It looked easy for Alexandria-Monroe High School in the beginning.
The year was 1998, and for the first time, the Indiana High School Athletic Association had introduced class sports.
In the decades before, all schools, regardless of enrollment size, had participated in the same post-season tournaments for state championships. In '98, following the example of almost every other state, Indiana transitioned to tournaments based on school size.
The change had been hotly debated for many years, with some Hoosiers adhering to the David-vs.-Goliath merits of the traditional tournament and others arguing for the level fields of competition promised by the class tournament.
Alexandria, playing in Class 2A — the second smallest division of the four-class format — immediately took advantage of the opportunity in 1998.
In March, the Tigers defeated Southwestern (Hanover) 57-43 to win the Class 2A boys basketball state championship — the first state title in school history. Hot-shooting Rusty Garner led the way with 24 points.
Three months later, the Alexandria baseball team captured the Class 2A state championship, as well, defeating Evansville Mater Dei, 4-3, at Victory Field in Indianapolis.
So, less than a year into the new era of class sports in Indiana, Alexandria had won not one, but two state championships — the first two in school history.
Under the new class system, surely the coming years would bring a bounty of state hardware to the Alexandria trophy case.
But the next two decades came and went with no additional state championships, putting a new perspective on just how special those 1998 Tigers teams were.
Two players — J.D. Closser and Joe Granger — played on both the baseball and basketball squads. Granger played just three minutes in the basketball state final but contributed a hit, run and RBI in the baseball victory.
Closser was a key player on both teams, logging 27 minutes and scoring nine points in the basketball game and contributing a hit while playing catcher in the baseball title tilt. He would later be honored with Indiana's Mr. Baseball title as the state's best senior player.
Twenty-one years after Closser graduated, the Tigers will have a chance to end their 21-year state championship drought. They'll play Southridge next week at Victory Field for the Class 2A baseball title.
Closser's father, Jeff, coaches the 2019 Tigers baseball team.
You can bet that the elder Closser — and all longtime Alexandria sports fans — will have a great appreciation for the gravity of the opportunity.
As the Tigers have learned, state championships — whether in the traditional tournament or under the class structure — don't come easily.
Editor Scott Underwood's column is published Mondays in The Herald Bulletin. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 765-640-4845.