Bear with me while I file a complaint with the Kansas State High School Activities Association.
Seven sites? Having seven state basketball tournaments in a state of three million people is inappropriate enough, but if the classification system must remain the way it is in the interest of fairness (because schools with 200 students in Class 3A, 130 students in Class 2A, 100 students in Class 1A Division I, or 50 students in Class 1A Division II apparently stand in large competitive contrast to each other), at least give those of us who care the opportunity to watch the games.
Tonight, I’d like to watch Kansas University signee Conner Frankamp of Wichita North (20-2) play Blue Valley West (13-9) in the Class 6A tournament, but I could also go for Duke signee Semi Ojeleye and 4A Ottawa (22-0) opening up against Anderson County (17-6). On Thursday, the two traditional titans of Class 6A girls hoops, 2010 champ Olathe South (20-1) and two-time defending champ Wichita Heights (16-6), meet up, but my interest also is piqued by the prospect of a couple pre-game brews with my buddy who coaches football at Emporia before heading in to watch the Spartans (20-2) play defending 5A boys champ Wichita Kapaun Mount Carmel (16-6).
The problem is that today I’d have to be in Salina for a 3 p.m. tip to see Ojeleye, then book it down to Wichita for Frankamp’s 6:30 p.m. game time. Doable, if an officer of the law does not pull me over.
My Thursday pie in the sky is just impossible. Falcons v. Falcons (O-South and Wichita Heights) is a 6:30 p.m. tip in the ‘ta, and Sparty meets Kapaun at 8:15 p.m. in Topeka. I would need a teleporter.
The Friday Class 6A slate — both boys and girls — should be just a tasty delight, so all day in the Air Capital going into the weekend would suit me just fine.
But Saturday? If all goes as planned for the top seeds in these tourneys, I could watch Frankamp v. Custer — top-seeded Blue Valley Northwest’s future Iowa State Cyclone, Clayton Custer, a phenomenal shooting point guard since starting as a freshman for the Huskies in the first of their three-consecutive state championship losses to Perry Ellis’ Heights Falcons. Another possible match-up would be Ojeleye and the Ottawans against longtime state power Topeka Highland Park (22-0), winner of oodles of titles, producer of college players, coached by a classic among Kansas coaches, Ken Darting. Any high school hoops fan in the state would enjoy watching that guy coach roundball.
This is where the state-tournament dilemma comes to a head. The KSHSAA system makes us choose between title games. Why can’t we be better at the organization of this four-day run of hoops? This is Kansas — we had three teams ranked in the college Top 25 at one point this year. We’re supposed to love hoops. But this system takes hoops away from us.
I would encourage you to give the high school game a chance and attend one of these tournaments, but you wouldn’t be guaranteed to see the best games, and you’d have to drive to all corners of the state (ok, not every corner — I’m looking at you, Liberal). For folks in town, the Class 6A tourney at least used to be within driving distance in Emporia at White Auditorium, a nostalgic arena shaped like a horseshoe with a rollout set of bleachers on a performance stage on one baseline — the “Aud” is from a bygone era of college hoops when every college team in Kansas still played one another because the Plains was still its own little quaint place.
If only you could see these gyms. The Sports Arena in Hutchinson is Kansas’ version of Indiana’s Hinkle. The national junior college tournament passes over its hardwood every year. Busch-Gross in Hays is another gem. If the ranch-stink doesn’t get you on the way in, the deafening screams of small-town fervor in crunch time will. If the rafters were ever full at Busch-Gross, I’m not sure anyone would make it out (the house would come down).
Topeka’s Expocentre, Salina’s Bicentennial Center, Wichita’s Koch Arena, and Manhattan’s Bramlage are no places for high school hoops — they are cavernous and lack the old-time feel and ear-shattering echoes of ye ‘olde barns. We could consolidate 6A, 5A and 4A at one site, and 3A, 2A and 1A at another, and rotate them between Emporia, Hutch and Hays — three towns in the middle of the heartland, exemplars of Kansas geography, commerce and values, historically relevant to hoops, midway points for the teams (don’t Dodge and Garden deserve a short drive every once in a while?).
I will have cake on Thursday, but I will not be eating it. Alas, it probably will be the only state game I attend this year. I’m opting for the pre-game beer in Topeka with the guy from Emporia. But, oh, to see that Frankamp-Custer tie-up in Wichita that should materialize — unless the Firebirds can supply some early March Madness today.