Putting Fairness FIrst

Jan. 10, 2012 | by Bobby Cox, IHSAA Commissioner

This time of year, with chords of Auld Lang Syne still ringing in our ears, it’s not uncommon or unnatural to think of days gone by as being more desirable than the era we live in today.

And while the nostalgic emails that are frequently circulated do an outstanding job of glorifying the past, is there any among us who would actually trade the performance, dependability and gas mileage of our present vehicle for that of a ’57 Desoto or my beloved ’74 Ford Pinto?  Would we rather use a dial telephone instead of a smart phone?  Would we choose to listen to music from our 8-Track players instead of a CD or iPod?

It was nearly 58 years ago, March 1954, when tiny Milan defeated powerhouse Muncie Central in an Indiana high school state championship basketball game that has launched successful business careers, inspired the production of world famous motion pictures, and contributed mightily to the folklore of our great state.   That historic game is part of our heritage, and we enthusiastically embrace it.

However, in 1996 approximately two-thirds of the state’s high school principals in Indiana voted—not just once, but twice—in favor of class sports.  They were acknowledging what high school administrators in 47 states had already come to realize—specifically, that large schools enjoy a significant competitive, and fundamentally unfair, advantage over their smaller counterparts. 

Along with the institution of class sports, the IHSAA By-Laws were also amended to permit any high school in the state to move up one or more classes in any sport should they choose so.  This has very rarely happened because administrators know their schools have the fairest chance to vie for tournament success when they compete against schools of equal size.

In large part, the mission of the IHSAA is to maintain a level playing field so that every student-athlete who chooses to participate has a fair and equal chance to succeed.    This has become an increasingly challenging task given all the changes in education that are taking place in our state, and we still have much to accomplish.  A continued debate rages with regard to public vs. private school competition among many patrons.  Our organization continues to study this dynamic and proposals to address these issues will appear on the agenda of the annual meeting of the IHSAA Board of Directors this spring.

But when it comes to class sports, I can say with complete confidence that the IHSAA’s priorities are in place.   We continue to position fairness first.  We wouldn’t pit a 3,500-student school against a 300-student school in an IHSAA basketball tournament any more than we would match a 198-pound wrestler against a youngster that weighs 106 pounds.

The IHSAA emphatically promotes respect for the rules, sportsmanlike conduct, and fair play among its 408 member schools and 160,000 student athletes.  While my memories of classic cars, the party line telephone, drive-in restaurants and sock hops are indelibly etched in my psyche, the past is not a place of residence.  The future of education-based athletics in Indiana holds great promise and the current structure of class sports continues to permit a greater number of our young people opportunities to experience the valuable benefits of participation.