It is what Indiana high school basketball is all about and has been all about for the past century. Two great teams competing hard inside a packed gymnasium.
Then the game between Oregon-Davis and South Bend Washington on Dec. 28 turned ugly. Really ugly.
As seen on a YouTube video that was later pulled, OD's Lexi Minix was fouled. She pushed Washington's Breondra Green and walked away. Then, Green took a flying punch that blind-sided Minix, who fell to the floor. Coaches and fans started yelling after the punch.
Consequently, Green received a two-game suspension and is now required to take a sportsmanship course from the IHSAA. The push for such courses has come from the National Federation of State High School Associations, IHSAA commissioner Bobby Cox said on Wednesday.
"It's an opportunity to turn those into teachable moments," Cox said. "It's more than just a game. If the behavior is so egregious, where punches are thrown, the commissioner can institute a penalty that is more severe."
In the IHSAA bylaws Rule 8, student conduct has strong requirements. "Contestants’ conduct, in and out of school, shall be such as (1) not to reflect discredit upon their school or the Association, or (2) not to create a disruptive influence on the discipline, good order, moral or educational environment in the school."
There is a perception that fisticuffs at games are on the rise, but this could be a result of the growing social media market. YouTube is filled with video of high school sports fights.
"I think everybody saw the (Washington-Oregon-Davis) fight on YouTube," Merrillville basketball official John Goss said. "All the officials I know were sending it to each other."
In reality, the number of fights have fallen. In 2005-06 there were 844 incidents in all sports. Last school year there were only 621, according to Jason Wille of the IHSAA, who provided numbers for unsportsmanlike behavior reports over the past decade.
There were 22 ejections from boys basketball games and eight in girls games in 2012-13, Wille said.
"If there is only one incident each year that's one too many," Cox said.
The infamous past
Region basketball fans surely remember how boys basketball was played in the 1990s, especially in Lake County. Fights often broke out on floor and in the stands. Fights broke out at E.C. Central's Holiday Tournament and another one at Roosevelt during the 1995-96 season.
Cox said the IHSAA has worked hard to provide a safe environment for the student-athletes and the fans. Administrators at area schools have amped up security and the bad headlines have mostly gone away.
Sportsmanship is talked about at almost every meeting. PSAs are played before each game. Refs are taking a more active role and using preventative officiating to keep everyone inside the lines.
But human nature can sometimes overtake a moment.
"Emotion is still a big part of the game and sometimes that spills over into an unsportsmanlike situation," Cox said.
There was a scrap in the Hobart-Lake Central girls game on Dec. 10. Late in the game a loose ball turned into a scrum and Lake Central lost guard Tara Zlotkowski and Hobart lost guard Cailin Trezak with flagrant fouls and both players missed the next game.
Last Saturday Bishop Noll's Larry Crisler received a technical at Indianapolis Brebeuf for shoving Aaron Banks. He got another T seconds later for his verbal reaction.
Both coach believe the incidents were isolated.
"Our girls are good kids and they've shown sportsmanship throughout the year," L.C. girls coach Marc Urban said. "Some made it sound like a brawl but it wasn't. It was a scuffle. There is a difference between playing hard and not having good sportsmanship. We want to play hard but we don't want to foul."
Noll boys coach Josh Belluomini expressed a similar thought on a completely different situation.
"We didn't think it was warranted, I'm frustrated with it," he said. "Whatever happened happened. But it was not to the same degree as some of these other fights. I really don't know what you can do to prevent it. We talk about sportsmanship all the time."
Veteran basketball officials work hard to keep things in check. Cox spoke about a national movement to keep hand-checking under wraps. Area refs are communicating with the players more now than ever before.
Goss, in his 39th year of officiating, said the IHSAA has suggested that fans not fill the floor row. He said 30 percent of the schools he's worked this winter are following the suggestion.
"You always have to communicate with the coaches and players," Goss said. "If you see something out of hand, you have to speak to them and let them know you're not going to allow it."
Goss believes coaches are doing a much better job in controlling players. In 2011 Bowman Academy was playing Bishop Noll in The Times Region Roundball Rumble. In the final seconds an Eagle flew off the bench when a scuffle occurred on the floor.
Goss remembered Bowman coach Ronnie Robinson running out, grabbing the young man and dragging him to the bench, yelling, "I got'em John. I got'em."
Bowman was placed on probation in 2012 after a fight against Detroit Consortium in Saginaw, Mich., on Jan. 14. The IHSAA instituted a zero tolerance policy the March before and E.C. Central, Lew Wallace and Whiting were also put on probation then.
"Their best player was throwing elbows and took a swing at one of our guys," Bowman coach Marvin Rea said. "We learned from it and we've worked hard to not let anything like that happen again."
Rea said good officials can, and mostly do, control what happens on the court.
Crown Point official Steve Kvachkoff said he does his homework before games, looking into the history of the teams he's working. If it's a big, emotional game, he tends to call it tight early. He said you can never call it loose early and then tighten it up if the game gets physical.
"That never works," Kvachkoff said. "I've never had a fight in all my years officiating. I've had some pushing and shoving, but never a punch thrown. You have to keep control of the game or it will get out of hand."
Cedar Lake official Larry Samano said he started something in recent years to keep the game clean. He works with Goss and Mike Waisnora in many games.
The three vets talk to the players before the game about playing it straight.
"You have to communicate with the coaches and the players," Samano said. "We want to keep the game in a good flow. There is always a little trash talking. But in the bigger games, with a lot on the line, we'll tell the kids, 'There will be no trash talking tonight.'"