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  • Photo by Jodie Andruskevich
    The Merrimack fans cheer on the Tomahawks after making a basket in Tuesday night's semifinal game against Spaulding at UNH.
  • Joe Marchilena photo

    Hollis Brookline students celebrate a 3-pointer during the second half of Wednesday's Division II preliminary round game at Souhegan. The Cavaliers lost to the Sabers 57-52.
Thursday, March 15, 2012

A tweak or two and state tourneys could draw even more

Gary Fitz

If you’re one of the thousands of basketball fans who have attended a New Hampshire high school tournament game in the last two weeks, the obvious question is why would you want to change anything?

According to New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association Executive Director Pat Corbin, attendance has been literally through the roof.

If anyone is still doubting the relevance of high school sports in the age of video games, shopping malls and 300 cable channels, they simply haven’t been to a gym in a few years.

In the last eight days I’ve gone from a packed gym at Alvirne for a boys preliminary round game against Nashua South, to a packed gym at Merrimack for a quarterfinal with Dover, to watching an overflow crowd spill out of the field house at Southern New Hampshire University following the Division III final between Berlin and Prospect Mountain of Alton.

Corbin said the crowd for that 5 p.m. start began lining up for tickets at 2:15. Fans were shoe horned in, and some of the ones who didn’t make it were allowed to watch the game from behind a glass window in a conference room two floors up from the floor.

Earlier that afternoon, a capacity crowd filled Plymouth State’s Foley Gymnasium for the Division IV title game between Littleton and Moultonborough.

Attendance at girls games has been impressive, with 1,200 or so on hand to watch Bishop Guertin win its first girls hoop title in school history Saturday night against at SNHU against Londonderry.

So if it ain’t broke why fix it? If that were the philosophy, we’d all still be driving a Model T.

Let’s start with a shot clock. The NBA – or, more specifically, Syracuse Nationals owner Danny Biasone – came up with the idea in the early 1950s. It was adopted for the 1954-1955 season and, ironically enough, Biasone’s Nationals won the title.

Women’s college basketball caught on in 1971 and 15 years later men’s college hoop adopted a shot clock. Nobody has decided, after trying it for a few years, to go back.

Incredibly, only eight states use a shot clock for high school games, two of them being Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Most often cited as the number one reason for not having the clock is the expense. The price of the devices themselves is nominal, but somebody has to be hired to push the buttons.

What can happen if you don’t have a clock? We found out last week in the Oregon, when Eugene Willamette played highly favored Springfield for a state title. Springfield, which prevailed 16-7, has 6-foot-6 Mercedes Russell, considered by many to be the best junior in the country. So Eugene decided to limit her possessions by stalling.

In fact, in the second quarter, after dribbling across half court, their point guard stopped and held the ball for the entire quarter, or until they engaged their offense with six seconds left, trailing 4-0 at the time.

Springfield let it happen. It didn’t come out and pressure the Willamette guard, forcing the action.

But imagine paying $7, or whatever they charge in Oregon, to see a championship game and perhaps the best player in the country, and watching teenagers milling around for an hour. That you can see at the mall.

Such drastic measures are rare in New Hampshire. There have been a few instances of an all-out stall over the years. But we often see shorter versions.

One team is ahead by two points with a minute or so left at the end of regulation or, in the case of Tuesday’s Division I semifinal between Central and Trinity, in overtime. Central wisely held the ball, forcing Trinity to foul to get it back.

In a game without a clock, trailing teams are often forced to foul late in games, initiating the inevitable and boring ‘’endless march to the foul line.’’

With a shot clock, good defense could be the ticket to another possession. For most of the game, fans wouldn’t even notice the clock and it would rarely be a factor.

But it would at the end of a tight game, when it definitely makes the game better.

What other tweaks could make the New Hampshire high school playoffs better? For one, the state needs to take a long, hard look at the assigning of officials for girls tournament games.

The question is, do you reward hard working, fair minded officials who have worked girls games all winter, or simply put the best whistle blowers available on the floor for the most important game.

After watching girls semifinal and title games in Divisions I and III over the last several weeks, I’d cast a strong vote for the latter.

Gary Fitz can be reached at 594-6469 or