Chicago Bears

4-Class system? Yes or no?

600388.png

4-Class system? Yes or no?

The four-class format for high school basketball in Illinois has been a major topic of controversy ever since the Illinois High School Association opted to give its signature event its second major face-lift in 2008.

From 1908 through 1971, the state tournament was a one-for-all and all-for-one competition involving all schools, big and small, urban and rural.

In 1972, when the IHSA began to feel that small schools were no longer competitive with larger schools, the two-class system was introduced, thanks in large part to the lobbying of the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association.

In 2008, the IHSA adopted a four-class system.

"We went from two to four classes because that's what our membership wanted," said Marty Hickman, executive director of the IHSA. "Numerous people brought it to the forefront. We talked about it for years. They felt at the very beginning of the tournament that it was very difficult for some schools to compete in their class."

Hickman pointed out that schools in Class A with enrollments of 100 to 250 and schools in Class AA with enrollments of 800 to 1,500 were particularly affected. They felt they couldn't compete with larger schools in their class. They proposed that two more classes were needed to level the playing field for one and all.

Hickman is aware of the criticism to this point, that the caliber of competition has weakened, that the tournament is too watered down and the lack of quality is reflected in declining attendance. He once said the IHSA would scuttle the four-class system if it became clear that it wasn't working. But he isn't ready to toss in the towel.

"At the end of the day, 10 to 15 years from now, people will say it was a good change," Hickman said. "At first, there will be a significant amount of controversy, as there was in 1972. But when you look at how the schools viewed that change, clearly more schools are supportive of the change now than when we went from one to two classes. In the schools, this isn't the controversy that it is in the general public and media."

But critics insist the four-class format isn't working. They call for a return to the two-class system. In fact, some still argue that the one-class system was best of all, that there never should been any change. They contend that the great tradition and historical significance of the state tournament have been wiped out.

"What we are seeing in (the girls state basketball tournament) this year is not an anomaly. This is the four-class monster that has been created," one veteran observer said.

He spoke after watching Quincy Notre Dame crush Breese Central in the girls Class 2A championship. And he re-emphasized his displeasure after Montini dumped Vernon Hills 56-38 for the Class 3A title and Whitney Young trounced Edwardsville 63-51 in the Class 4A final.

Will the boys' finals be any closer? Any more competitive? Any less embarrassing?

"It is sad when I hear adults talking about more kids having the experience of being given trophies," former La Grange coach Ron Nikcevich said. "But you never hear it from kids. They want to play the best."

Nikcevich, who guided La Grange to the Class AA championship in 1970, was opposed to the two-class system from the outset. So you can imagine how he feels about four classes.

"I always felt that the Illinois state basketball tournament was such a great and grand event," he said. "For an Illinois citizen, it might have been the greatest sporting event of any kind. He or she would look forward to that event far more than the World Series or Final Four.

"I think of old Huff Gym, the clamor for tickets during the time before television. Then television came (in 1952) and there still was a clamor for tickets. Then came the Assembly Hall (in 1963)...sellouts, ticket scalpers, brokers...it was so special.

"Illinois high school basketball is the best high school basketball I the United States because of its consistency...tradition, teams, coaches, players, customs. There was a romance to the Illinois high school tournament. You have to be a historian to appreciate Hebron and Cobden and the small schools that came to Champaign and electrified the crowd."

Then came the two-class system in 1972 and everything began to change for the worse, Nikcevich said. "The class system was sprung on us and it almost had something clandestine about the manner in which it happened. Of the total number of votes eligible to be cast, the biggest percentage was those who failed to vote," he said.

"I agree the small schools got an identity and drew big crowds. But the big-class tournament took a major hit. Since the inception of the two-class system, how many sellouts did the Assembly Hall have? What happened to the Downstate schools that used to be such a presence in the state tournament...Collinsville, Benton, Mount Vernon, Centralia, Paris?"

Instead, Nikcevich argues that the state tournament has been put into the hands of backroom politicians who exist within the structure of the Illinois educational system, the establishment, who have put together a defense mechanism anticipating an outcry against their position and have completely repudiated the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association's stand against it.

"There is only one Eiffel Tower, only one Taj Mahal, only one Mona Lisa, only one Hope diamond, only one Bible, only one Koran," Nikcevich said. "When you take things of that magnitude and majesty and say to a person: 'Don't go to Eiffel A, the Eiffel AAA is better. Don't go to Taj Mahal A, go to Taj Mahal AAA,' we've lost the majesty of what the state tournament was."

Former Pinckneyville coach Dick Corn, who won two state titles in Class A after the school won a state title in the one-class system in 1948, prefers the two-class system. "For the health of high school basketball in Illinois, we need to stay with two classes," he said.

"If you study Indiana and Missouri, people don't identify with their state champions. Missouri has five, Indiana has four. But the IHSA isn't listening to the coaches. The IBCA's board of directors voted 31-1 against the four-class format. Only one coach wanted to see change. Our former players (at Pinckneyville) would vote to stay with two classes."

Steve Goers, who retired at Rockford Boylan as the winningest coach in state history and is a former president of the IBCA, said the IHSA "is throwing tradition out the window. Why is the IHSA doing this? They want to please everybody. They want to make everybody happy, to give people who never have been to Peoria a chance to go to Peoria," he said.

Ron Ferguson, who coached Thornridge to state titles in 1971 (one class) and 1972 (two classes), said he wasn't for the two-class system originally but came to realize that it was a good idea. But four classes? He'll have to be convinced all over again.

"The two-class system allowed other teams to be competitive. It brought the South back to the state tournament," he said. "But I'm not for four classes. I could be wrong and change my opinion but I think tradition will be gone so more teams will get trophies. Going to the state tournament won't feel the same."

