From high school to college basketball, March Madness is something to behold
The college version of March Madness wrapped up last weekend with the NCAA Men’s Basketball Semifinals and Finals in New Orleans and the corresponding Women’s Championships in Minneapolis. For the knowledgeable high school sports historian, however, the original March Madness played out this month with the conclusion of state high school basketball tournaments in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia.
Long before CBS began referring to the NCAA basketball tournament as “March Madness”, the term – in one form or another – was used in association with state high school basketball tournaments.
In 1939, a year before becoming the first full-time executive director of the NFHS, HV Porter, principal of the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) at the time, used the term March Madness in reference to the annual tournament of IHSA state basketball. . And by the 1960s, March Madness had become a common term associated with state high school basketball tournaments.
In his 2018 book “Association Work,” former IHSA Deputy Executive Director Scott Johnson uncovered new information about the origin of March Madness. Since Mr. Porter never claimed to have invented “March Madness”, Johnson’s research led him to a new source.
According to Johnson, the first mention of the term “March Madness” in association with basketball was made by Bob Stranahan, sportswriter of the New Castle (Indiana) Courier-Times in 1931. Several other mentions occurred later during of that decade, including a 1938 Associated Press report that appeared in the Evansville (Indiana) Courier with an all-caps headline declaring “WALK MADNESS HERE”.
Although there were references to the term prior to Mr. Porter’s mention in 1939, the first executive director of the NFHS certainly deserves credit for popularizing it and, through his many writings, for linking it to never the term in high school basketball.
And for this early boost that Mr. Porter gave the sport of basketball, we say “thank you.” While these tournaments in Mr. Porter’s day were only for boys, the passage of Title IX in 1972 created opportunities for girls as well. And, this year, some states celebrated the 50th anniversary of these state tournaments.
Today, state championships not only in basketball, but also in wrestling, swimming and ice hockey, as well as other activities such as drama, debate, speech and music, are at the heart of the electricity that surrounds this time of year.
While simple participation in high school sports and the performing arts is most desired by high school students, state championships represent the pinnacle of achievement offered by state high school associations. “Go state” is the icing on the cake. And this year has been very special.
After two years of canceled, halted, or shortened state championships due to the pandemic, every state was back in action with winter championships and events — and the fans were back, too. In some states, attendance has even surpassed pre-pandemic numbers.
In the women’s and men’s basketball championships alone, more than 500 teams have been crowned state champions. And maybe some of the players on those teams will be able to experience the “March Madness Double” like some of the participants in this year’s NCAA Championships.
In the men’s tournament, Duke University’s Wendell Moore Jr. won two North Carolina High School Athletic Association state titles at Cox Mill High School in Concord, NC.
University of Kansas’ Christian Braun won three consecutive Kansas State High School Activities Association state titles at Blue Valley Northwest High School in Overland Park, Kansas, while Dajuan Harris Jr. helped Rock Bridge High School to the Missouri State High School Activities Association Class 5 state championship and Mitch Lightfoot won an Arizona Interscholastic Association state title as a junior at Gilbert Christian High School.
Leaky Black of the University of North Carolina was a member of the 2018 State Championship team at Cox Mill High School, and Caleb Love was on course to lead Christian Brothers College High School of St. Louis to the title. 2020 status before pandemic shutdown. the Missouri State High School Activities Association State Championship. Also, Villanova’s Collin Gillespie helped Archbishop Wood High School of Warminster, Pennsylvania win the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association state title.
In the NCAA Women’s Tournament, Destanni Henderson of South Carolina helped Fort Myers High School (Florida) to three Florida High School Athletic Association State Championships, while Zia Cooke won two State Championships. State High School Athletic Association at Rogers High School in Toledo.
Christyn Williams of the University of Connecticut led Central Arkansas Christian High School of Little Rock to the Class 4A Arkansas Activities Association state title as a senior, while Evina Westbrook helped South Salem High School in Salem , Oregon, at two Class 6A Oregon School Activities Association state championships.
Olivia Cochran of the University of Louisville helped Carver High School in Columbus, Georgia win a Georgia High School Association state title, while Sydni Schetnan led Sioux Falls (South Dakota) Washington High School to a South Dakota High School Activities Association state championship.
Stanford’s Lexie Hull of Central Valley High School in Spokane, Wash., won two Washington Interscholastic Activities Association state titles, and Cameron Brink won two Oregon School Activities Association state championships at Southridge High School in Beaverton.
From high school to college basketball, March Madness will always be something to behold.
Dr. Karissa L. Niehoff is in her fourth year as Executive Director of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) in Indianapolis, Indiana.