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MIKE HUTTON: IHSAA makes bad calls on West Side ‘field-gate’ fiasco

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Updated: December 9, 2013 10:40AM



The Indiana High School Athletic Association’s ham handling of “field-gate” at West Side has opened a massive Pandora’s box.

It has pitted the haves and have nots of high school football fields against each other.

Their ubiquitous standard for what constitutes a “playable tournament football field” has created a double standard.

Suburban schools get a pass with bad fields because no one complains but the urban (read black) schools have to find the invisible, moving target for what constitutes acceptable when some school throws a hissy fit. Don’t want to go to Gary to play a football game? Fine. Complain to the IHSAA. They have your back.

Gary board President Rosie Washington knows they got treated like a second class school again. She said the district was in the process of complying with their ridiculous demands but the IHSAA came to the school on Sunday without much forewarning.

“As citizens of Gary, we should all be outraged,” she said.

Apparently, Roosevelt’s field was good enough to host a sectional semifinal against Boone Grove but not good enough to host the final against Rensselaer. Therefore, we can assume the IHSAA has more regard for the Bombers’ well-being than the Wolves.

They elected to allow Bowman to host its game against Boone Grove last week even after Assistant Commissioner Robert Faulkens, the Grand Master of Field Site Inspection, had told me two weeks ago that Roosevelt wasn’t an option for West Side.

I had assumed that for two reasons: There is plenty of animosity between the Gary Community Schools and Roosevelt and quite frankly, their actual field is roughly the same quality as West Side’s.

Apparently, West Side’s field, which hasn’t changed much the last four seasons, was good enough to host tournament games then but when Lowell decided to squawk, it wasn’t good enough for the last two games.

Apparently, it’s OK for Lake Central to host the Regional championship against Penn even though their own coach said earlier this year they have the “worst field in America” and a group of concerned parents from Penn asked their athletic director to email Lake Central and have them assure that the field would be OK.

Those parents had witnessed first-hand the cesspool the field turns into when it gets wet for a Pop Warner game that was played there for their kids. It’s a mess, or more accurately the “worst field in America.” Been that way for years. It’s pretty easy to make the argument that Lake Central’s field is an injury trap, particularly with the monsoon of rain we’ve had lately but Penn really didn’t want to hassle them.

Penn asked Lake Central if it was safe, and of course, they said it was. Lake Central didn’t want to risk losing the game and Penn didn’t want to make a scene but they did want to cover their butts for the inquiring parents. OK, so they asked. Got it? Everything is going to be just fine, parents. Don’t worry.

Lake Central athletic director Tony Bartolomeo left a voice mail for me saying it was a nonstory. I agree — it should be a nonstory but it’s not if your governing body is randomly making judgments about where games can’t be played without a grading scale in place.

Look, there are plenty of real differences in the quality of fields among the schools in this state and part of the deal is strapping it on and going out and playing the game, not taking away home field advantage because a team didn’t have a play clock or their locker rooms were dirty. There are numerous schools without play clocks, with stinky locker rooms and crappie lighting that get to play at home. This isn’t the NFL. It’s high school football for goodness sake. Just play.

At Jimtown, they choose not to have a play clock. Sounds ridiculous to me but they do it on purpose because it’s advantageous to their style. Imagine this. Say for instance, Roosevelt, which is in Jimtown’s class, asked to have the game moved if they had to play them in the tournament because they rightfully wanted a play clock? First, they’d never ask and second, the IHSAA would laugh if they did.

The IHSAA will tell you it only intervenes upon request from a school with concerns but really, we now know this is arbitrary.

Rensselaer didn’t care where the game was going to be played. Rensselaer athletic director Ken Hickman was like you and me. He went to bed Tuesday thinking he was taking his team to Roosevelt and he woke up Wednesday with a new destination: East Chicago. East Chicago didn’t have a problem playing at West Side either. Stacy Adams, their coach, was just waiting for orders.

If the IHSAA wants to move sites because of quality then they need to have written standards for what constitutes an acceptable field. You know, like your turf shouldn’t look like a marshy swamp after a hard rain or schools are required to have play clocks.

Or, they should move these games to predetermined sites where there won’t be questions about the field conditions.

Privately, West Side people believed that Lowell was making a blatant play to get the game at their place when they asked for IHSAA intervention but they took the high road and didn’t complain. They were happy to play on turf.

Obviously, they weren’t too worried about where the game was played. Check the score for more on that.

In a perverse way, this has worked out well for the Cougars in the long run. They get a new clock and new goal posts. This stupid distraction should be over soon enough. It’s just unfortunate that they won’t have the opportunity to pull a clump of grass out of their field in front of their fans for only the second sectional championship they’ve ever played in. They at least deserved that much.



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