Scenes from a Semi-State Game in Indiana
When it was all said and done it was just another semi-state high school basketball game held at one of the many prodigious gymnasiums that are found mainly in Indiana. Ft. Wayne Blackhawk Christian went up against Lafayette Central Catholic High School, the winner would earn a trip to the state finals at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
The North Side Gym was hosting its first semi-state game in recent memory and with a capacity of 7,373, it was more than suitable to host such an event. During the regular season, it is the home to both Elkhart Memorial and Central High School basketball programs, along with the North Side Middle School boys team, perhaps giving it the title of world’s largest middle school gymnasium.
NSG was at one time a fixture of the state tournament but has not hosted a regional or semi-state game since 1997, the last year of single class basketball. However, with the two high schools that use the gym during the regular season, Elkhart Central and Memorial, set to merge into one school in 2020, a new video board, new scoreboard, and a new sound system ere added that enhanced its chances of hosting the semi-state for the first time 22 years.
Still, the preparation of such an event is something that is dubious. It is a week’s worth of handling tickets to each school and fans, making sure there is enough food in the hospitality room for media, officials, and school representatives, and stocking the concession stands. NSG is located at North Side Middle School and team practices have to work around middle school practices. Then there are the staff members who direct motorists to their spot in the parking lot that also includes an overthrow parking lot three blocks from the gym.
The cost of a ticket to both semi-state games was only $10, concession prices were between $2 to $4, and there is a vibe in the building that is energetic that mirrors a college program. Fans did get more bang for their buck, even if the game was not a sell-out, it was close to capacity and had all the makings of what one would expect from Hoosier Hysteria.
Blackhawk Christian brought a healthy fan base to the game to cheer on their 27-2 Braves, the crowd, a mixture of parents, supporters, students, and alumni made the 90-minute trek through the twisted state roads of northern Indiana to Elkhart. The team had won many of its games convincingly this season, and many were hoping the season would last one more weekend after today.
North Side Gym is indeed stoic in nature and provides a canvas for all things basketball from players introductions, cheerleader’s sets, and the opportunity for fans to be up close to their hometime team on the court. There are less than 4 feet between the seats underneath the rim that are already filled with photographers. The giant banners that hang from the banner are some of the largest in the state and blend in well with the gym’s video board, the only one of its kind in the state.
The Blackhawk fan section took up most of its side of the game, situated in the back of the team bench. A sea of blue and gold dominated the area and provided support for the Braves. Last week they won convincingly 77-39 over Argos at Triton for the regional championship.
There are many students who travel with their club during tournament time, the Braves faithful show their provide donning the colors of blue and gold and waving their fingers when opponents take the line for a free throw shot. Maybe not as choreographed as other student sections, but effective in its purpose during the game.
The Braves started the game with a double-digit lead and were in cruise control for the rest of the day, perhaps giving fans less anxiety as the inevitable was clear early in the game. By the end of the first quarter, it was 22-9. By halftime, 46-21. This was not unusual this year, the school won most of its games in easy fashion en route. One of those games was a 78-68 overtime victory against Barr-Reeve, an opponent they could meet again in the state championship; they were tipping off at the same time, 272 miles south in front of a capacity crowd at the Hatchet House in Washington, Indiana.
This alley-oop did not end up in points for the Braves, but it was one of the rare times the team did not score this afternoon. Almost every crooked or off-balance shot found its way through the nets, providing fits for the Knights. Blackhawk Christian would cruise to an easy 74-51 victory over Central Catholic, resulting in fans and players storming the court o be surrounded by its heroes.
This scene is common during this time of the year. I have been in the mix of many fans charging the court to surround their friends after winning the big game. However, it always feels brand-new feeling due to the smiles and excitement of many who have the chance to revel in the celebration of a big win. There are many schools who go decades between tournament victories.
After the basketball team took their picture to both media and their parents, the rest of the community and students decided to join in on the festivities. For some schools, it is an accomplishment that doesn’t come very often. A few years from now, these pictures will offer a snapshot to a simpler time for many who were in attendance.
Blackhawk fans decided to pull out a giant “W Flag” that is used for Chicago Cubs fans when they travel to games but fits the mood quite nicely here this afternoon. All that is left for players, coaches, and cheerleaders is to grab a pair of scissors and cut down the nets.
Young fans reach high in the air in hopes of grabbing a piece of the net that is cut by players from the Blackhawk team. It is a tradition that dates back the Frankford High School in the 1920s and still provides goosebumps to everyone involved in the basketball ceremonies. A few of them will make the two-hour journey south with their parents next weekend to the Bankers Life Fieldhouse to watch the Braves play for a state championship against Barr-Reeve, who won their semi-state game against Bloomfield, 65-49.
There is something peculiar watching a tournament basketball game in Indiana where crowds swell to near or over capacity at some of the largest gymnasiums for high school basketball in the world. Fans travel via highways and state roads through farmlands, small towns, and rolling hills to see their team play for basketball glory. For the fans of Blackhawk Christian, they will be back on the road again this Saturday as they make their way to Indianapolis to support their Braves and hopefully a Class A State championship.