Newly minted Indiana High School Athletic Association Commissioner Paul Neidig took over one of the hardest jobs in the state of Indiana last summer given the circumstances surrounding COVID-19 and the challenges it presented with students returning to school and the athletic fields for the 2020-21 school year.
But he didn’t bat an eye. Neidig and his colleagues delivered an effort that gave high school student athletes a chance to compete like no other students in the country after COVID-19 vanished the 2020 spring seasons.
Neidig recently joined the WCDQ True Country 106.3 5’O’clock report in a joint interview with the Journal Review to discuss the most recent school year and a variety of other topics.
“It was the ultimate team effort that made this happen,” Neidig said. “It was from the parents and grandparents, to the school administrators, bus drivers, people who serve food at lunch, teachers, and then the opportunity to play. There were times that there was heartache involved. One thing I want to speak to is I never want to disrespect the tragedy of COVID-19 and what it’s done. But I never believed that going home and waiting for this to be over was the right thing for kids and that was our goal to make sure kids had an opportunity to participate in that time honored tradition. It’s a short period of time in your life when you can put on your school uniform with your school name on it and represent your community. Kids needed that and we were happy to help provide that outlet for student athletes.”
While there were many states across the country that returned athletics in the fall of 2020, very few state athletic associations conducted all of their sports on time. And Indiana was the only association to conduct their state tournaments with no limitations on the number of athletes.
“There have been some other midwest counterparts that were in that same category, but what separated Indiana was we did it with a full complement of athletes,” Neidig said. “We didn’t have to limit the number of kids participating in the state wrestling tournament or the state swim meet. We ran our tournaments as we did the previous year and did not eliminate the opportunity for kids to participate and I think that’s what set Indiana apart.”
COVID-19 hasn’t been the only hurdle for Neidig, who took over for former commissioner Bobby Cox, in his first full year.
The Arthur L. Trester Award for Mental Attitude, which is awarded to an outstanding senior participant in each classification of the boys’ basketball state finals has made recent news — with some accounts claiming Trester, who was the IHSAA commissioner from 1929-1944, was a racist — and questioning if the IHSAA should consider renaming the award.
The original mental attitude award for boys’ basketball was named after Jake Gimbel from 1916-1943, before officially being named after Trester in 1945. Crawfordsville’s Dick Haslam was the recipient in 1958.
Shortly after Indianapolis Crispus Attucks opened in 1927 as a private school open to exclusively black students, Trester said Attucks would not be allowed to participate in the state basketball tournament. And it wouldn’t be until December of 1941 when the IHSAA would allow all schools to participate in the state tournament.
“We’ve all read accounts of Arthur Trester, I’ve done research, we’ve had staff members do research,” Neidig said. “The time was a different time and the association when he was the commissioner was a public school association. So any school in the state that had exclusive enrollment practices whether it be for religion or for race, was not permitted to be a member.
“I’ve heard Mr. Trester called a racist. And through our research and we will continue to — I’ve never uncovered that. I have read that in a book about Attucks (Crispus). The other thing is the association has a long history of African-American students participating for their local high school before the decision was made to open it up to private school membership. There was never an exclusive association that did not permit student athletes that were in a public school from participating in the tournament. But with that being said, we are going to continue to look into it and to research it. If it comes time to make a change, then we are certainly not opposed to that, but we want to make sure we have all the facts and it’s well researched as we walk down that path.”
Also, this spring the National Federation of State High School Associations said that beginning with the 2022-23 season, a 35-second shot clock will be permitted in high school basketball games by state associations adoption.
This gives each association the ability to adopt the shot clock at their discretion.
At this time, Neidig says there is no plans to go in that direction, but it’s ultimately not his decision.
“Ultimately it’s not my decision,” he said. “If the membership makes a proposal and they feel like a shot clock is best for the game and it comes before our board of directors, it would be considered and have a chance to be adopted.”
Neidig says he has his concerns.
“We have a tournament that’s special in the fact that every team in the state of Indiana gets to play and I also believe we have the best coaches in the country coaching our kids,” he said. “And when you’re coaching kids in your community you may not have the 6-foot-8 kid coming through this year or the guard who can shoot it from the 3-point range consistently, but you may have some ball handlers or a really good defensive team and possession control becomes a very important part of the game for you to win and the last time I checked every game we play the goal is to win.
“And because we have an all-in tournament, and we play with kids who grow up in communities, I’m really hesitant to take a coaching tool away from our coaches.”
Neidig says the IHSAA plans to operate as normal as possible for the upcoming school year, while continuing to keep a close eye on the COVID-19 numbers along with continued guidance from the state and local health departments.
He also said students that are vaccinated will no longer be subject to quarantine.
“We understand that getting the vaccine is a personal choice, and we would never want to take that away,” Neidig said. “But what I do know is that students that are vaccinated and are deemed close contact in the fall, they will not have to quarantine away from their team. And those not vaccinated will still go through the quarantine process as they did all last school year.”