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Would doubleheader switch bring more interest to girls game

DeKalb's Madelyne Johnson (23) celebrates with her teammates including Brittney Patrick (left) and Alexis Hammond after defeating Sycamore, 46-42, Jan. 31 at the Convocation Center in DeKalb.
DeKalb's Madelyne Johnson (23) celebrates with her teammates including Brittney Patrick (left) and Alexis Hammond after defeating Sycamore, 46-42, Jan. 31 at the Convocation Center in DeKalb.

DeKALB – DeKalb and Sycamore’s girls basketball teams left the Convocation Center court and walked to their locker room Friday night.

The game they had just finished, a thrilling 46-42 DeKalb victory highlighted by a 30-point effort from Sycamore’s Bailey Gilbert, certainly lived up to the hype of a matchup that pitted the two best teams in the Northern Illinois Big 12 East at the largest basketball arena in DeKalb County.

Yet it wasn’t the night’s main event as the boys game followed at 8 p.m. and many of the 3,700 fans arrived an hour or more after the girls tipped off at 6 p.m.

Basketball doubleheaders aren’t uncommon among local high school teams these days. About once a month in the Northern Illinois Big 12, the boys and girls varsity each school’s boys and girls varsity teams will play on the same Friday night.

But the girls games are rarely, if ever, scheduled as the second act.

“That’d be really cool. I wouldn’t be opposed to it all,” Sycamore senior Julia Moll said of the possibility of playing after the boys game. “I don’t know if it would change anything, if we’d play worse, play better. We’d just go out and play and have a lot of fun.”

From high school to the professional leagues, generating interest for women’s sporting events is always a consistent battle. DeKalb boys basketball coach Dave Rohlman said his teams have been playing a handful of varsity doubleheaders each season since he became the head coach nine years ago.

“We want to make things equitable and I think it all started ... typically it was a Friday night when the boys played and the girls played earlier in the week like on a Tuesday,” Rohlman said. “They wanted girls to get that prime Friday night spot.”

Indian Creek’s annual Hoopapalooza event was created five years ago as a way to try to draw more people to local girls sporting events. The Timberwolves play five high school games in one day at home, ending the night with the varsity girls game followed by the varsity boys game.

Indian Creek athletic director Ehren Mertz said the event has largely been a success and he’s seen the Shabbona gymnasium fill up earlier and earlier each year. While the girls game has never been the final event, Mertz said he wouldn’t be against switching the order in the future.

“We’ve got a good girls basketball team, we should for a few years,” Mertz said. “They very well could be the big draw at some of these things. Anything is possible here at [Indian Creek].”

Outside of Indian Creek’s Hoopapalooza, the Little Ten Conference doesn’t schedule varsity doubleheaders for conference games. A number of factors come into play for small schools, including smaller rosters that often feature underclassmen dressing for games at the sophomore and varsity levels on the same night.

Hinckley-Big Rock girls basketball coach Greg Burks also said doubleheaders, no matter what the order of play, can feature distractions that hurt the quality of basketball being played.

“If you don’t have a girls team with a great following, you’ve got people in the gym talking during free throws, not paying attention,” Burks said. “Or if the girls are playing second, just leaving and that’s not good either.”

But H-BR has had “pack the place” nights in the past with games at Waubonsee College. When the girls basketball team was in the midst of winning back-to-back state championships in 2009 and 2010, the girls game was featured as the main draw on a couple occasions and Burks said the games made for a good atmosphere.

“It’s kind of a great experience,” said Jenna Thorp, a current Northern Illinois junior and former H-BR star who played in a couple of those games. “Most of the time ... it’s usually the other way. It was kind of nice to be put more in the spotlight.”

Next year the girls teams from Sycamore and DeKalb - both returning a vast majority of their key players - look to once again be the top teams in the NI Big 12. Each will feature players with Division 1 college talent and they very well could be the two local basketball teams – girls or boys – with the best chance of making a run to the state tournament.

While the solutions are never easy and it’s highly doubtful the event order will change for next year’s annual Sycamore-DeKalb game at the Convocation Center, maybe it’s time to reconsider things on a different conference basketball doubleheader during the season.

“Friday’s a big night,” Rohlman said. “I just think it wouldn’t be a bad idea to take it one more step and let [the girls] play the second game. I don’t think it would be a major thing to change to give the girls the second game.”

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