March 6, 2009 in Sports

John Blanchette: Well, this is a B-utiful mess

By Correspondent

If school administrators did indeed fix what wasn’t broken when they split the State B basketball tournament in half, just wait until they try to reconstruct Humpty Dumpty.

Someone is going to wind up with his forehead epoxied to center court, or the backboard.

It is now Year 3 for the State 2B, now midway through its stay this week at the Spokane Arena, and the 1B for the itty-bitties which concluded Saturday in Yakima – and if some of the grumbling about the shotgun divorce has subsided, Xanadu remains elusive. Except maybe in the eyes of the players, who don’t seem nearly as hard to please as the adults.

A sure tip-off is that already there is a proposed amendment before the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association to restore the B to its former self – and then some. Call it triage for a self-inflicted wound.

There is also a proposal – a first, after much dyspepsia from the rural ranks in the Arena concourse – to create a separate division and tournament for private schools, lest they take up all the good parking spaces. And the WIAA executive board has made it known that it’s willing to look at reformatting all state tournaments. Washington is the only state that still stages 16-team double-elimination events, and sagging attendance in the consolation rounds has some wondering if it’s time to go with just eight.

Is there a Nobel Prize for irony?

If you recall, the split Bs were the brainchild of the smaller schools of the Yakima Valley, bummed at the enrollment disadvantages that worked against them making it to state. So an extra classification was created – and yet now there’s a notion that maybe too many teams are involved and it might be time to cut back on state tournament fields.

Just how has all this increased opportunity worked out?

In the three years of the split, 76 different schools have been represented in the boys and girls tourneys. Eight were first-timers at state, which suggests “mission accomplished” – until you realize that six of those eight schools weren’t even in existence 20 years ago. Then again, just seeing Colton’s girls win the 1B championship this year may have validated the whole thing.

Another seven schools have made state trips after absences of 15 to 42 years – more happy data.

And in the six years before the split: 59 participating schools, five first-timers (again, all schools less than 20 years old) and just three with extended droughts.

It has, of course, come at a cost.

Combined attendance – and revenues – for the split Bs of 2007 and 2008 roughly equaled what the last State B drew in Spokane in 2006, with double the expense for staging events in two cities. Until this year, any Whitman County qualifiers fed into Yakima’s event, along with about half the Northeast district teams. This has siphoned off much of Spokane’s attendance pool which now has no tangible stake in following the proceedings here – and the atmosphere drain is obvious to anyone with a sense of tradition.

In fact, the Whitman County itself league is no more, a casualty of divorce. And the split always did smack of the everybody-plays-and-gets-a- juice-box mentality, that mere participation merits the reward of a trophy.

So it should be no surprise that five East Side schools are sponsoring the amendment to remarry the Bs – leaving the four A divisions intact, and pooling the remaining 32 percent of WIAA schools. Alas, conceivably that could include schools with as many as 190 students – and a state tourney for 124 schools, where as few as 55 aspire to be 2A champions.

“I’m hearing there’s some support for the amendment in the old Whitman County and Blue Mountain areas,” said WIAA executive director Mike Colbrese, “and some in District 7. But I’m not hearing it reach much farther than that.”

Yet it could still pass, seeing as it’s been crafted to not impact the A schools.

But it’s clear, and always has been, that the issue for the disaffected schools is that they want to be in the Spokane tournament – even if it means the trouble of beating schools with three times the enrollment to get here. At least, that’s the issue for some school boards; there are administrators who helped write the amendment who wouldn’t be broken-hearted if it failed.

There will never be a single agenda when it comes to 100-odd B schools, with constituencies in the most rural backwaters as well as the inner city – or will there?

Just last month, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire requested the state study the viability of small school consolidation to help ease budget deficits. To is not exactly music to the ears of rural residents who know that the loss of a school can be the death knell for a community and took years to make peace with even athletic cooperatives between, oh, St. John and Endicott or Wilbur and Creston.

“I don’t get it,” Gregoire said. “I don’t get why we have 50 (schools) that have less than 150 students.”

Maybe a trip to the B tournament might educate her – or even the 2B, if that’s the best we can manage.

There is one comment on this story. Click here to view comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email