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Sports reporter

Steve has won awards during two different stints at The Times. In addition to being the Prep Beat columnist, he covers football, boys basketball and boys track. He is a long-suffering Cubs fan.


Basketball stock

John Watkins, File | The Times

KOUTS — A similar scenario will take place all across Indiana this week. Tears from eyes looking up at a scoreboard.

With 1:16 left in Tuesday's Class A Kouts Sectional, Brock Pappas walked off the floor and embraced Washington Twp. coach Scott Bowersock.

The hug lasted several emotional seconds.

"I have a lot of respect for him, it's been a great four years," Pappas said. "It was fun to come out on the floor one last time and compete. And to get one last embrace."

The 6-foot-4 senior scored 17 points and grabbed nine rebounds in his team's 76-51 loss to 21st Century.

Bowersock credited seniors Dylan Clem and Zach Little, too. The Senators won 15 games and their second Porter County Conference round-robin championship in four years.

But for the sixth time in seven years they lost to a Class A school without borders, meaning basketball players, and students, can come in from anywhere to don the team colors.

Twenty-plus years ago when class basketball, or sports, was being debated I was one of a couple sportswriters in the state in favor of the move. It made sense to me in my younger days.

For decades Washington Township, with 70 students in its senior class this year, played in the Valparaiso Sectional and never once climbed up the Saturday-night ladder with scissors in their hand.

I thought it would give the small schools a chance. Now, I'm not so sure.

Pappas pointed out that his team beat Marquette Catholic earlier this year.

"We were lucky enough to have a great group of guys," he said.

I wonder if the PCC schools would rather be playing in the old sectional at Valpo instead of the one their in now, which has been just a walk-through for teams like Bowman Academy, Marquette and now 21st Century.

"We just focus on what we control," Bowersock said.

But here is the bottom line. The schools in this sectional, and countless others across the state, are not playing by the same rules. There is a great advantage reloading every year with talent the tiny public schools can only dream of.

It doesn't mean that 21st Century coach Rodney Williams is a bad guy. He's a great guy. It doesn't mean that DeAndre Gholston isn't great. He is and a nice young man, as well.

It's the system that's broken. And 20 years into this mess it's time to take another look at how it breaks down.

The Cougars have made it to two straight semistates, where they lost to Liberty Christian, another school without borders. And that means there are other county schools in other parts of the state getting pounded by teams under different terms.

This is where the nickname "AAU school" came from.

"We just need to keep inching closer to them," Bowersock said of 21st Century.

Yeah, what else are you going to do? But when the revolving door in Gary brings Eugene German and then Gholston and next on the list is sophomore Johnell Davis, the inch looks a lot more like a mile.

"I wish we would've played them in the championship game," Pappas said. "It would've given us time to get more energy going. I think this was the championship game anyway."

Yeah, it probably was.

Pappas is a very good basketball player who just played in his last game. The student with a 4.0 GPA is going to Valparaiso University to study nursing. His life will be fine, I'm sure.

Bowersock's young son, Bentley, danced around his dad's feet as we spoke. The coach spoke of what a great role model Pappas, and the other seniors, are to his boy.

"They've made their mark on our program," Bowersock said of the seniors who won 71 games in four years.

But this great team lost by 25 points in the sectional opener. Is this what the IHSAA wanted 20 years ago when this mess first tipped off?

"I don't dwell on it, it is what it is," Bowersock said.

The IHSAA has tried to check the unfair and demonstrative wins by open border schools with the success factor. But what we've seen the last few years is when one border less school gets bumped up another one steps right in and beats good teams like the Senators.

It's time for every school without borders to get bumped up one class, before the success factor kicks in.

Folks, this isn't working.

Class basketball was designed for one purpose, to level the playing field.

But for two-plus decades all it's done is turned it upside down.

Scouting the Region's boys basketball sectional brackets

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