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4-Class system? Yes or no?

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4-Class system? Yes or no?

The four-class format for high school basketball in Illinois has been a major topic of controversy ever since the Illinois High School Association opted to give its signature event its second major face-lift in 2008.

From 1908 through 1971, the state tournament was a one-for-all and all-for-one competition involving all schools, big and small, urban and rural.

In 1972, when the IHSA began to feel that small schools were no longer competitive with larger schools, the two-class system was introduced, thanks in large part to the lobbying of the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association.

In 2008, the IHSA adopted a four-class system.

"We went from two to four classes because that's what our membership wanted," said Marty Hickman, executive director of the IHSA. "Numerous people brought it to the forefront. We talked about it for years. They felt at the very beginning of the tournament that it was very difficult for some schools to compete in their class."

Hickman pointed out that schools in Class A with enrollments of 100 to 250 and schools in Class AA with enrollments of 800 to 1,500 were particularly affected. They felt they couldn't compete with larger schools in their class. They proposed that two more classes were needed to level the playing field for one and all.

Hickman is aware of the criticism to this point, that the caliber of competition has weakened, that the tournament is too watered down and the lack of quality is reflected in declining attendance. He once said the IHSA would scuttle the four-class system if it became clear that it wasn't working. But he isn't ready to toss in the towel.

"At the end of the day, 10 to 15 years from now, people will say it was a good change," Hickman said. "At first, there will be a significant amount of controversy, as there was in 1972. But when you look at how the schools viewed that change, clearly more schools are supportive of the change now than when we went from one to two classes. In the schools, this isn't the controversy that it is in the general public and media."

But critics insist the four-class format isn't working. They call for a return to the two-class system. In fact, some still argue that the one-class system was best of all, that there never should been any change. They contend that the great tradition and historical significance of the state tournament have been wiped out.

"What we are seeing in (the girls state basketball tournament) this year is not an anomaly. This is the four-class monster that has been created," one veteran observer said.

He spoke after watching Quincy Notre Dame crush Breese Central in the girls Class 2A championship. And he re-emphasized his displeasure after Montini dumped Vernon Hills 56-38 for the Class 3A title and Whitney Young trounced Edwardsville 63-51 in the Class 4A final.

Will the boys' finals be any closer? Any more competitive? Any less embarrassing?

"It is sad when I hear adults talking about more kids having the experience of being given trophies," former La Grange coach Ron Nikcevich said. "But you never hear it from kids. They want to play the best."

Nikcevich, who guided La Grange to the Class AA championship in 1970, was opposed to the two-class system from the outset. So you can imagine how he feels about four classes.

"I always felt that the Illinois state basketball tournament was such a great and grand event," he said. "For an Illinois citizen, it might have been the greatest sporting event of any kind. He or she would look forward to that event far more than the World Series or Final Four.

"I think of old Huff Gym, the clamor for tickets during the time before television. Then television came (in 1952) and there still was a clamor for tickets. Then came the Assembly Hall (in 1963)...sellouts, ticket scalpers, brokers...it was so special.

"Illinois high school basketball is the best high school basketball I the United States because of its consistency...tradition, teams, coaches, players, customs. There was a romance to the Illinois high school tournament. You have to be a historian to appreciate Hebron and Cobden and the small schools that came to Champaign and electrified the crowd."

Then came the two-class system in 1972 and everything began to change for the worse, Nikcevich said. "The class system was sprung on us and it almost had something clandestine about the manner in which it happened. Of the total number of votes eligible to be cast, the biggest percentage was those who failed to vote," he said.

"I agree the small schools got an identity and drew big crowds. But the big-class tournament took a major hit. Since the inception of the two-class system, how many sellouts did the Assembly Hall have? What happened to the Downstate schools that used to be such a presence in the state tournament...Collinsville, Benton, Mount Vernon, Centralia, Paris?"

Instead, Nikcevich argues that the state tournament has been put into the hands of backroom politicians who exist within the structure of the Illinois educational system, the establishment, who have put together a defense mechanism anticipating an outcry against their position and have completely repudiated the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association's stand against it.

