Hoops teams thrown a curveball

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By Craig Worrell, Sports Editor

If change is good, drastic change must be awesome.

Or so it seems in the eyes of the Virginia High School League.

It’s not exactly High School Sports meets Social Reform, but at the very least a tee-ball mentality has invaded the learned folks running high school sports in Virginia.

The state basketball tournament in Virginia was once the destination of the select few. Two teams from each district made the regionals. One team from each region made the state tournament. And there were three state champions for boys, three for girls. And everybody knew where they were going for the next level.

Now it’s like tee-ball. Everybody plays. Everybody gets a prize. And kids scattered all over the place. You finished last in your district and dropped out in the first round of the tournament? Here, have a juice box and some cookies. Off to the regionals you go.

The mentality continued this week when VHSL’s new ‘super site’ format was unveiled, much to the surprise of many, and much to the chagrin of many more. Instead of hosting state quarterfinal games at nearby gyms, region champions and runners-up are now herded into big venues in a few select areas for a six- or eight-game hoopapalooza. The point? To give everybody that good-old state tournament warm fuzzy that evidently we all deserve.

“We wanted to give teams a greater state tournament experience,” said VHSL assistant director Joyce Sisson. “…In the past, I’m not sure everybody who played in the quarterfinals really thought they were part of the state tournament. I’ve heard people call it the sub-state. It’s the state tournament.”

Basically, the VHSL wants everybody to have the chance to play in a big gym in front of a lot of people. I believe that system had been in place for years. It was called winning.

The problem, though, is that a lot of folks seem to have been caught off-guard.

“Nobody in our region knew about it before this week,” said Galax athletic director Yerrick Stoneman, who is as on top of things as you could hope for an AD to be.

As recently as two years ago, a team had to win its district, win the district tournament or place second in the tournament behind the season champion to advance to the post season. But last year, district tournaments were rendered utterly valueless by the two-divisional system. In last year’s 12-team Region C Division 1 girls’ field, for example, four of the teams had a combined record of 1-82.

Now, a year later, the rewards of winning a region championship have disappeared for many.

Receiving full cooperation from Carroll County High School and athletic director Darrin Matthews, Galax was expecting to play in Hillsville after winning the Region C Division 1 boys’ championship. Monday, Galax was told that it would instead be heading to Bristol, right smack dab in Region D country, to play Region D runner-up Twin Valley.

Ask any Galax player if he felt rewarded for being a region champ.

As of this writing (Monday night), Galax was able to work out a 7 p.m. tip time Friday at Pulaski County High School, but it was a tentative agreement.

Guaranteed, nobody is losing money on this super site deal. That is, nobody but the folks who have to drive 100 miles to see what should be a home game.

Or maybe not. State quarterfinal games are scheduled for Friday and Saturday, and as of Monday evening, some teams still didn’t know which way to tell the bus driver to go. Two days after most state tournament slots had been filled, four days until tip-off, and the VHSL still had ‘TBA’ next to some games.

The VHSL says it began setting up this ‘super site’ format last summer, yet athletic directors of the schools going to the state tournament were surprised Saturday when learning their teams may be going to Salem or Bristol for the state quarters.

Even the VHSL’s own Web site, VHSL.org, seemed befuddled. Early Monday afternoon, the site showed two games scheduled for the Bristol venue at the same time. Later in the day, those links to tournament brackets were dead-ends, and on up into the evening, the Division 1 boys bracket had Galax playing “Fri or Sat – TBA, Pulaski Co. H.S. – possible site.”

All it lacked was a blushing, smiley-face stick figure icon, palms turned upward, above the words 'Beats the heck out of me.'

Hey, it’s a state tournament. It’s been in the works for months. Figure it out before it’s time to play the games.

Anybody can get in. Where they’re going is anybody’s guess.