As January turns into February, it isn’t just the weather that has been unseasonably warm. Basketball season is heating up, and the postseason — or “Hoosier Hysteria” — is here.
Madison County is no exception; there has been some great basketball played at Lapel and Pendleton Heights this season. But if you are only coming out Friday and Saturday nights for boys basketball, you are only seeing half the picture.
As I write this, the Arabian and Bulldog girls teams, with the regular season winding down, are a combined 34-7. Pendleton Heights won the county tournament with Lapel finishing a strong third.
The Arabians have lost three games — all against teams that have been ranked in the top five this season — and are on the verge of winning an outright Hoosier Heritage Conference championship.
Lapel is undefeated against Class 2A teams. Its only losses have come against two 3A teams (by a combined five points) and twice to a very strong 4A team — Pendleton Heights.
Each team has had a player reach the coveted 1,000-point milestone this season: junior Bree Boles at Lapel, and senior Sam Hammel at Pendleton Heights.
These teams are playing very good basketball, by any definition.
But, based on attendance, this may be news to the usually rabid Madison County basketball fan.
At Lapel, it is estimated that attendance for girls games is slightly better than a quarter of the fans that show up for boys games.
Attendance at Pendleton Heights is better but not by much. Average attendance for home boys games is still 62 percent higher than for girls games.
While numbers aren’t available for road games, both fan bases fail the eye test. Most of the Lapel and PHHS rooting sections on the road for girls’ games is comprised of family members, and rarely is there the noisy and raucous student section like we see at home games.
Boys’ home games, that is.
If the two teams were 7-34, this would make sense.
Why aren’t people showing up? Let’s talk about some of the common reasons fans give.
Boys basketball is better — I’m not sure what that means. I realize Mark Albers and Austin Lyons are great 3-point shooters, but you should see Kelsey Burton or Boles when they get on a hot streak from behind the arc. Maybe it means better fundamentals, which would include defense. I get that Will Jones and Eston Stull are fantastic on-the-ball defenders, but if Hammel or Taylor Anderson were defending me from getting to the buffet line, I’d be a lot thinner today. Ball handling? Jon Ross Richardson is great in the open floor, but check out Leonie Wilson going behind the back in traffic. It’s inspiring.
No dunks — OK, boys can run faster and jump higher, and dunks are the most frequent hoops highlights on Sportscenter. But they are worth the same two points that Samantha Kern scores when she slips a screen and beats three defenders to the basket.
Scheduling — If the relative quality is equal between boys and girls basketball, and I believe it is, this reasoning makes the most sense. The boys’ teams play more Friday and Saturday evening games, when more people are free to come out, while the girls’ evening games are usually during the week. More adults and students have a problem going to those games between work and school commitments. But even the typical Saturday afternoon girls games are played before sparse “crowds.” There have been Saturday games when the Lapel gym is so empty, I could almost hear Delany Peoples chewing her gum during the game. One former Lady Bulldog lamented playing in such a quiet gymnasium, saying, “it was awful.”
An early season boys/girls double-header could bring in new spectators. But fans typically show up after the boys JV games, so maybe let the boys play the undercard with the girls as the headliner. After all, chivalry isn’t dead, right?
Please don’t misunderstand — keep going to the boys’ games. The Arabians and Bulldogs have won the past two county championships, Lapel is the defending Class 2A state champ, and the teams need and love the support. Both teams play at a very high level and provide good entertainment value for your dollar.
But the girls, who work just as hard and sweat just as much in practice, are deserving of the same support from local basketball fans.
I’ve never seen two communities support their own like Lapel and Pendleton. And both girls’ teams, loaded with talented as well as high-character individuals, need the support as they each face a difficult road ahead in sectional.
Hopefully, more people will make the road trip to cheer these teams on next week, maybe even a few who haven’t seen the girls play this season.
Time is running out. Give the girls a look. You will see some truly great basketball.
Those fans who watch both can see the whole picture.