"There is only one Eiffel Tower, only one Taj Mahal, only one Mona Lisa, only one Hope diamond, only one Bible, only one Koran," Nikcevich said. "When you take things of that magnitude and majesty and say to a person: 'Don't go to Eiffel A, the Eiffel AAA is better. Don't go to Taj Mahal A, go to Taj Mahal AAA,' we've lost the majesty of what the state tournament was."

Former Pinckneyville coach Dick Corn, who won two state titles in Class A after the school won a state title in the one-class system in 1948, prefers the two-class system. "For the health of high school basketball in Illinois, we need to stay with two classes," he said.

"If you study Indiana and Missouri, people don't identify with their state champions. Missouri has five, Indiana has four. But the IHSA isn't listening to the coaches. The IBCA's board of directors voted 31-1 against the four-class format. Only one coach wanted to see change. Our former players (at Pinckneyville) would vote to stay with two classes."

Steve Goers, who retired at Rockford Boylan as the winningest coach in state history and is a former president of the IBCA, said the IHSA "is throwing tradition out the window. Why is the IHSA doing this? They want to please everybody. They want to make everybody happy, to give people who never have been to Peoria a chance to go to Peoria," he said.

Ron Ferguson, who coached Thornridge to state titles in 1971 (one class) and 1972 (two classes), said he wasn't for the two-class system originally but came to realize that it was a good idea. But four classes? He'll have to be convinced all over again.

"The two-class system allowed other teams to be competitive. It brought the South back to the state tournament," he said. "But I'm not for four classes. I could be wrong and change my opinion but I think tradition will be gone so more teams will get trophies. Going to the state tournament won't feel the same."

Posterized presents 'Chicagoland's All-Time Starting Five' plus Q&A with Jason Goff

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Posterized presents 'Chicagoland's All-Time Starting Five' plus Q&A with Jason Goff

Over the 2020 NBA All-Star Weekend in Chicago, the "Posterized: The Chicago Experience by Jim Beam" event celebrated the rich history of Chicagoland high school hoops by honoring an "all-time starting five," featuring five Chicagoland preps legends, voted on by Chicago sports fans. Fans had from February 6 to February 10 at 9 pm to vote for their top five from a list of names that included Candace Parker, Derrick Rose, and the late Benji Wilson. The final results were revealed on February 14th, at the Chicago Sports Museum & Harry Caray's 7th inning stretch restaurant.

At Posterized the event the Chicagoland all-time starting five was revealed: Derrick Rose (Simeon), Isiah Thomas (St. Joseph), Dwyane Wade (Richards High School), Anthony Davis (Perspectives Charter), and Antoine Walker (Mount Carmel). I was able to speak with the host of the event about the experience and the final list, NBC Sports Chicago's Jason Goff. Below is the Q+A with Goff on the event: 

 

Q: How was your experience at 'Posterized: The Chicago Experience' and what ultimately led to your interest in hosting the event? 

It was a terrific experience. Joy Glover and her team put together a really cool experience for locals and people who aren't from Chicago. All things party, Chicago basketball appreciation; and All-Star weekend rolled into one event. When Joy reached out through a mutual friend, I didn't hesitate. The idea was cool and the execution during the busiest time I've seen in quite a while was excellent. 

Q: The All-Time starting 5 selected by the fans was: Isiah Thomas, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, Anthony Davis, and Antione Walker. Ultimately, do you think the fans got it right? Was there anyone you were shocked didn't make the final cut? 

There are so many names that were on the list that deserve recognition. We're all prisoners of whatever generation of basketball we grew up in. Quinn Buckner, Mark Aguirre, George Mikan, etc. Just to name a few. Also, the women's game could've received a little more gratitude by our voters as well. Candace Parker, Cappie Pondexter; and many others have had just as much success inside and outside of this city as anyone. 

Q: Who in your opinion had the best high school career out of the Chicagoland all-time starting five? (Isiah Thomas, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, Anthony Davis, and Antione Walker)

Of the ones named? Probably Derrick Rose [at Simeon]. But nobody has done more winning than Quinn Buckner (a member of undefeated Thornridge High School team in 1972, one of the best HS teams ever.)

