The advent of the Internet did create more interest in national rankings, but in actuality U.S. prep basketball rankings began in 1944. Multiple national polls have been compiled for decades and it’s surprising how many of them have been touched, started or influenced by editors and contributors of GrassrootsHoops.net, which is the home of the original National Sports News Service rankings.
High school boys basketball national ratings, and mythical national champions, have been around for decades.
In fact, the ‘mythical’ tag wasn’t appropriate during the 1920’s when Amos Alonzo Stagg, a legendary football coach, organized a National Interscholastic Basketball Tournament at the University of Chicago. Titles were decided on the court, not by subjective rankings.
The first event in Chicago was staged in 1917 but dropped for two seasons before being staged from 1920-30. The first truly national event was held in 1923 when 40 teams from 30 different states, many of them state champions, competed.
The tournament was discontinued after the 1930 event following a ruling by the National Federation of State High School Associations. Many states then refused to send a representative. The event was replaced with the Stagg Christmas tournament.
Chicago was also home to a National Catholic Interscholastic Tournament at old Alumni Hall on the Loyola University campus from 1924-41. The tourney was discontinued after private schools were allowed to join some state associations, including Illinois, in 1941.
A national tournament for Black schools was held from 1929-67. The host was Hampton, Va., Institute from 1929-34 before it shifted to Tuskegee, Ala., from 1935-41. Tennessee State in Nashville, Tenn., played host from 1945-65 with the final two events played at Phillips High in Montgomery, Ala.
However, it wasn’t until 1944 when the late Art Johlfs decided to rank boys teams on a national level at the end of the season. The Minnesota multi-sport high school coach and official originated his National Sports News Service with football rankings in 1927 when he was 21 years old. He added other sports through the years, including girls basketball in 1975, before retiring in 1978 and passing the torch to Barry Sollenberger of Tempe, Ariz.
Sollenberger was a sports historian-journalist who published Arizona state high school magazines beginning in 1971 and edited Joe Namath’s National Prep Sports Magazine in 1976-77. In 1999, he became the first official sports information director for the Arizona Interscholastic Association and at that time turned over the National Sports News Service to National High School Sports Hall of Famer Doug Huff of Wheeling, W. Va. Sollenberger continued on with the AIA until his sudden death from a heart attack in 2005.
The National Sports News Service rankings then became connected to Huff’s work with the FOX Sports Net/Student Sports/Rivals.com/ESPN FAB 50 from 1999 to 2011. After 2012, due to ESPN’s discontinuation of high school sports other than a top 25 to support TV broadcasts of games involving key recruits, the National Sports News Service rankings is under the direction of the editors of GrassrootsHoops.net.
For the 2012-13 season, Ronnie Flores spearheaded the boys basketball rankings and it is now under his direction along with Mark Tennis, who was editor of the national Student Sports Magazine from 1993 to 2004 and was director of all of the various FAB 50 rankings in all sports on the Rivals.com (2004-2008) and ESPN platforms (2008-2012).
Popularity of national ratings expanded in 1982-83 when a new national daily newspaper, USA Today, offered weekly rankings for football plus boys and girls basketball compiled by Dave Krider. Other sports were added later. Krider has been followed by Christopher Lawlor and the publication’s current compiler, Jim Halley.
In the 1987-88 school year, the nation’s first national weekly poll of sportswriters for football (and boys basketball) joined the field when Huff began the National Prep Poll. It was distributed over the Associated Press and many other major outlets by World Features Syndicate. It also was used for nine years by ESPN’s Scholastic Sports America.
In 1999, Huff joined Student Sports Inc., spearheaded by Andy Bark, and compiled the first FAB 50 rankings for FOX Sports Net with Tennis. Those rankings, which also were the first to add regional breakdowns, evolved into the Student Sports FAB 50 for the 2001 school year. The National Prep Poll name was later revived by sportswriter Jamie DeMoney and continues on PrepNation.com while Huff is now retired from daily and weekly sports writing and sports editing duties.
In 2007, Rivals.com, known mostly as a college football network of recruiting sites, expanded its reach into the high school market with the creation of RivalsHigh.com. Huff and Tennis provided much of that site’s early national content, including the FAB 50 rankings. In 2008, after the Student Sports events and media group was purchased by ESPN, the Rivals.com rankings expanded to 100 teams in length and since then has been directed by Dallas Jackson.
MaxPreps.com also has published national basketball rankings in recent years. In addition to computer rankings devised by Ned Freeman, the web site also offers human rankings compiled by Jason Hickman.
What purpose do national rankings serve?
It’s simple: they add public interest to the sport and serve as a barometer for team performance much like all-star games for individuals. Debates about who’s No. 1 nationally will likely never be settled, but the wide-ranging recognition for the athletes and coaches involved no matter where their teams are placed in the rankings are well-deserved.