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Plump

"Milan Miracle" hero Bobby Plump will appear at Bridges Scoreboard Restaurant & Sports Bar in Griffith and at Webb Ford in Highland on May 18.

Bobby Plump is not a bad guy.

He is not someone to fear.

The former Mr. Basketball and hero of the 1954 "Milan Miracle" is simply not a fan of the class system Indiana adopted in the 1997-98 school year.

Class basketball is hurting state-wide interest in the sport at tournament time, says Plump, and it's no longer a money-maker as in years past.

At age 81, he continues preaching the merits of an open-class system and it's made him quite unpopular with the smaller schools.

I agree with Plump. What we have now is a watered-down, enabling tournament designed to hand out trophies like candy on Halloween and make more kids feel like winners.

"The reason I'm in favor of it (open class) is I wish the current players could experience the excitement of playing rivalries — and that was completely taken away from them except in certain pockets like Carmel, Noblesville and that area," Plump said.

"Their sectional is always full because they're playing rivals. All the others, when they're not playing their rivals, you can walk in and buy a ticket and the excitement just isn't there."

A vocal leader in the "Friends of Hoosier Hysteria" movement, Plump said the final year of the open-class tournament drew more than 700,000 fans state-wide compared to 480,000 the first year of the multi-class tournament.

And the numbers have not risen dramatically since.

"Obviously, the fans don't like it," said Plump, adding his organization had invited the IHSAA in 1997 to run a financial impact study on how multi-class would affect the schools, which it refused to do.

"So we ran one," Plump said. "The average distance is a single-class tournament that fans had to travel was 10.1 miles. With the multi-class tourney, they had to travel better than 31 miles."

You do need a class system in football, where numbers are key, because no way is a Wheeler ever going to beat a Valparaiso or Penn.

Basketball is a different animal. A good point guard, an effective center and a decent supporting cast are often enough to go deep in the postseason.

Take the 1982 state championship game I covered between Roosevelt, with three Division I players, and a rural school — Plymouth — with one star (Scott Skiles) and a burly farm kid in the middle.

Skiles went off for 39 points and Plymouth upset the Panthers, 75-74, in double overtime.

Down went Goliath with a THUD!

Nearly 30 years earlier, Plump's tiny Milan squad had shocked heavily-favored Muncie Central, 32-30, on his buzzer-beating 14-foot jumper from the right side.

Milan's enrollment was 162, Muncie Central's 1,662.

The "Milan Miracle" would inspire the 1986 film "Hoosiers" with Gene Hackman.

Bobby Plump cleaned house in '54, winning a state championship, the Trester Award and Mr. Basketball, then earning a scholarship to Butler where he was team MVP in '57 and '58.

The legendary John Wooden was no fan of class basketball.

"Winning the Indiana state high school tournament was easily the equivalent of winning the NCAA tournament," said Wooden, who accomplished the former as a Martinsville player in 1927 and the latter 10 times as the coach at UCLA.

The sad truth is, we no longer have a state champion. We have a class champion.

In November 2005, then-commissioner Blake Ress conducted a survey of the IHSAA membership in response to a non-binding Indiana House resolution asking the IHSAA to stage a single class basketball tournament.

Results presented at the January 2006 meeting of the IHSAA Executive Committee showed 341 of the 400 member schools responded to the survey with just 10.6 percent (36 yes, 305 no) favoring the addition of a single-class basketball tournament.

Today, attendance remains a concern at many sites. Coaches and players appear to prefer a watered-down tournament while true fans don't.

How do you feel?

Bobby Plump is visiting the Region on May 18 and welcomes your input on this subject.

The 1981 Hall of Famer will appear at Webb Ford in Highland from noon to 3 p.m., and at Bridges Scoreboard Restaurant in Griffith from 5 to 8.

But be prepared to argue. The guy knows his stuff.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at al.hamnik@nwi.com.

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