Fred Kroner: IHSA bumps up Sabers
NORMAL — The Saber Pack is a student-orchestrated group from St. Thomas More that leads the cheers at athletic events.
It has consisted of a vocally active cheering season as the teenagers followed the state championship girls’ basketball team as well as a boys’ 20-win program that won a regional title Friday.
They demonstrated a uniform level of loudness, enthusiasm and sportsmanship throughout the state series, following their top-ranked girls’ squad.
The cheers were deserving.
Soon they likely will be replaced by boos.
The sounds won’t be directed to anyone associated with the team, the most-decorated girls’ basketball program in Champaign-Urbana history, and they won’t be started by the Saber Pack, but they could be courtesy of those from within the STM network.
And, it appears, with probable cause.
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You could almost read between the lines Saturday night as the IHSA presented the Class 2A championship trophy to St. Thomas More seniors Taylor During, Randa Harshbarger and Courtney Wax following the championship-game conquest of Prophetstown, 70-34, at Illinois State University’s Redbird Arena.
They offered the expected congratulations on an outstanding season and a job well done.
There was another message. It was not spoken, but existed in the minds and thoughts of many familiar with the recent IHSA revision of policies regarding non-boundaried schools such as St. Thomas More.
“Now, see what you can do in Class 3A.”
Unless there are developments in court — not on the court — STM will not get a chance to defend its 2A state crown. As a participant in back-to-back state semifinal games, the school will be elevated to the Class 3A ranks for next year.
It’s part of the IHSA’s new Success Advancement formula, which only applies to non-boundaried schools. A public school could qualify for the finals 10 years in a row and remain in the same class.
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Centennial, Central, Mahomet-Seymour, Rantoul and Urbana won’t be the only ones unhappy with the decision, which will affect them next February when girls’ basketball regionals take place.
STM coach Chris Mennig learned recently of the plan, which was adopted 12 days ago and begins immediately while taking a retroactive look back to include the past three school years.
“The fact that they’ve honed in on successful private schools and not successful public schools as well makes me scratch my head a little bit about the underlying goal they are trying to achieve,” Mennig said.
“I’d be interested to know what the trend is nationally. Is this something other states are implementing or are we trying to pave a new path?”
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Non-boundaried schools, such as St. Thomas More, Schlarman, Judah Christian and Urbana Uni High, already were assessed a multiplier to determine their postseason class. A school’s actual enrollment is multiplied by 1.65 to determine that school’s adjusted enrollment.
The multiplier will remain in force. Waivers have been issued to non-boundaried schools in sports in which there has been recent limited postseason success.
That is why, for example, St. Thomas More competed in Class 1A last week in boys’ basketball, but 2A in girls’ basketball.
In addition to the multiplier, non-boundaried schools now will be hit by a double whammy — double jeopardy? — with the addition of the Success Advancement formula.
They will accrue one point for a regional title and two for a sectional title (but just two points in cases in which regionals and sectionals are won in the same year), and the accumulation of four points in any four-year span eliminates the possibility of a multiplier waiver.
Additionally, in sports such as basketball, baseball, soccer, softball, volleyball and wrestling, reaching the Final Four twice within any four-year span means automatic advancement one class for that sport. Schools will never be elevated two classes (except in football) and can be reclassified in a lower division if they stop having success at the state level.
STM’s girls’ basketball success will not affect the school’s Class 1A status in wrestling. For the remainder of sophomore Tori McCoy’s prep basketball career, however, STM will compete as a 3A entry in the postseason.
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In essence, it’s an offshoot of the theory, “If you can’t beat ’em, get rid of ’em.”
The long-term effect, clearly, means a further watering-down of the tournament series in Class 1A and 2A. Programs that are established and proven will no longer be contenders in the small-school events. Instead, they will be elevated and strengthen the quality of competition in the upper classes.
IHSA associate executive director Kurt Gibson doesn’t agree with that view.
“We don’t think in terms of watering down a class,” Gibson said. “We’ll still have teams (at state) that have achieved at a high level, and at the end of the day that’s what we’re trying to accomplish.”
The new policy also could be viewed as a penalty for success.
“We’ll play whoever comes our way,” Mennig said, “but I hope they take a long, hard look at it.”
Mennig is a believer that schools can raise their level of play based on the quality of schools within their conference. This year’s Sangamon Valley Conference supported that contention.
In addition to the success of St. Thomas More in girls’ basketball, Cissna Park’s girls reached the Elite Eight in 1A, Iroquois West was in the Sweet 16 in 1A and Watseka advanced to the sectionals in 2A.
“When you can tangibly touch excellence and see it, it allows a coach to motivate his players,” Mennig said.
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The IHSA mandate won’t change Mennig’s scheduling practice. He already has planned a schedule for next year more challenging than the one that was in place for the just-completed 2013-14 campaign.
Neuqua Valley will come to Champaign to start the season. Incarnate Word, from St. Louis (ranked among the Top 20 teams nationally), will make an appearance in the Sabers’ gym, as will Chicago Young. STM will play McAuley in Chicago. Fenwick will stay on the schedule as a neutral-site game, and talks are ongoing with Quincy Notre Dame.
“With that kind of schedule, I would predict four to six losses,” Mennig said, “but then I thought we’d have four this year.”
STM ended with a school-record 33-2 mark.
As for now, Mennig isn’t ready to concede that the Sabers won’t be in position to defend their 2A crown.
“It’s a long ways until next season,” he said. “It will be interesting to see what kind of backlash comes from this.”
He shouldn’t hold his breath, Gibson said.
“It’s happening next season,” he said.
Fred Kroner is The News-Gazette’s executive sports editor. He writes a weekly high school-related column throughout the school year. He can be reached by phone at 217-351-5235, by fax at 217-373-7401 and at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @fredkroner.