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The Big Question: Big 8 or Middle School Team?

Posted on Tuesday, February 12, 2019 at 8:00 am

Jody Hargis
There has been talk over the past few years that it’s time to end the Big 8 Conference basketball in our elementary schools and go the middle school route like most school districts have across the state. We do play football, baseball, and softball in similar fashion. There is obviously a passion for the Big 8 because it has sustained a high level of intensity and attendance both at regular season games and the season ending tournament. This has been going on for as long as I can remember. That has been about 54 years and I am sure it has gone on much longer.
Big 8 history
During the 1972 – 1973 school year, Swiss Memorial started their first full year as a school. The Big 8 Conference was thus born. Prior to that year, the league was known as the Mountain Top Elementary Standings (MTES). The Big 8 was comprised of Altamont, Coalmont, Monteagle, Palmer, Pelham, Plainview, Shook, and Swiss Memorial. This lasted until Shook School was destroyed by fire in May of 1976. In the school year of 1976 – 1977, the conference returned to seven schools when Plainview became Shook Annex and housed the seventh and eighth grades of the two combined schools. Over the years it went from seven to eight a couple of times as SAS joined the league for a while and left and then returned to the conference. Also, Altamont became North and Shook became Tracy City.
I have seen this conference from just about every angle you could imagine. I played, coached, officiated, kept score, ran the clock, announced, have been an administrator, sports writer, father of a player, grandfather of a player, and simply a fan. I have been through about every emotion related to elementary basketball. I have experienced those emotions as a youngster from the age of six to nearly 60 years of age that I’m approaching rather quickly.
I say all this to offer my opinion on the subject. As you might have guessed (especially those that know me), I am looking at this subject through the objective eyes of a sports official. A job that I have done for more than 30 years.
The debate
I believe both sides of the debate have merit. Those who passionate about keeping basketball in their schools believe more participants, individual school spirit, and generations of families enjoying the experience are major contributors. People that would like to see a middle school team want to compete against students they will face at the high school level. They want the best players to work and compete together two to three years before they get to high school. Proponents of the middle school team wants the players to learn from one coaching philosophy, not six or seven. Obviously, there are many more arguments on both sides of the debate, but these are some of the more popular opinions.
Without a lot of social events in this county, elementary basketball has always been an event that many people look forward to every year. I remember as a kid, you couldn’t wait for the second week of August, and the Grundy County Fair with the Cumberland Valley Shows carnival and the second week of March, when the elementary tournament took place at the high school. That was where you got to see people you haven’t seen for months. That was always a big deal!
I believe when you compare a middle school basketball team to the other sports (football, baseball, and softball), there are some differences. Basketball can have more participants playing because only five players play at a time in basketball. Also, there are both boys and girls teams. Finally, where do you play and practice?
Middle school basketball is more suited for a centralized middle school building. There was a time this was an envious feeder system for high school basketball, especially for the girls. However, it has been outdated with the emergence of middle schools everywhere around.
Fundamental skills may offer a solution
What is the answer? I believe there is common ground where competitiveness and participation can both be utilized. There needs to be a commitment to developing fundamentals uniformly across the county. If you are going to have a junior pro program, games need to be formed around fundamental skills, not running up and down the court with a ball that’s too big and a court that’s too big. Since fifth and sixth grade basketball and junior pro have been added, we do the exact same thing that we do in the Big 8. We develop bad habits early on and they are never corrected.
Hopefully, a happy median can be found. As long as these schools exist, elementary basketball needs to be a part of these schools and their communities. However, I also believe those wanting to compete at the next level deserve to have the opportunity to be prepared to excel at that level when the time comes.