In 1899, a meeting in Indianapolis of high school principals from eight Indiana cities resulted in the formation of the Indiana Interscholastic Athletic Association (IHSAA), whose purpose was to regulate state high school athletics. In addition to promoting uniform standards in athletics, this organization was also intended to prevent abuses such as enrolling college and professional players on high school teams. By 1904, five similar organizations had formed elsewhere in the state.

The Marion High School IHSAA state basketball champions, 1986 Credit: Indianapolis Recorder Collection, Indiana Historical Society View Source

Recognizing the need for a statewide central organization, school principals gathered in Anderson, Indiana, on December 29, 1903, and adopted a constitution and Board of Control to administer the affairs of the newly formed IHSAA. Fifteen high schools joined the organization. The first commissioner was Arthur L. Trester, who retained the position until his death in 1944. The IHSAA Mental Attitude Award has been given in his name since 1945. 

For decades, the boys state high school basketball championship was the IHSAA’s iconic event. The governing body began sponsoring the tournament one year after it was first organized by the Indiana University Boosters Club in 1911. Taking place every year in March, it was the oldest and most prestigious state high school basketball tournament in the U.S. and featured many future National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and National Basketball Association (NBA) players. Starting in 1928, the finals took place in hinkle fieldhouse on the Butler University campus, and it continued to be played there for 41 years. 

The IHSAA did not allow Black or parochial schools to participate in the organization until 1942. Trester, as commissioner, has been noted, in particular, for being responsible for the IHSAA taking this stance. robert lee brokenburr, the first African American state senator, introduced a bill to the 1942 session of the Indiana General Assembly to bring an end to segregation in the IHSAA. At that point, the IHSAA bowed to pressure and opened membership to all Black and parochial schools. 

The 1954 state basketball tournament inspired the 1986 film Hoosiers. Milan High School, with an enrollment of 161, beat the giant-size high school Muncie Central in what has become known as the “Milan Miracle.” The championship game in the movie was filmed at Hinkle. Crispus Attucks, established in 1927 as the African American high school for the Indianapolis Public Schools, made history in 1955 and 1956 by winning back-to-back IHSAA basketball championships under the leadership of legendary coach Raymond P. Crowe. In 1997, after 87 years, the IHSAA abandoned the non-class boys’ basketball high school championship that had made it special and transformed it into a four-class system similar to those held in other states.

The Gary Roosevelt track team huddle around the IHSAA championship trophy, 1984 Credit: Indianapolis Recorder Collection, Indiana Historical Society View Source

In addition to boys’ basketball, the association concerned itself primarily with track and football. By 1975, however, the role of the IHSAA had expanded to encompass the regulation of 9 boys’ sports and 9 girls’ sports. In 1976, the IHSAA incorporated, with the stated primary purpose of managing and fostering high school athletics “on a high plane.” The need for additional space also prompted the organization’s move from its headquarters in the circle tower building to new offices at 91st and Meridian streets in 1977.

IHSAA’s membership stands at over 400 member schools and 51 conference affiliations. It regulates 10 boys’ sports, 10 girls’ sports, and 2 unified sports (flag football and track and field). While state championships for the various sports are held annually throughout the state, Indianapolis has hosted many tournaments over the years at locations like the Hoosier Dome, Market Square Arena, Bush Stadium, Lucas Oil Stadium, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, and the Natatorium and Track and Field Stadium at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

Controversy has arisen in regard to the Trester Mental Attitude Award, given the first IHSAA commissioner’s discriminatory policies against Black membership. The IHSAA board continues to deliberate about whether or not the award should be renamed.

Revised March 2021

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