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WHERE THE GAME MATTERS MOST by William Gildea

WHERE THE GAME MATTERS MOST

By William Gildea

Pub Date: Dec. 8th, 1997
ISBN: 0-316-51967-7
Publisher: Little, Brown

 In Indiana, Gildea shows, the yearly high-school basketball tournament is nothing less than an affirmation of the Hoosier way of life, one made of ``industrious, hospitable, down-home folk who enjoy popcorn, race cars and BASKETBALL.'' Every year since 1911, all high schools--from small towns to big cities--have gone head-to-head in the state championship tournament. Starting with this season, however, the Davids and the Goliaths must go their own ways in four tourneys bracketed by school enrollment. During the 199697 season, Washington Post sportswriter Gildea (When the Colts Belonged to Baltimore, 1994) criscrossed Indiana to follow the fortunes of players and schools in the final version of ``Hoosier Hysteria.'' Along the way, he immersed himself in tournament lore, gauged Hoosiers' sentiments about the new tournament's format, and assessed how it would alter Indiana's essential character. Gildea's story is steeped in nostalgia, and as he tells it, one can't help but imagine clean-cut boys in black canvas hightops lobbing set shots, just as they did in 1954 when fabled Milan High toppled all comers on the way to their improbable state crown. However, as Gildea points out, modern-day realities take a significantly different form: Schools occasionally ``recruit'' students from other communities or, in the case of Bloomington North High, students of other nations. And many standout players are already looking to take their game to the next level. Attendant inequities aside, some things never change. The '96'97 tourney, like so many before it, saw the Cinderella team of Delta High (student body 916) capture the state's imagination by playing its way into the finals (where it was crushed by a bigger, deeper, more talented team). Regardless of the outcome, this game only served to underscore what Indiana basketball stands to lose in the future: the chance each year to witness a potential legend in the making. As a veteran of the Milan championship squad said: ``David doesn't beat Goliath very often, that's why it's still a good story.''