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Peterson: State hopes district doubleheaders generate bigger crowds

Published: Friday, Feb. 14, 2014 2:06 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Feb. 14, 2014 3:49 p.m. CDT

Why are you seeing doubleheaders to open boys district play now, and lower-seeded teams like Atlantic hosting against a higher seed (Creston) with the top district seed (Glenwood) also having to travel to the Trojans’ gym to face Winterset?

It all comes down to an attempt by the Iowa High School Athletic Association to curb a declining attendance trend at opening-round playoff games. The thought is, apparently, that people will be drawn to an event that involves their team as well as another tournament game to watch.

I’m not sure I fully buy into the belief this will have a noticeable change in who attends. Fewer people not associated with the team directly — general community folks without a connection to someone on the team — are going to games anyway, so when it comes to paying admission for tournament games, it’s a challenge anymore to generate a big crowd in the early rounds.

The exceptions are teams expected to make a state tournament run, and even then a significant portion of those crowds peaks later in the tournament bracket.

There are more than a few people disappointed that you’re no longer playing for a chance to host a district opener by playing well during the district seeding period of games 5-15.

Under the old arrangement, for example, District 16 top seed Glenwood would be hosting 1-16 Winterset, while Creston (10-9) as the No. 2 seed would host No. 3 Atlantic (6-13).

Instead, all of those games are at Atlantic on Feb. 24, with Glenwood in the 6:30 opener against Winterset, and Creston facing Atlantic in the 8 p.m. nightcap.

Bud Legg, IHSAA information director, explained that the basketball advisory committee (with strong representation by the Iowa Basketball Coaches Association) was seeking more “true seeding” such as 1 vs. 8, 2 vs. 7 in a substate, and came up with the idea of doubleheaders as a compromise.

In other words, you can pit Glenwood against Winterset, which are on opposite ends of the District 16 geographic area, if you bring four teams into one central location and don’t require Winterset to pass through another district town (Creston) on the way to Glenwood, for example.

In addition, some gymnasiums do not have adequate seating to hold doubleheaders. That, and geography, create a situation where a higher seed such as Glenwood doesn’t host, and in a tossup situation Atlantic’s gym capacity is superior to Creston’s.

The IBCA was in charge of communicating this switch to the coaches after the proposal was accepted by the IHSAA Board of Control. The change was articulated in the IHSAA’s Basketball Manual, which went online Jan. 6.

“Personally, I am a basketball junkie and I think that seeing two games a night is a lot better than one,” Legg said. “The higher seeds still play a lower seed, even though it may not be a home game.”

Coach Billy Hiatt of Creston and Glenwood coach Curt Schulte weren’t thrilled with the new format, naturally, since neither of them as a higher seed gets to host a game. (The district final is already set for Shenandoah on Feb. 27 and substate final March 3 at Council Bluffs Abraham Lincoln.)

The email sent to coaches explains “doubleheaders will be used to make sure that schools were not traveling excessively to make this true seeding concept work. There will be scenarios where the higher seed will be playing the lower seed at their facility.”

That’s Creston’s situation. But not Harlan’s.

Harlan (17-2) is the top seed in District 15, which is paired with District 16 for the substate, and hosts a doubleheader. Harlan faces fourth seed ADM (6-13), while No. 2 Denison-Schleswig (9-9) faces No. 3 Perry (6-12) in the other game on the Cyclones’ court. That district final is set for Denison, Atlantic or Carroll, depending on who is playing to ensure a neutral site.

With three teams traveling to a site, there are fewer teams playing a home game, so that’s why I’m skeptical that we’re going to generate more paying customers.

But, it sounds like IHSAA felt some kind of change was needed.

“Attendance at the postseason tournament series has continually declined over the last several years,” said Todd Tharp of the IHSAA. “Less people are attending the early-round tournament games, along with the state tournament. To us, this is a basketball concern and all of us, as ambassadors to this great game, need to be concerned about what can be done to solve this concern. ... Please focus on the big picture, what is best overall for basketball. We are trying to bring back the crowd to these games and the first thing we are trying is doubleheader formats, like we had six or seven years ago. I remember hosting those doubleheaders and seeing crowds stay around to watch both games and seeing the excitement, and you watched who you could eventually be playing.”

So now, the seeding period is being used to determine matchups, but not host teams. We’ll have to see if this pitch by the IHSAA hits the strike zone.

•••

If you’ve been at Creston/O-M wrestling events lately, perhaps you’ve seen local wrestling historian John Walters walking around with a box full of Southwest Iowa wrestling booklets. They’re being sold for $5 each, and Walters said proceeds, after his own printing costs are covered, will go toward a display of athletic history in the hallway north of the gym, along the dressing room entrances; and to the CHS Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) chapter.

It’s a great source of wrestling data for southwest Iowa schools, including Creston state qualifiers and placewinners, conference history and team placings at state and state duals.

His summary of 52 years of Creston wrestling is pretty comprehensive, but Walters also hopes to hear from people from other communities listed in the booklet, so he can update with additional information.

For information about the booklet or to inquire about purchasing one, you can reach Walters by email at ratjdw@yahoo.com.

Believe me, the $5 investmet is well worth it. It’s a treasure chest of great moments in Creston and southwest Iowa wrestling history.

Contact the writer:

Twitter: @larrypeterson

Email: lpeterson@crestonnews.com

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