Lessons to be learned by each side

Plummeting math test scores? Bah. Shrug. Standardized tests are irrelevant, biased and maybe evil.

But don’t you be messing with the state basketball tournament, Mr. Educrat Man.

The milestones of Spokane’s Little Town Jewel – the State B – used to be marked in on-court thrills. The 82-0 Brewster run. Tammy Tibbles and Aileen McManus trading the girls title back and forth. Doug Way’s shot. That sort of thing.

Now the milestones are marked in off-court outrage. Too many private schools. Splitting the Bs and sending half the teams to Yakima.

And now Armageddon: the eight-team state tournament.

This was the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association’s radical surgery to cure a common cold: declining revenues. And in the last week, a year’s worth of public stewing came to a boil as half the usual 16-team state fields were eliminated with a couple rounds in high school gyms in Mountlake Terrace and Walla Walla. The eight survivors, in both 1B and 2B, rendezvoused in Spokane, a day later than usual.

Joining them was WIAA executive director Mike Colbrese, whose approval rating has dipped into Qaddafi territory.

Never mind that the WIAA board directed staff to come up with alternatives to the old state format, and that the 53-member representative assembly – with envoys from nearly every high school league in the state – gave the go-ahead to this one.

Everybody needs a bogeyman.

“But if their only solution is ‘go back to the way it was,’ well, the board didn’t do this as an exercise,” Colbrese insisted. “The format we had was not sustainable. So the question becomes, ‘How do we make it work better for everybody?’ ”

Tough question. Because it’s no bulletin: The WIAA got a goodly number of things wrong – starting with the haste in implementing such a traumatic change. Yes, the slippage in tournament revenues – which fund activities far beyond basketball – had become significant, but legitimately or not too many parties felt disenfranchised from the process, and too many elements need immediate retooling.

• Calling the first rounds state. They’re not. Not in atmosphere, not in practice. A first-round loser can actually come back and win the state title. Shouldn’t happen. Corrupts the spirit of championship basketball.

• Sending boys from one school to one regional, girls to another. Didn’t happen to everyone, but it happened to Colton, Brewster, Lake Roosevelt. Double the expense and, worse, making parents and friends choose favorites and miss precious moments.

“I don’t know how easily that can be resolved – but it has to be the No. 1 thing,” Colbrese acknowledged. “And you don’t like the fact of even one team having to travel as far as, say, Selkirk going to Mountlake Terrace. We knew some of that would have to happen; when you have more than three allocations (from a district) teams are going to have to travel a little bit further.”

• Stubbornly holding on to the one-size-fits-all mentality. Maybe it’s time to admit that B schools need a different kind of TLC – and money management – that the 4As and 3As. Maybe more self-governance is in order.

“The last thing we wanted was to make it more expensive for member schools,” Colbrese allowed, “but in some cases it has been.”

But the WIAA got one thing very, very right: if this is a six-classification state – and the membership insists that it is – then a final-site gathering of eight teams is all that’s needed.

One team out of every four – classifications are roughly 64 schools each – does not need to advance to state. All the caterwauling over “loss of opportunity” and kids who won’t get the “true state experience” is a silly by-product of Juice Box Nation and misses the point.

This is about competition and excellence. School needs to be about that, too, sometimes. Even in this incarnation of state, massive competitive imbalance remains – just check the Thursday scores from the Arena. It’s all this “opportunity” that has chased away customers and put the tournaments in financial jeopardy.

Are the players who lost out at the district level doomed to go through life unfulfilled because they didn’t make the final 16? Please.

Now, go back to one B class and we’ll talk 16 teams again – but there has been no such groundswell and isn’t likely to be now that the Bs are back together under one roof.

Though Colbrese contended that this was not an exercise, there have been lessons.

“The biggest is the reminder that the small schools are a seamless garment that encloses the school and the community – they’re one in the same,” he said. “These aren’t just a couple of parents’ kids; they’re the community’s kids.

“The other is that communication has to be better – more inclusive, more transparent.”

And from the other side? How about less rage, and more rationality?

May be impossible, true. After all, this is high school basketball we’re talking about.

Tags: State B

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