Basketball's class struggle continues, in Peoria

 
 
Updated 3/26/2015 8:25 PM

There will be a silver anniversary celebration in 2020 of the boys basketball state tournaments being played in Peoria.

The biggest question that now needs to be answered is how to get more fans back to see the teams chasing high school hoops gold.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

This year's Class 4A title game got a big boost from the fan bases of Stevenson and Normal Community, which Peoria Journal Star hoops guru Nick Vlahos estimated at around 7,500. But that still paled in comparison to the crowds before the state went to four classes and is less than half of what the tournament drew during its glory days in Champaign.

It's a different era from the days when tourney games drew more than 16,000 to the University of Illinois' Assembly Hall. But it's tough to see big games now played before so many empty seats at the Peoria Civic Center. Not that it's a big surprise since a lot of people expected that to happen when the classes were expanded from two to four.

The IHSA's decision Saturday made it clear it doesn't view Peoria as the problem for attendance issues when it elected to stay there instead of moving back to Champaign or going with the Sears Centre's bid for the big-school finals.

As a Bradley alum, my opinion has never been high of the Peoria Civic Center as a place to watch basketball. If you could have dropped Assembly Hall, er, now the State Farm Center, into downtown Peoria you would have had the best of both worlds.

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Peoria has always gone out of its way to make the tournament a big deal since it moved there in 1996. Much more than Champaign-Urbana in its final years there.

But the continued commitment to Peoria means the IHSA needs to find a way to make this a bigger deal again. Just giving out the state tournament dates is not enough to fill all the empty seats.

They should take a cue from some of the most successful holiday tournaments or events such as the City-Suburban Showdown. Market the big stars and great teams who may end up playing in Peoria in March or you may see on TV in college and NBA games in a few years.

Is having the 3A/4A state finals during the first weekend of the NCAA tournament an issue? It's also a weekend when a lot of schools start their spring break and people are heading where it won't snow in late March.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

So why not move all of the state finals up one weekend for the boys and girls and see if it makes a difference? Cutting one week out of an already long basketball season would not be a big deal.

Some have suggested having a tournament of champions that would be along the lines of the King of the Hill 3-point contest. The 1A and 2A champions and the 3A and 4A champions would square off to determine the ultimate small- and big-school champions.

The biggest drawback would be a champion ending its season with a loss. But it might be a way to bring back fans who would like to see the debate of whether a 3A champ is better than the 4A champ settled on the court.

And the IHSA needs to keep monitoring Peoria to make sure fans aren't getting gouged on hotel prices. It's an issue that has cropped up and it was a big problem during the final years in Champaign. The serious interest from other communities to host the state tournaments should be a strong message that Peoria has to help bring fans in as well.

Of course, the other solution would be to go back to two classes. But that isn't going to happen with the IHSA now in its eighth year of four classes in basketball and other sports.

Big day for Von Schaumburg with the White Sox: Former Schaumburg three-sport standout Eric Von Schaumburg, who has battled ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) the last two years, got the opportunity of a lifetime when he spent Tuesday at the White Sox spring training camp in Glendale, Ariz.

The 31-year-old Von Schaumburg, a diehard Sox fan, got to throw out the first pitch and met many of the players, manager Robin Ventura and executive vice president Ken Williams. He went to the camp with his fiancee Lindsay Rudhman (they are planning to get married in June).

Von Schaumburg can no longer speak and types words on a computer screen to communicate, which he did with MLB.com White Sox reporter Scott Merkin.

"It was unreal," Von Schaumburg typed to Merkin. "I'm still on Cloud 9."

If you are interested in learning more about Von Schaumburg's battle with ALS and how to help, go to his "Fight Like a Champion" website.

Washington assists in Augustana success: Former Wheeling High basketball star Alex Washington went on to help Augustana College win three consecutive CCIW championships. Two years ago Washington returned to his collegiate alma mater as an assistant coach.

Washington wound up helping the Vikings finish second in the country in the NCAA Division III tournament. They finished with a 27-5 record and lost to Wisconsin-Stevens Point in the title game.

Washington was the Mid-Suburban East player of the year in 2004 when he led Wheeling to a division title.

marty.maciaszek@gmail.com

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