GARY | The arms were raised. Smiles were everywhere. The long bus rides to nowhere in previous winters had finally reached their meaning.
Celebration erupted as Bowman Academy finished off its 74-52 win over Barr Reeve in the 2010 Class A state championship game at then-Conseco Fieldhouse.
History was made on March 27 in the 100th annual IHSAA state tournament.
Then, two worlds and two points of view were crystallized and crashed head-on as the Barr Reeve students started chanting: "At least we're Class A ... At least we're Class A ... At least we're Class A."
The 2010 Bowman team had four players who would make a Division I roster: Cylk Joseph (IPFW), Christopher Bond (Ball State), Tyrae Robinson (Ball State) and DeJuan Marrero (DePaul).
Barr Reeve did not have one D-I player.
Consequently, there has always been an uncomfortable relationship between Bowman and the other small public schools locally and around the state.
Bowman played its first basketball season in 2007-08. Coach Marvin Rea had been this first freshman class' AAU coach. The next season the Eagles played in their first IHSAA state tournament as a Class A school.
When the IHSAA counts enrollment for separating teams into classes, it considers last-year enrollment figures. At the time that Bowman was let into the IHSAA, the school had applied when the first class started and the association required a two-year waiting period. Therefore, when Bowman started IHSAA postseason participation, there were only two classes through the school, the freshmen and sophomores.
Now, the by-laws have changed to lengthen the waiting period to four years, meaning that any new school will be completely full by the time the enrollment figures are tallied for inclusion in classification.
By the time the Gary charter school had four classes inside the building, they would be a Class 2A school, but a lot of damage had already been done.
In 2009, then-Whiting coach Derrick Milenkoff expressed concerns after his Oilers were pounded by Bowman 86-43 in the Eagles' first sectional title game in school history.
He brought up what a lot of small, rural coaches believed: Bowman was a Gary All-Star team.
"It's like a slap in the face," Milenkoff said. "Our guys have worked hard; we've won six games for the first time in a long time. If Bowman wasn't here, we would've had a shot. But we have to play a charter school that recruits."
Added Morgan Township coach Collin McCartt: "First the IHSAA had to deal with private schools and now they've got charter schools. They are on a different playing field. If something isn't done about this, class (sports) gets thrown out the window."
There's always been a rub with private schools, with the caveat that at least those athletes have to pay to attend. Charter schools in Indiana are "public" so the students attend for free.
Rea defends what his school and program have done. Since Day 1 Bowman has followed every directive the IHSAA's rules have dictated.
"Class basketball wasn't established by Bowman Academy," Rea said.
As the 2013-14 boys basketball season tips off, Bowman will play in Class 3A. The Eagles have played in a state championship game three of the last four years. The defending Class 2A state champs were moved to 3A in the first year of the IHSAA's success factor classifications.
"We don't feel bad at all about playing where they tell us to play," Rea said. "We haven't cried once about being moved up."
In the 2010 Class A sectional, Bowman beat LaCrosse 100-40, Kouts 110-68 and Morgan Township 98-70. The Eagles then beat Pioneer by 50 points in the regional semifinal.
Rea points out that there are very good players in Classes A and 2A. In 2011, Morgan Township upset Bowman in the sectional championship 53-49 on the Eagles' home floor. It shocked the state.
Not because Morgan had a bad basketball team, but because everyone believed Bowman's advantage wouldn't allow such a thing.
In 2012, reclassification counted the full school enrollment and Bowman moved up to Class 2A. The Eagles advanced to the state final, with three Division I players — Marrero, Steve Hawkins (Robert Morris) and Elijah Ray (IUPUI).
Hawkins played his first two years at River Forest. After he transferred to Bowman before his junior season, the Ingots athletic department dropped the Eagles from the 2010 football schedule in August, the timing of which is rare.
Back on the court, Bowman was pounded by Park Tudor 79-57 in the state championship game. Yogi Ferrell (Indiana) and Trevon Bluett, another blue-chip recruit, led the way.
"Don't tell me there aren't great players in the smaller classes," Rea said. "I know there are because we've faced them."
In the last two semistate games, Tipton's Mike Crawford scored 40 against Bowman both years, before graduating to attend Saint Louis University.
Last March, the Eagles played what was likely their last Class 2A game, beating Linton-Stockton, 86-73. Linton did not have one D-I player.
Bowman had, and still has, Justin King, Arthur Haggard and Davon Dillard, all three highly recruited D-I recruits. Dillard is as blue-chip as they come.
"He's the best player in the region, hands down," Rea said.
This Eagles team lost one starter and looks loaded and ready to make a run at a 3A state title, with history on the line again. No Indiana boys basketball school has ever won a state title in three different classes.
"I heard it from a lot of people," King said of being dissed by big-school players for winning a small-school title. "My friends at Lake Central said it was no big deal because it was 2A."
When King was asked if Lake Central could've won the 2A title last year, he paused and thought for about 10 seconds.
"No," he said. "Because we were there."
Bowman and Lake Central can settle that question as they play Dec. 13 for the first time.
There's also been a rub between Bowman and the other Gary schools, who felt as if their kids were being stolen by the Eagles. Bowman has not played a Gary school since 2007-08.
The Eagles played in the Gary Holiday Tournament that season, but in a game against Lew Wallace, security had to be called when Rea and Renaldo Thomas started barking at each other after the game.
This will change now in the Class 3A Hammond Sectional, which will be played at the Civic Center. Lighthouse, Roosevelt, Lew Wallace, Hammond, Griffith, Clark and Gavit join Bowman in this big-city field.
There is nothing small-school about this.
"We want to show everyone we can win in multiple classes," Dillard said.
"It wasn't our fault we were 2A," King said. "The speed of the game will change. If it was up to us, we'd play 4A."
King said the smack-talk the Eagles have heard from the big-school teams has been immense. He said he has one driving motivation for this winter.
"I'm way more excited," King said of playing 3A. "We get to play people we know. I think there's going to be a lot of 'sshhhhhhing' going on. A lot of people have said 'ya'll ain't good enough.'
"We'll let our game do the talking."
Rea said he has no idea how his team will perform in the 3A postseason, but the law of averages says it will be tougher to cut down nets.
A bad game against an average small school is still a 30-point win. A bad game against a Hammond or Lew Wallace and the team could be turning in their stuff the next day.
"It doesn't matter if it's Class A or 4A, winning a state championship is a difficult thing to do," Rea said. "I am excited about the challenge of 3A but who is there doesn't excite me at all. I don't understand the rational that 3A is tougher than 1A.
"I know this. There are some 1A and 2A teams that could spank some 4A teams. That's the way it is."