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HEISER: Time to consider tweak to playoff semifinals

Steve Heiser
  • This year's York-Adams boys' basketball semifinals at Red Lion were packed.
  • The league should consider two sites for the two boys' semifinal games.
  • Two sites would allow more fans to more comfortably attend the two semifinals.

The York-Adams League just concluded one of the most compelling boys' basketball playoff seasons in recent memory.

The gyms were packed, the games were entertaining and the players were skillful.

A packed house at Red Lion watches Central York battle Spring Grove in a York-Adams League boys' basketball semifinal on Wednesday, Feb. 15. John A. Pavoncello photo

It all ended Friday night with Northeastern's 62-51 triumph over Central York at York College.

Overall, league officials did a fine job in organizing and managing a tournament that can be a logistical nightmare, especially considering the number of teams, venues and staff that must be coordinated over the course of a week.

In many ways, the York-Adams basketball playoffs are a model for other local leagues to follow.

So there's nothing to nitpick, right?

Well, there's always something to nitpick.

Victim of own success: In many ways, the league may be a victim of its own success. The boys' playoffs have become so popular that it may be time to consider abandoning the doubleheader format used during the semifinal round and instead hold the two games at two separate sites. Because of intense fan interest, the old doubleheader format has been outgrown.

Wednesday's semifinals at the Ronald Abe E. Fitzkee Athletic Center at Red Lion High School were absolutely mobbed, despite the fact that Red Lion likely boasts the largest gym capacity in York County.

Fans were standing three or four deep on the balcony/track above the stands. They were also standing at the end of the gym, just waiting to land a seat after the end of the first game between Spring Grove and Central. Those folks were put in the position of hoping that lots of Rockets and Panthers fans would leave so they could get a seat for the Northeastern-York Catholic contest.

The parking lot was absolutely jammed, too. Since no advance ticket sales were held, many fans waited for hours before the 6 p.m. tipoff for the first game to ensure that they would get a seat.

It's great to see that kind of enthusiasm for York-Adams high school basketball, but it's highly likely that even more fans would've liked to see the games, but didn't even bother showing up because they didn't feel like standing in line for hours or parking hundreds of yards from the gym.

That was probably especially true for older folks, who simply can't stand for that long or walk that far. There's little doubt that some grandparents of players, coaches or cheerleaders involved in the doubleheader would've loved to attend, but simply couldn't handle the physical rigors involved.

An aberration?: Of course, it can be reasonably argued that 2017 was a one-year aberration, created by a perfect storm of factors that led to the overflowing semifinal crowd.

You had three large schools (Class 6-A Central York and Class 5-A Northeastern and Spring Grove) with very large fan bases.

Central has been hugely successful in recent years and ended up making its fourth straight appearance in the league title game.

Northeastern started the season 17-0, whipping up a frenzy of support in the Manchester/Mount Wolf area. Sellouts for the Bobcats' home games became the norm. Plus, Bobcat Nation was desperate to see its team earn its first-ever league playoff title — a championship dream that eventually came true.

Spring Grove, meanwhile, featured a once-in-a-generation talent in Michigan-bound Eli Brooks. Folks in Papertown and beyond came out in droves all season long to get an up-close-and-personal look at the most highly recruited player in York County history.

The fourth team in the semifinals, York Catholic, is not a big school, playing at the Class 3-A level. The Fighting Irish, however, may be the most storied program in York County, boasting four state championships. That kind of historic success has created a following that is far larger than you might expect from a typical 3-A school.

Put it all together, and you end up with a gym bursting at the seams.

Yes, this year's crowd may have been an aberration in some ways, but the boys' semifinal crowds are almost always going to be enormous. The teams involved are nearly always large schools with large followings, or traditional powers with large followings. It's the simple nature of the beast.

Two sites would help: If this year's two semifinals had been held at two separate sites, it's likely that more fans would've been willing and able to see the games because they wouldn't have had to wait in line for so long and the parking situation wouldn't have been so problematic.

Yes, two sites would require twice the work and twice the staff, and cost twice the money.

Those drawbacks, however, would likely be offset by having more fans comfortably attending the two games, while also paying for the privilege at $5 for adults and $3 for students.

In the future, the league should consider using two semifinal sites for the boys' playoffs.

It's a tweak that would hopefully solve many of the issues experienced this season and make a great event even better.

Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at