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No winners in Jeff-CC basketball divorce
May 7, 2012Lafayette Jefferson High School
Two images from late January boys basketball meetings between Lafayette Jeff and Central Catholic stand out in my memories of recent seasons.
In 2011, Hayden Gloyeske picked up a loose ball and scored at the buzzer to give CC a 60-58 victory, triggering a stampede from the Knightsâ€™ student section.
This past season, CC students painted their faces to resemble Heath Ledgerâ€™s character The Joker from â€œThe Dark Knight,â€ a response to Jeff guards Rashad Richardson and Jarlon Garrett jokingly referring to themselves as â€œBatman and Robin.â€
The Bronchos laughed last with a dominant 75-50 victory.
Unfortunately, this colorful rivalry between one of the stateâ€™s most decorated programs and its neighboring Class A power is about to be interrupted.
Lafayette Jeff and Central Catholic are not scheduled to play in the 2012-13 season, and a resumption of the series seems unlikely. Future meetings are left to the luck of the J&C Hoops Classic tournament draw.
At issue is Central Catholicâ€™s desire to convert the series, played exclusively at Jeffâ€™s Crawley Center since it began in the 2002-03 season, to a home-and-home arrangement. Jeff coach Scott Radeker and athletic director Mark Preston say they are willing to continue the series, but only if it is played at Crawley Center.
There are a number of factors involved in this discussion. But after considering each one, I kept returning to the same conclusion:
Lafayette Jeff simply wonâ€™t play a boys basketball game at Central Catholic under any circumstances.
Both Preston and Radeker expressed concern that playing at McHale Gymnasium, which would likely become the smallest facility on Jeffâ€™s schedule, doesnâ€™t help prepare the Bronchos for the Class 4A state tournament.
Lafayette Jeff has not yet added a game to replace CC, but it is trying to pick up Marion. The Giants are an on-again, off-again sectional opponent and a former rival from Jeffâ€™s previous affiliation with the North Central Conference. Marionâ€™s Bill Green Arena, in addition to being one of the stateâ€™s venerable gyms, hosts the 4A regional into which Jeffâ€™s Sectional 7 feeds.
But if itâ€™s so necessary for Jeff to add Marion or another large-school opponent, why did it reach out to Central Catholic and offer to continue the Crawley-only arrangement? And if thereâ€™s an aversion to smaller venues, that contradicts some of Jeffâ€™s scheduling choices.
When Benton Central canceled its contract with the Bronchos after the 2010-11 season, Jeff scrambled to find a replacement before picking up a home-and-home series with Delphi, a Class 2A program. The Bronchos also play a home-and-home series with West Lafayette, and Berberian Gymnasium is essentially equal to McHale in capacity (roughly 2,500) and facilities.
Even the Jeff-CC crowds, which Preston estimated at between 2,500-3,000 annually, still leave Crawley Centerâ€™s 7,200-seat capacity more than half empty. If the same crowd stuffs McHale Gymnasium, wouldnâ€™t the resulting raucous atmosphere prepare a visiting team for potentially hostile state tournament environments down the line?
I spoke to a few Lafayette Jeff varsity basketball players, none of whom said they would mind playing at Central Catholic. Why would they? Jeff teams already play a home-and-home series with Central Catholic in girls basketball, baseball, softball, volleyball and tennis. Boys basketball is the lone holdout.
This isnâ€™t just about competitive fairness, itâ€™s about finances. Jeff has paid CC $1,500 each season for the Knights to come to Crawley Center. But $3,000 every two years is likely well below the ticket sale revenue ($5 each), plus concessions, that CC would recoup from hosting the Bronchos once.
To be clear: Central Catholic made a choice here as well. Lafayette Jeff reached out to CC athletic director Tim Bordenet and basketball coach Dave Barrett to ask if they would continue the series as is. CCâ€™s representatives said only a home-and-home would work.
Radeker correctly points out that Lafayette Jeff began playing Central Catholic again when no other county program would. The initiation of the boys basketball series in 2002-03 likely helped the Knights repair their image in the wake of recruiting allegations.
While none of the current coaches or ADs were in place in 2002, Preston and Radeker say they feel compelled to honor that original agreement. (Last yearâ€™s game was played under a one-year contract, which CC had said would be the last it signed without a home-and-home setup.)
A decade later, the perception of Central Catholic has changed. West Lafayette, Harrison and McCutcheon will all play at McHale Gymnasium next season as part of home-and-home series with the Knights.
Or maybe things havenâ€™t changed that much. A number of people I spoke to said an old guard of Lafayette Jeff fans simply wonâ€™t stand for the Bronchos playing a boys basketball game at Central Catholic.
Preston and Radeker admit thatâ€™s probably true, but say it wasnâ€™t a factor in their stance. I hope it wasnâ€™t. It would be unfortunate if current students were deprived of a memorable experience due to the petty grudges of a previous generation.
The student sections at the various county rivalry games this past season were some of the best Iâ€™ve seen since I began covering Lafayette-area sports in 2005. It felt like we were taking a step toward recapturing the enthusiasm this state and area once had for high school basketball.
For someone whoâ€™s only agenda is watching compelling local games in an exciting environment, this feels like a step back.