An open letter to IHSAA commissioner Bobby Cox

Dear Bobby:

I hope you had a nice spring athletic season in Indianapolis.

Here in the north, it's was brutal, between rain, cold and then more rain, the chances to play on nice days were compressed into about a week.

I imagine you're thinking I'm writing to you to discuss the Davis Enfield situation ... you know, the Northridge pitcher suspended for throwing too many pitches in the Raiders' victory over Penn in the sectional baseball title game.

But no, I think you guys handled that pretty well. The rules were in black and white, and you and the IHSAA enforced them.

No, I'm here to talk about class sports, specifically, Class 5A – and no, I don't mean football.

Foreign to you? Well perhaps, but there is little doubt you need to add it in IHSAA team sports.

I realize the cocoon you live in around Indianapolis is very happy with the way the Class 4A tournaments continue to play out.

Why wouldn't they be?

Let's start with the recently completed state track finals, shall we?

In the boys, the top five teams were North Central, Indianapolis Pike, Warren Central, Brownsburg and Hamilton Southeastern. The smallest school in the group was Brownsburg, the 13th biggest school in the state, the others are in the top nine.

And the girls? North Central, Warren Central and Hamilton Southeastern.

I can go on. Carmel is by far the biggest school in the state and they own titles in boys basketball (over Ben Davis, the second biggest school), boys cross country, girls soccer, girls and boys swimming, boys tennis and (by 17 strokes on Wednesday) boys golf.

Heck, the last time Carmel didn't win a girls swimming state title, Ronald Reagan was president.

Warren Central defeated Carmel to win in football, while Hamilton Southeastern beat Lawrence North in girls basketball.

Indianapolis Cathedral owns titles in girls tennis and wrestling, and you can point to the fact that they're barely in the top 100 schools in the state by enrollment. But come on, Bobby, it's Cathedral, the biggest private school in Indiana, and I'm guessing no one north of where you sit on Meridian Street is shedding tears for the Fighting Irish having to play in 4A.

Softball crowned Center Grove as its champion last weekend, a comparatively tiny school, only at No. 17 in the state. Baseball? Well Hamilton Southeastern will play in the title game next week.

By the way, the last three boys basketball state champions in 4A – your crown jewel – are Carmel, Warren Central and Ben Davis – yep, the three biggest schools in Indiana.

There are a few outliers, of course. Carroll won the girls cross country title, Chesterton won in boys soccer, Evansville North won in girls golf and a strong Yorktown program won in volleyball. That's it, that's the list of "small" schools that have won titles.

After moving to class sports 21 years ago, I know the IHSAA isn't afraid of change. You took on all the Bobby Plump disciples and made an unpopular move that has become a way of life in Indiana.

Now it's time to make another one.

Oh, I know those folks in Indianapolis are going to be upset ... I can almost hear them calling me bad names already ... telling me the other programs just need to get better.

But it's not fair, Bobby. You can't expect a school with 5,286 kids (Carmel) to be on equal footing with Concord (1,657) or Northridge (1,397) or Plymouth (1,097). Yes, the Carmel kids and the Ben Davis kids and the Warren Central kids work hard to get to where they are, but if one falls away or doesn't want to work, there are 100 others just hoping for a chance.

Our Class 4A Elkhart County schools already must deal with a big school with strong athletics in Penn, a school of 3,338 – which ranks sixth in the state. The Kingsmen have dominated girls soccer and softball in the area, while it looks like volleyball and girls basketball are in the position to be strong for years to come.

It's time for 5A, Bobby.

This letter is coming from a community that will soon have one of those megaschools. As you know, in the fall of 2020, there will be a merger and the new Elkhart High School will become one of the top 10 biggest schools in the state.

Once the dust settles at Elkhart High and coaches are hired and former rivals become teammates, I'm hopeful the school will be able to compete in the Class 5A I'm proposing.

But I speak for Concord and Northridge and Goshen too – programs that could soon face two schools in their sectional (Penn and Elkhart) that will have over a thousand more students than they do.

I know the IHSAA listens when Indianapolis-area schools ... um, talk. Why else would you have sent Fishers and Hamilton Southeastern to the New Haven cross country semistate last fall?

I'm sure it made those schools happy. They were able to advance to the state finals, blocking the way of actual northern teams, just like you've sent other Marion County schools to do the last several years in most sports.

Don't believe me? Check and see how many times Carmel has represented the 'north' recently.

Now it's time to stand up for the schools outside your little comfort zone, Bobby. I know it's going to make you uncomfortable, but the IHSAA survived 21 years ago and you'll survive taking on Marion County.

You have two years before the new classifications come out in 2021 – two years for a smart group of men and women at the IHSAA office to put a proposal together to create a fifth class for the megaschools.

You know what they look like and who they are. You have just 32 teams in Class 6A in football, that may be the place to start.

Will it be easy? Of course not, nothing that makes sense ever is. Schools will push back ... schools right down the road from you will be adamantly against this.

But it's not 1955 or '75 or even '95. Times change. Fishers and Hamilton Southeastern were once small schools just outside the Indianapolis metro area. They're now both in the top 10 in size. Westfield is another suburb that has continued to grow and could be in the top 15 by 2021.

So thanks for listening, Bobby. I hope you take this to heart and don't just dismiss this as the ramblings of a random sportswriter.

I was an IHSAA athlete that lived through a lot of highs and the lows of losing regional title games two years in a row. I've written about high school sports since my freshman year in college and have heard the Star Spangled Banner thousands of times in gyms, fields and tracks throughout Indiana and Michigan.

I'm speaking out for the dedicated athletes and coaches not getting a real chance, Bobby, no one else.

After all, the I in IHSAA stands for Indiana ... all of it.

Sincerely,

Ken

Ken Fox is the Sports Editor of The Elkhart Truth. You may reach him at kfox@elkharttruth.com or @KenFoxTruth on Twitter

 

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