I feel a little sorry for people who’ve moved to Indiana in the last 20 years or so because they never got to experience the boys state high school basketball tournament before it was split into classes.
Although the movie, “Hoosiers,” does a pretty good job of portraying what the tournament was like before 1998, watching the film just isn’t the same as experiencing that kind of “Hoosier Hysteria” firsthand.
I remember how exciting this time of year was when I was a kid. Even people who didn’t have a personal connection to their local school looked forward to the start of tournament time at the end of February/ beginning of March.
So what if the team you backed didn’t have a prayer of making it to the state finals? Just winning the sectional was considered an accomplishment. It gave your school bragging rights over other nearby schools.
But, times do change, and in all fairness, class basketball wasn’t the first significant reworking of the tournament’s format.
For example, the 1916 IHSAA tournament consisted of just two tiers. Sixteen sectionals were held in various cities around Indiana, with the winners of each district contest going directly to the state finals in Bloomington.
That happens to be the year Cicero became the first Hamilton County school to play in the state finals.
(That’s right, Cicero. Before Hamilton Heights, there was Jackson Central, and before Jackson Central was created, Cicero, Arcadia and Atlanta each had their own high school.)
Back then, Cicero High School’s enrollment only amounted to 50 to 60 students. The building had no gym, the basketball team played with a single ball all season long, and travel to away games was accomplished by rail, by car and even by hay wagon.
Despite all that, Cicero managed to produce some darn good basketball teams. During the 1915-1916 season they only lost four games out of 28.
At tournament time, they entered the Anderson sectional along with Arcadia, Atlanta, Sheridan and Walnut Grove. By the end of the second day, Cicero was the only Hamilton County school left.
That evening, the Cicero boys played Anderson for the district championship in front of “a crowd of 2,000 frenzied fans.”
This is where things get really interesting.
When the teams returned to the floor after the halftime break, Anderson complained that the Cicero players had smeared something on their bodies that made them as slick as “greasy pigs.” (Basketball was a more physical game in those days, so this was noticeable.)
Guy Bauchert, a member of the Cicero team, later explained that they were late getting back to the gym after the break, and in their rush they failed to wipe off the wintergreen and olive oil “liniment” they’d used to soften their muscles.
Anderson’s bench wanted the Cicero players sent to the showers before they took to the floor again, but Arthur Trester, the “czar of the IHSAA,” was in the audience and he ruled that the team just needed to be rubbed down with a dry towel.
Once that was accomplished, the game went on. Cicero was victorious, beating Anderson 18 to 12. (18 to 12!)
Afterward, Anderson’s school superintendent circulated a petition asking the IHSAA to disqualify Cicero on the grounds of unsportsmanlike conduct, but the petition apparently went nowhere because Cicero did play in the state finals.
Cicero lost to Valparaiso, 34 to 23, in the first round of the finals, but the residents of Cicero didn’t care. A couple of weeks later, 250 people attended an indoor picnic in the team’s honor.
(Bauchert’s account of the “greasy pig” incident, and other details of early Cicero basketball, can be found in Lois Costomiris’ book, “More Rail Fences, Rolling Pins & Rainbows.”)

Paula Dunn’s From Time to Thyme column appears each Wednesday in The Times. Contact her at younggardenerfriend@gmail.com