart.
Plump said splitting just the sectionals into two classes would recapture some of the geographical rivalries that have been lost through four classes, re-create some interest in a state tournament that has been plagued by declining attendance, continue to allow smaller schools a better chance at winning postseason events than the single-class system did, and allow for ultimately one state champion each year, a main objective of purists like himself.
Regionals, semistates and State Finals would each return to two rounds, which they were prior to the 1998 split into four classes.
Plump, 75, says he does have a slight sense that momentum may by mounting for some sort of change given that the Indiana High School Athletic Association recently organized a series of 11 town-hall meetings on class basketball in response to a state senator’s request — the meetings began April 10 and continue through May 24, including May 8 in Plymouth — but he also wonders if this momentum is just wishful thinking on his part.
“I think it’s good they’re giving people a chance to express themselves, but I don’t think it’s the optimum that should’ve happened,” Plump said. “I firmly believe that a referendum, whether it be nonbinding or binding, would’ve really gotten the feelings of people throughout the state rather than just (visiting) selected sites.”
Plump, who was attending a re-election fund-raiser for State Rep. Tim Neese, R-Elkhart, wondered, with regard to the IHSAA town meetings, “why they waited 14 years to do this much.”
“My dark side says perhaps they waited long enough that people would forget how much excitement there was for our state tournament,” Plump said. “We had the best state tournament in the world. Then we lost a heritage that Indiana was known for throughout the nation. It would be nice to get that back in some manner.”
The Milan High School legend, who went on to play at Butler University and professionally, acknowledged that he hasn’t seen anything definitive to suggest there would be a return to one class even if the meetings soundly suggest that’s what most people want.
Ultimately, it could come down to another vote of the IHSAA’s member principals, something the association used in 1996 to punctuate its board’s decision to split basketball and several other sports into multiple classes. The principals’ vote then was 220-157 in favor of multi-class.
“That is a real problem,” Plump said of a principal representing 200 students having the same value attached to his vote as a principal at a school representing 2,000 students.
“A lot of the principals are from out of state,” said Plump, a semi-retired Indianapolis businessman. “And a lot of principals feel it’s unfair (to have a single-class format), and my answer to that is when these student-athletes graduate and have to compete against larger companies if they go out into the business world, they can’t go to the governor or the president and say, ‘Hey, this is unfair. Just let me compete against the companies my size.’ I don’t think single-class destroyed the psyches of all those people in the small schools that got beat by the large schools. I think athletics, done right, is a great teacher, and I think every student-athlete deserves the opportunity to compete against the best.”
Plump was emphatic Monday that today’s competitors shouldn’t be shorted in the praise they receive for their efforts just because there is a class debate.
“I want it made clear that I am so proud of these student-athletes that win a state tournament,” said Plump, whose game-winning shot in the 1954 state championship lifted tiny Milan over mighty Muncie Central and inspired the movie “Hoosiers,” a Hollywood hit. “Winning today is still a great accomplishment. It’s just that, unfortunately, people around the state don’t know who the state champion is. Only the people from that area know.”
That’s the type of thing that Plump forecast in the mid 1990s when he spearheaded some of the fiercest opposition to the multi-class push. He was the voice of a group that invested money and time to fight for maintaining single-class, but ultimately lost.
Now there’s at least the perception of another battle brewing. This one may indeed be ... Plump’s last shot.