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Hutton: Adding Class 6A won’t change NWI big schools’ title hopes

Portage Head Coach Wally McCormack stands ready release his team through helmet onfield take Gary Roosevelt Portage High School Friday

Portage Head Coach Wally McCormack stands at the ready to release his team through the helmet onto the field to take on Gary Roosevelt at Portage High School on Friday August 24, 2012. | Jim Karczewski~for Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 8, 2013 6:31AM



One reason not to take a Class 6A football job in Northwest Indiana: There is no reasonable chance to win a state title.

Heck, there is no chance to win a title period — at least if you look at history. Lucas Oil Stadium has been a graveyard for the largest schools from the region. They have zero titles in 27 years of 5A football, with five trips to the final. A couple of teams, Highland and Lake Central, were close. The other three games were blowouts.

The outlook for the sixth class is pretty similar for the large schools around here: It’ll take a miracle to win it all.

The pending revisions in the playoff formula in Indiana made nothing more equitable for the Duneland Athletic Conference schools.

For a change that was widely hailed by coaches as more fair, there was a collective sigh of indifference from schools like Portage, Valparaiso, Lake Central and Chesterton, which got the royal shaft. The Trojans are the third smallest school in a mammoth class. They were hoping to be 33, not 30. The classes, aside from 5A, are split into segments of 32.

Valparaiso, Penn and Chesterton all get Penn in their sectional as a result of the new four-team format.

It just proves that fair is a relative word.

“Class 6A goes from 1,800 (students) to 4,500,” said Portage coach Wally McCormack, whose team is selected from a pool of 2,600 students. “We’re the ninth largest school in the state. We have to play schools almost twice our size.”

Chesterton is the third-smallest school in Class 6A, with an enrollment of 2,019. The Trojans have to compete in a division with schools such as Carmel, that have a student population of more than 4,600 — more than twice the size of Chesterton.

In the grand scope of football tradition in Indiana, there is absolutely no answer for this problem.

There is no seamless way to add another class.

Even if the coaches decided to split the largest 32 teams in the state into separate classes and shorten the playoffs to a 16-team competition, the gap between Nos. 1 and Nos. 16 is nearly 2,300 students. The problem with constantly trying to change the margins of who is in what class is that two super schools — Ben Davis (4,687) and Carmel (4,685) — completely shatter the curve and six others — Warren Central, North Central, Penn, Lake Central, Pike and Hamilton Southeastern — fall between 3,589 and 3,009.

It’s hard to make those numbers jibe better.

Splitting that large class up might make fodder for discussion in a few years, when the schools invariably get bigger and with the addition of more charter schools. For now, though, the reality for the schools for Northwest Indiana is they just have to find a way to compete beyond the confines of their cozy borders.

There is one myth about the best big school football teams in the state that needs to be destroyed: The largest schools have the biggest advantage when it comes to winning state titles.

Last year, Lawrence Central (2,504), which is smaller than Crown Point, Lake Central and Portage and only 165 students larger than Merrillville, whipped Fort Wayne Snider 39-14 for the state title.

Snider, by the way, stayed at 5A, officially making it a nightmare for the other teams in that division. Fishers, which is just ahead of LC, won the title in 2011. And Center Grove, which boasts a modest 2,370 kids, won the title by beating Carmel, a school more than twice its size, in 2009.

What is true, is that aside from the four state titles that Penn has won, along with two titles by Bloomington South and one by Castle, Indianapolis schools absolutely dominate the tournament. It makes some sense because Indy has the highest concentration of schools in it. However, it seems like every once in a while a team from Northwest Indiana should be able to win it.

This makes me wonder: Will it take a Milan-type of upset for a region team to get the big trophy?

Merrillville coach Zac Wells, whose team has been the closest to getting to the final lately, doesn’t think it’s that far out of reach. It’ll take some luck, along with a great team, he says.

He could be right. Let’s hope so. The 27-year drought has made plenty of fans around here pretty thirsty.



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