Kevin White is starting small to answer the big question: Can he break out in 2017?

7-27kevinwhite.jpg
USA Today Sports Images

Kevin White is starting small to answer the big question: Can he break out in 2017?

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — Kevin White isn’t taking his ability to play football for granted anymore, not after missing 28 of the Bears’ 32 games since he was drafted seventh overall in 2015. This is supposed to be fun, White said, even though these last two years couldn’t have been much fun for him.  

So with training camp underway at Olivet Nazarene University, White isn’t putting any added pressure on himself in a year that could determine whether or not he gets labeled a bust. 

“I don’t look at this as a job,” White said. “I think it takes the fun away from it. So I would just look at it as it’s a game. I love to play it, just getting paid to do it. But it was fun to be back out there with the guys and rallying together and going out there to compete.”

White looked solid in the Bears’ first training camp practice of 2017, which was a promising start for the 6-foot-3, 216 pound West Virginia product. But that’s a small step that won’t hold much significance unless White can string a few good practices together, and then eventually turn those practices into productive games. 

The good news is the Bears don’t have any restrictions on White and aren’t planning on giving him any additional rest days during training camp.

“He’s ready to go,” general manager Ryan Pace said. “He’s had a great summer, a great offseason, so he’s ready to go. You can just feel his confidence gaining, knowledge of the offense and just being comfortable with his body. He’s pretty much unleashed.”

The bad news is until White proves he can play a full season, questions will remain about his durability. Since being drafted, White has dealt with a fractured left tibia and a severe ankle sprain that resulted in a spiral fracture of his fibula. Those two severe injuries mean we don’t really know what White can do — the four games he played last year were perhaps nothing more than an incomplete glimpse. 

White had the third-lowest average yards per target (5.19) among receivers with at least 35 targets last year, which couldn’t have been what the Bears envisioned when they invested a top-10 pick in him. This is a guy who had 1,447 yards and 10 touchdowns in his final year at West Virginia, after all. 

The Bears still believe White can be a go-to target opposite the budding Cam Meredith and in conjunction with the trio of veterans (Markus Wheaton, Kendall Wright, Victor Cruz) they signed in the spring. 

“We all can do whatever the coaches put us in position to do,” White said. “I do have a lot of confidence (in) us.”

But from a larger view, the Bears need White succeed so they won’t have to re-draft a player at his position, or at least be tempted to deviate from their best-player-available strategy. Doing so would be a blow to Pace’s efforts to build through the draft, a process that’s also, notably, seen the additions of Cody Whitehair, Jordan Howard, Mitch Trubisky and Adam Shaheen on offense. 

For White to fulfill those big-picture hopes, though, he’ll have to start small — like with Thursday’s practice. Saturday’s practice will be the first time White will take contact since Week 4 of the 2016 season, and the Aug. 10 preseason opener will be his first game action since then, too. 

“It’s hard to get better at something if you don’t practice it,” coach John Fox said. “So getting a string of practices, getting him out there and developing his skill set. He’s got plenty of athletic ability. That’s why he was picked where he was. Now it’s just getting out there and improving (his) skillset.”

White’s love of the game wasn’t marred by the frustration of his first two years in Chicago, though. In fact, the opposite happened. 

“You get something taken away from you a little bit, you enjoy it more,” White said. 

Aaron Bummer on what it's like to get called up to the majors

aaron_bummer_sox.jpg
USA TODAY

Aaron Bummer on what it's like to get called up to the majors

For Aaron Bummer, Thursday was far from a bummer.

While experience continues to pour out the door of the White Sox clubhouse, new opportunities arise with those exits. For the White Sox, openings seem to be arriving every other day and Bummer is the latest to get a chance after Dan Jennings was traded was the Tampa Bay Rays for minor-leaguer Casey Gillaspie on Thursday morning. Jennings is the sixth player traded by the White Sox since July 13 and the fourth reliever.

A left-handed reliever, Bummer started 2017 at Advanced-A Winston-Salem and on Thursday received his third promotion of the season, joining the White Sox before the finale of the Crosstown Cup. Bummer, who missed all of 2015 after he had Tommy John surgery, couldn’t quite believe he was standing in the White Sox clubhouse.

“It’s been kind of a crazy 15 months because about 12 months ago is when I made my debut back from TJ,” Bummer said. “Twelve months ago I was in rookie ball so it’s kind of a crazy turn of events. Could I have ever imagined this, absolutely not.

“To be here right now is unbelievable and an awesome feeling.”

The No. 28 prospect in the White Sox farm system, Bummer posted a 3.31 ERA with 54 strikeouts in 49 innings between Winston-Salem, Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte. Bummer’s fastball grades at 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale, sitting between 95-97 mph and touching 99, according to MLBPipeline.com. He also features a 55-grade slider.

The one area that scouts suggest Bummer needs to answer is control as he’s walked 20 batters this season.

“You have to allow them to be who they are,” manager Rick Renteria said. “It’s still 90 feet to the bases, 60 feet, 6 inches to the bases. It’s kind of a cliché, the Hoosiers rule, it’s the same. “You have to go out and execute pitches and trust the skillset and do it.”

Bummer’s great experience began when he learned the news of his promotion late Wednesday. He awoke his parents, who flew in to Chicago on Thursday, with the news and also told his girlfriend he was headed for the majors.

“it was a whole bundle of emotions for all of us,” Bummer said. “I’ve never been in something like this. I know a lot of these guys since Spring Training. And kind of had that bond and that vibes we are all together and these guys are all good teammates and everybody is pulling for each other. At the end of the day we are all here to win games and hopefully we can do that.”