The college version of March Madness ended last weekend with the NCAA men’s semifinals in basketball and finals from New Orleans and the corresponding women’s championships in Minneapolis. For the savvy high school sports historian, however, the original March Madness has played out this month with the conclusion of the state’s high school basketball tournaments in the 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 connection with state high school basketball tournaments.
In 1939, a year before he became the first full-time CEO of the NFHS, HV Porter, director of the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) at the time, used the March Madness term in reference to the annual IHSA state basketball tournament. 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 Assistant Executive Director Scott Johnson revealed new information about the origins of March Madness. Da Mr. Porter actually 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 connection with basketball was made by Bob Stranahan, sports editor of the New Castle (Indiana) Courier-Times in 1931. Several other mentions took place later that decade, including an Associated Press report from 1938, who appeared in the Evansville (Indiana) Courier with a capital letter heading declaring “MARCH MADNESS HERE.”
Although there were references to the term before Mr. Porter’s mention in 1939, the first NFHS CEO certainly deserves credit for popularizing it and through his extensive writings for always associating the term with high school basketball.
And for the early momentum that Mr. Porter gave to the sport of basketball, we say “thank you.” While these tournaments at Mr. Porter’s days were only for boys, the transition of Title IX in 1972 also created opportunities for girls. And this year, some states have celebrated the 50th anniversary of these state tournaments.
Today, state championships are not only for basketball but also wrestling, swimming and ice hockey as well as other activities like drama, debate, speech and music a central part of the electricity that surrounds this time of year.
While simply participating in high school sports and the performing arts is most desired by high school students, state championships represent the pinnacle of performance offered by state high school associations. “Going to state” is the icing on the cake. And this year was extra special.
After two years of canceled or interrupted or shortened state championships due to the pandemic, all states were back in action with winter championships and events – and the fans were back too. In some states, attendance has even surpassed the number of pre-pandemics.
In girls ‘and boys’ state basketball championships alone, more than 500 teams were crowned state champions. And maybe some of the players on these teams will be able to experience the “March Madness Double” just like some of the contestants in this year’s NCAA Championships.
In the men’s tournament, Duke University’s Wendell Moore Jr. won. to North Carolina High School Athletic Association state titles at Cox Mill High School in Concord, North Carolina.
Christian Braun of the University of Kansas won three straight Kansas State High School Activities Association state titles at Blue Valley Northwest High School in Overland Park, Kansas, while Dajuan Harris Jr. Rock Bridge High School helped 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 at Cox Mill High School, and Caleb Love was on her way to lead Christian Brothers College High School in St. Louis. Louis to the 2020 state title before the pandemic shut down. the Missouri State High School Activities Association state championship. Villanova’s Collin Gillespie also helped Archbishop Wood High School in Warminster, Pennsylvania, to the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association state title.
In the women’s NCAA tournament, South Carolina’s Destanni Henderson helped Fort Myers (Florida) High School to three Florida High School Athletic Association state championships, while Zia Cooke won two Ohio High School Athletic Association state titles at Rogers High School in Toledo.
Christyn Williams of the University of Connecticut led the Central Arkansas Christian High School of Little Rock to the Class 4A Arkansas Activities Association state title as a senior, while Evina Westbrook helped the South Salem High School of Salem, Oregon, to two Class 6A Oregon School Activities Association state championships.
Olivia Cochran of the University of Louisville helped Carver High School of Columbus, Georgia, to 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, Washington, 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.