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December 28, 2012

It’s a Hoosier Classic: Event reminds us of Indiana hoops lore

TERRE HAUTE — Everything about the Wabash Valley Pizza Hut Classic is a reflection of the rural Midwest while recalling an earlier time for high school basketball.

Fans of all ages and backgrounds packed the noisy gymnasium at Terre Haute South Vigo High School all day Thursday for just day one of the four-day tournament. They were wearing sweatshirts and jackets emblazoned with “Rox,” “Knights,” “Warriors” or any of more than a dozen other team labels. The fans came from towns scattered across west-central Indiana and east-central Illinois to watch high school basketball, a quasi religion in this area.

In addition to bringing together teams from across state lines, the event is reminiscent of what Hoosiers call “single-class” basketball, when schools of all sizes competed for the state title. The Pizza Hut Classic features schools as tiny as Rockville, with an enrollment of fewer than 300, to those such North and South Vigo from Terre Haute where enrollments are closer to 2,000.

“They love single-class basketball,” said Gary Fears, organizer of the event and president of Pizza Hut THDMA Co-op, speaking over the nearly constant low roar of the crowd. Sitting near the sidelines during a late-evening game, Fears looked around the gymnasium with clear satisfaction. “They love a holiday tournament. We’ve had excellent crowds all day.”

The tournament brings together teams from 16 schools, 13 from Indiana and three from Illinois. By most accounts, there is no clear favorite to win, which may suit the competitors just fine. History shows the favored team tends to lose, said Lane Mahurin, a senior and center for the Rockville Rox and son of coach Dave Mahurin, who is also principal of the small Parke County high school.

Despite being one of the smallest schools in the classic, Rockville is considered to have a good shot at winning. The team went to the state championship last year in its division and many Rockville fans believe the team is even better this year.

“We’ve played together since kindergarten,” said Gary Ulrich, a point guard for the Rox and senior at Rockville. “Now it’s go time with no more next year.”

Rockville’s colors are blue and white but the team wore green and white shoes on the basketball floor. That was in honor of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where a gunman killed 26 people earlier this month, including 20 small children. Sandy Hook’s school colors are green and white.

“It think it’s really cool,” said Rockville team member and senior Garrett Baysinger when asked how he liked wearing green to remember the tragedy at Sandy Hook. “I feel like I’m lacing up for more than just myself.”

There are another eight games set for today at Terre Haute South in the classic. The first game starts at 10 a.m. The last tips off at 8:30 p.m.

A single-day ticket to the tournament is $7 per person. A tournament pass is $20.

“I encourage everyone to come out,” Fears said. “They’ll see some great basketball.”

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at (812) 231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@tribstar.com.

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