CROWN POINT — It was as cool as Mr. Freeze on the other side of the iceberg on Friday night.
Walking through the parking lot at Crown Point with a 40 mile per hour wind whipping through me like an ice pick, one thought entered my mind: "Why did we all choose to live here, again?"
It's been said that Indiana winters helped create Hoosier Hysteria just as much as Bobby Plump, George McGinnis, Oscar Robertson and Larry Bird. When the corn field is frozen under a foot of snow, might as well go to the gym and watch some hoops, right?
Dial it up a notch or two for those of us who live in Da Region. We play baseball games when it's 18 out. And old baller sports writers walk through parking lots like a cryogenic snowman.
The crowd for the Merrillville at Crown Point was the biggest group of fans I've seen all season. It was pretty good.
But it was the smallest Pirates-Bulldogs crowd I've ever seen. Most of the upper deck was empty red bleachers.
Is basketball dying in the Region?
"We've got a full house here tonight," Merrillville coach T.J. Lux said with a smile at the large number of media waiting for him after his Pirates' nervous 43-41 win over the Bulldogs. He wasn't talking about the stands; he was joking about the scribes awaiting to take down his words.
When asked about the crowds for his games this year, he thought for a moment and nodded yes. He agreed with my assertion.
"Maybe, a little bit," Lux said.
I can't count all the game I've been in this winter, but the crowds have been smaller in the gyms I've walked into. There is no question in my mind.
I have two reasons to this hoops demise. First, basketball is down in our area this season. We do not have a slew of Division I players selling tickets every time the light switch is turned on. And right now few teams that fans believe will be shooting for a strong run to play in Indianapolis in late March. This is a lock.
But more importantly, the weather has been so bad of late, many are climbing under the covers and reaching for the television remote and hot cocoa.
Lux nodded again.
"Yeah, it's been bad," he said of the cold and snow and ice. "I think it's been keeping some fans at home, and for the older folks I understand. Who wants to drive on nights like this?"
The Times learned of nine games postponed on Friday night around the area. The host Bulldogs scored two points in the first quarter after not playing a game in 13 days after C.P.'s game at Michigan City last weekend was postponed because of weather.
Merrillville's Johnny Bernard played well, scoring 10, in a rugged win for his team. He said the gym was so cold during the JV game the varsity wore hoodies. Not T-shirts like normal. I was shivering when speaking with the talented senior guards.
"It's been cold in here all night," Bernard said. "We were just trying to stay warm all night. For us, it's not about the crowd size. It's about us playing together, getting better. We should play the same whether there's 5,000 people here or 50."
Crown Point coach Clint Swan is one of the most positive coaches around, unless he disagrees with a late call at the end of a game.
He has a very young team this season after three years of standing-room only gyms and a roster filled with D-I phenoms. He is still upbeat about fans returning to the gyms in the Region and supporting the young student athletes giving their all playing Indiana's game.
Yes, Johnny, you should play the same no matter who buys a ticket. But playing in front of 5,000 is a lot more fun. Period.
"We were just talking about this the other day," Swan said. "The weather has had something to do with the smaller crowds. But we're still in the midseason part of the year. When the conference races pick up, the crowds are going to grow. For us, the last couple of years we've had huge crowds. We knew it might drop a little with a young team. But the weather hasn't helped us or anyone else."
The rest of this basketball season will be great. The fans will return if it warms up. I would like to write more about this subject but I have a walk across the parking lot and I have to get going so I don't acquire frostbite.