Neither time nor the classification of high school basketball has managed to erode the importance of a conference championship in boys basketball.
Coaches still dedicate pregame locker room talks to drive home the meaning of being part of such a team. Players, in turn, channel a particular sense of urgency to the court when it’s a league opponent.
It’s win-win, only not everybody wins.
This evening’s slate of games will go a long way toward separating contenders from pretenders in the 2013-14 conference races involving Johnson County programs.
Tied for first in the Mid-State Conference are Mooresville and Martinsville with 3-0 league records. Mooresville travels to Whiteland (1-2) tonight, while the Artesians, coached by former Franklin athletics director Kip Staggs, host those very same Grizzly Cubs (3-1).
“Right now Martinsville is undefeated in the conference, so that’s a big game if we want to hang in the conference race,” Grizzly Cubs coach Jerry Bomholt said. “The kids on our team know Mr. Staggs and want to go down there and play well.”
Tonight and the days ahead also shape up big ones in the 10-team Mid-Hoosier Conference, where Edinburgh (2-1) and Indian Creek (2-2) hope to gain ground on first-place Knightstown (3-0).
Edinburgh is challenged by having to travel to Morristown (2-1) tonight. Coach Derek Perry’s Braves step out of conference with a game at Monrovia but are scheduled to face Eastern Hancock (4-1) on Wednesday.
“For us, the conference race is kind of like the beginning of a marathon. The more you’re in the race, the more the race becomes interesting,” said fourth-year Lancers coach Drew Glentzer, whose program is 22-6 against league opposition since his arrival in 2010.
“The last three years you had to be undefeated to win the conference. With 10 teams in our conference, it’s a lot of games; and the kids think about it the longer they’re in it.”
The Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference appears to have three viable contenders in Carmel (4-0), Pike (4-1) and Warren Central (2-1). Center Grove at 0-2 looks for its first MIC triumph of the season tonight at Lawrence North (1-3).
Also winless in conference action is Greenwood. The Woodmen, in the Mid-State basement at 0-4, don’t face another league opponent until hosting Plainfield (1-2) on Feb. 7.
Elsewhere, Greenwood Christian Academy takes a 3-0 record in the Pioneer Conference into this evening’s girl/boy doubleheader at home against Baptist Academy (1-1). The Cougars then turn right around and host Attucks (1-1) on Saturday.
Crucial contests all for coaches and players alike.
“We talk about it a lot. Our kids, if you mention conference championships, they’ll say they’re important,” Bomholt said. “What it does for me as a coach is it allows us to emphasize certain games.”