You don’t need a meteorologist to predict Indiana’s latest snowstorm, only a basketball calendar.
If it’s sectional week ... well, you know the rest. High school tournament time and a really good dose of snow and ice are a Hoosier tradition. Not always welcome together, but frequent companions still the same.
Here we snow again.
The weekend’s snowfall is not just another wicked weather curveball courtesy of Mother Nature; it is destiny.
“This year it has been really unusual.
They may not be able to start the sectionals on time,” said retired Franklin and Center Grove coach Dick Harmening, who experienced many unpredictable March snows during a career that spanned four decades.
For those of you doubting, snow follows the boys state basketball tournament like smoke follows Justin Bieber.
Indiana basketball historian Herb Schwomeyer, in his book “Hoosier Hysteria,” even documents the phenomenon, listing the snowstorms that have affected tournament play since the 1960s.
“You just always associate snow and cold weather about the time that sectionals start,” said Harmening, who said coaches sometimes feel like their game plan must take into account the weather as well as the opposition.
It is not just the frigid weather itself, but the wild March swings in temperatures and conditions that leave memories around tournament time. More lion than lamb, but often both.
Harmening’s 1973 Franklin team learned that lesson well in the week leading up to the first of two straight state finals trips.
A few days before the finals at Bloomington’s Assembly Hall, the Grizzly Cubs rode down to a workout in short sleeves with 75-degree weather, a most unusual occurrence in early March. That didn’t last long.
“By the time of the Final Four, there was a terrible snowstorm,” Harmening recalled of the storm that hit that Saturday between the morning semifinals and evening championship. “A lot of our fans got stranded.
“It was remarkable how it went from 75 to freezing out and snow that week, fluctuating from one to the other.”
Remarkable, but it is also typical of the harsh weather that seems to descend upon the tournament with all the drama and uncertainty of a game-winning shot.
As the late Schwomeyer recounts, snow disrupted the tourney eight times in the 15-year span between 1960 and 1974 alone. We may be able to add 2014 to the list.
That doesn’t count other strange factors, like the 1978 coal strike, which closed a number of schools and pushed the state finals to April 15.
Still, though, it is sectional week that most often falls in Mother Nature’s crosshairs, as Harmening learned as a young assistant on Jerry Oliver’s 1967 Indianapolis Washington team. A wildly hyped Southport Sectional championship game between Washington (Ralph Taylor/Billy Keller) and Manuel (Tom and Dick Van Arsdale) had to be postponed until Monday.
“The teams got there, but not too many of the fans,” Harmening said, adding that some of those fans were stranded and spent the night in the fieldhouse.
Inclement weather, which has always been a tournament-time inconvenience, puts up more challenging hurdles in the class basketball era.
“Snow and ice really affect the fans, especially now with venues so far apart in class basketball,” said the coach who later moved from Franklin to Center Grove, retiring in 1998. “Before, you were not too far away from the site, even in regional and semistate rounds. That was easy traveling. Now, you have to go all over the place.”
Going all over the place, inevitably through snow and ice, is what a number of high school hoops fans will do in these next few days.
Sure, it may be a struggle, but it is also an Indiana tradition.
Of course it is snowing. It’s sectional week.
Bob Johnson is a correspondent for the Daily Journal. His columns appear Tuesdays and Fridays. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.