Q: When it's all said and done, who do you think will have the best NBA career of the Chicagoland all-time starting five? (Isiah Thomas, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, Anthony Davis, and Antione Walker)

Unless Anthony Davis wins a few titles, it'd have to be Dwyane Wade with Isiah Thomas as a close second.

Between the five players that make up Posterized's all-time starting five, there are six NBA Championships, an NBA MVP, and 17 All-NBA appearances. Below are some of the accomplishments of this illustrious group:

Isiah Thomas:

High school (St. Joseph-Westchester): State finalist (1979), McDonald's All-American (1979),  first-team Parade All-American, USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year (1980)

Indiana (NCAA): NCAA Champion (1981), NCAA Tourney MVP (1981), 2-time All-Big Ten, Consensus 1st team All-American (1981)

NBA (Detroit Pistons): Five-time All-NBA, Two-time NBA Champion (1988-89, 1989-90), 1989-90 Finals MVP, Hall of Famer

Derrick Rose:

Simeon (High school): State finalist (1979), McDonald's All-American (1979),  first-team Parade All-American, USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year (1980)

Memphis (NCAA): NCAA Champion (1981), NCAA Tourney MVP (1981), 2-time All-Big Ten, Consensus 1st team All-American (1981)

NBA (Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons): 2008-09 Rookie of the Year, one-time All-NBA, 2010-11 MVP

Dwyane Wade:

Richards (High school): Led Ricards to the Class AA sectional finals in his senior year

Marquette (NCAA): First-team All-American (2003), Conference USA Player of the Year (2003), No. 3 jersey retired by Marquette

NBA (Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers): Eight-time All-NBA, Three-time NBA Champion (2005-06, 2011-12, 2012-13), Finals MVP (2005-06)

Antoine Walker:

Mount Carmel (High school): Chicago Tribune 1994 Boys All-State Basketball Team, First-team Parade All-American (1994)

Kentucky (NCAA):  SEC Tournament MVP (1995), First-team All-SEC (1996), NCAA Champion (1996)

NBA (Boston Celtics, Dallas Mavericks, Miami Heat, Atlanta Hawks, Minnesota Timberwolves): 15,647 career points, 1996-97 All-Rookie, three-time All-Star, 2005-06 NBA Champion

Anthony Davis:

Perspectives (High school): First-team Parade All-American (2011), Jordan Brand Classic co-MVP (2011)

Kentucky (NCAA): 2011-12 SEC Defensive Player of the Year, 2012 SEC Player of the Year, Naismith Award, Wooden Award, NCAA Champion (2011-12)

NBA (New Orleans Pelicans, Los Angeles Lakers):  2012-13 All-Rookie, three-time blocks leader, three-time All-Defensive team, three-time All-NBA

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David Ayres joins Scott Foster in making emergency backup goalie history

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USA TODAY

David Ayres joins Scott Foster in making emergency backup goalie history

David Ayres is a 42-year old Zamboni driver and as of Saturday night, he is a man who has won a game as a netminder in the NHL. Ayres is the emergency backup goalie (EBUG) for the Carolina Hurricanes, who are currently locked in a tight playoff race in the Eastern Conference. On Saturday, Ayres was thrust into action when Carolina suffered injuries to both starting goalie James Reimer and backup goalie Petr Mrazek. This, of course, made us think back to Chicago's favorite EBUG, Scott Foster.

Foster, an accountant, became a household name when he donned the No. 90 EBUG jersey when he debuted for the Blackhawks in 2018. Chicago was down a goalie when starting goalie Collin Delia—who was filling in for an injured Corey Crawford—went down early. This led to Foster making his unlikely, seven-save debut. He was the first EBUG in NHL history to actually make a save and the fact that Foster was a perfect 7-for-7 in his time on the ice made the story even sweeter.

On Saturday, Ayres didn't maintain a perfect 1.000 save percentage like Foster but he did make some history of his own. Ayres was rattled at first, giving up two goals on the first two shots he faced but he did enough down the stretch to help the Hurricanes hold on to a quite important 6-3 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. With the win, Ayres is the first EBUG in league history to net a win, as Delia was credited with the win in Foster's debut in 2018.

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