INDIANAPOLIS | In a board room at the Indiana High School Athletic Association's offices, Commissioner Bobby Cox sits in front of a ping pong ball popper, pulling the balls from the machine one by one.
Starting with Class 4A, it's a process Cox repeats 402 times — or one for each school entered in the boys basketball tournament that year — to determine the sectional pairings for Hoosier Hysteria, which tips off this week across the state. He repeats the step another 64 times to arrange the regional fields.
"I thought it was pretty cool to actually be involved in something like this," IHSAA Sports Information Director Jason Wille said of his first experience with the draw.
While schools, coaches, players and fans anxiously await the occasion each season, it has now become routine for Wille, a Crown Point graduate.
"We do so many of them, after a while, you get used to it," Wille said as the boys basketball brackets were determined Feb. 17.
The IHSAA holds draws for all team sports — soccer, tennis, football, volleyball, basketball, softball and baseball — televising the events for football and boys and girls basketball. A pairings show used to air live. Several years ago, the IHSAA partnered with WTTV in Indianapolis to form the Champions Network, which does a show later in the day, several hours after the actual draw is conducted.
While the announcement format has changed, the procedure has not, remaining simple yet efficient.
Ping pong balls for each sectional and regional are grouped into boxes, which are individually emptied into the machine. As Cox announces the school, the name is then put onto an index card with the number corresponding to when it was drawn. If there is a bye or byes at a site, the number(s) at the end receive it/them.
The cards are then taken to Wille's office, where Assistant Commissioner Chris Kaufman reads them off. Wille plugs names into brackets, while assistant Toni Polizzi enters them into another pairings file. The brackets are later sent to the TV station so staff there can build their graphics and prepare for the program.
Lowell was the first ping pong ball pulled and Wood Memorial was the 403rd and last. Faith Christian, Gary Lighthouse and Lakeland Christian are all participating in their first tournament.
While the method is random, Wille said the IHSAA still gets an occasional email questioning the draw, in cases where teams happen to be paired frequently.
"We reply that they're more than welcome to come and watch for themselves, as long as it's an official from a school, not just some fan," he said. "It's just the way the ball comes out of the hopper."