ST. JOHN — What a wonderful, bothersome thing to deal with.
I drove around the parking lot at Lake Central on Wednesday night for 20 minutes and couldn't find a place to park. The joint was packed to the gills.
It must be sectional week in Indiana, right?
When I walked inside to watch two promising quarterfinals, I expected to see Calumet's legendary coach Carl Traicoff stomping on the floor and chewing that historic white towel with more stories than Stephen King.
Class 4A Sectional 1 reminds me so much of the old Calumet Sectional of my youth that I want to look for my comb that hasn't been used in 20 years.
The classic old single-class tournament held in the Calumet fieldhouse until 1997 didn't get the headlines of the sectionals in Gary or East Chicago, with higher state-ranked teams and recruited players. But every game my memory tells me was a down-to-the-wire nailbiter.
"There is a lot of parity here, just like the Calumet Sectional," said Lake Central coach Dave Milausnic, who played there when a he was student at Highland. "There's a lot of familiarity here, just like Calumet."
As everyone should know by now, this is the first year this sectional won't be played in East Chicago. Instead, there will be a three-year rotation between L.C., newcomer Crown Point and E.C. Central.
“It was fantastic not getting on a bus," Milausnic said. "I was not worried about getting caught by a train stuck on Indianapolis (Blvd). It’s great for our community. To be selected one of many communities to host this in rotation means that every kid who comes through here will play at least one sectional at home.”
Clint Swan, coaching in his first Sectional 1, is a Hoosier Hysteria nut. He recalls all the stories about the Calumet tourney. Even in his Bulldogs' 42-29 loss to L.C., the joy of this experience was pretty extreme.
"I've had so much fun this year, this is such a great group of guys," Swan said. "This does remind me of Calumet. There are very proud programs here that have had good players. Everyone takes it serious."
In the second game, Munster's 56-49 win over a very fired-up Lowell team, again, I thought I was eating popcorn just south of Ridge Road. There were always "upsets" there, or near ones, and the Red Devils had the Mustangs fighting until the very end before Munster could live another day.
"I feel fortunate, maybe lucky, that we got this one," Munster coach Mike Hackett said. "We didn't play a great game. But what do they say in the NCAA? Survive and advance."
There were some great seniors who had their careers end on this night. Lowell's Noah Durr has been a beast in the paint for the Red Devils the last three years. While the 3-point shooters have gotten most of the headlines, the Region's best bearded player scored 15 points with five rebounds in a very tough loss.
This sectional has some very good freshmen, too. Lowell's Chris Mantis scored 13 points and has three more years of enjoying this postseason ride. This young man is going to be very good. Crown Point's Ty Smith, a recent call-up, played well at the point, as well. There should be some great showdowns in the coming years.
"This is one of the best feelings I've ever had, coming out in sectionals and seeing our student section," L.C. Justin Graciano said after scoring 12 in the win. "And playing against a rival made it even better."
"If we had nerves before we don't now," Munster's Tyler Zabrecky said. "The shots weren't falling in the first half. So we became more aggressive and attacked the basket and got going."
Up in heaven Carl Traicoff is smiling and enjoying this week, just like he used to. He would've felt at home at this place and he would be here on Friday and Saturday nights, just like the good old days.