Monday, May 13, 2013

Hoosiers: A Lesson of Perseverance and Remembrance

Yesterday was Mother's Day, but it was also another special day of remembrance for my family. In 1999, my brother, Jonathan, 16, died of sudden cardiac arrest. Our family was in shock. Jonathan, tall dark and handsome with a quick wit and a smile that could light up any room was suddenly gone from us. Jonathan did well in school, but he had one love like no other, and that was basketball. He played all year round. It was his passion. Before every season he would play two videos for inspiration: A documentary on Larry Bird and Hoosiers. Watching these movies would get him pumped up for the season ahead and make him reflect on how he would persevere despite the setbacks. I love him for that. He demonstrated honor and sportsmanship at such a young age. My hope is that he would be proud of the work that I am doing, and that his spirit will be with me as I teach this lesson in honor of his memory.

My students will read two stories: comparing and contrasting one basketball team that has worked, but not found victory often falling in despair, and the story of Hoosiers, a team that fought and won.

I would like to see what ideas my students come up with from comparing the two stories. How do these stories relate to their own lives, and do they share the common thread of the three P's: passion, planning, and perseverance?

My hope is that they will learn that life is short. We must live our passions now. Steve Jobs is quoted as saying:
"Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything -- all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure -- these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart. ... Stay hungry. Stay foolish."

-Stanford University commencement speech, 2005

I love this quote because it's true. We can't worry about failure. We must strive for excellence because what is the alternative? Life is short. Live your passions. Make your life count!

Loss and Hope: A Documentary Presents the Flip Side of Hoosiers
Read more:

Hoosiers [DVD] (1986) DVD

The 1954 Milan Indians
The Real "Hoosiers"

"A basketball hero around here is treated like a God."
-- Hickory High School teacher Myra Fleener in Hoosiers.

   Hoosiers is a cherished sports film, starring Gene Hackman, Barbara Hershey, and Dennis Hopper, in an Oscar-nominated performance. In the story, Hackman coaches a 1950's Indiana high school team in what could be his last shot at a title.
   This story is loosely based on a real event in 1954, when a team from a tiny high school in the farmlands of Indiana rose against all odds to win the state basketball championship.
   In 1954, Milan was a quiet rural town in the southeastern part of Indiana, with a high school of 161 total students, 75 being boys. But it became the scene of one of the greatest basketball stories in history. Their championship season, immortalized in the 1986 film, had plenty of real-life drama, but, said Angelo Pizzo, the scriptwriter, a great deal of fictionalization was necessary for the Hollywood feature "because their lives were not dramatic enough... The guys were too nice, the team had no real conflict." So changes were made... But how truthful is the film?

1954 Indiana High School Basketball Champs: Back Row (left to right) Glen Butte, Kenny Wendelman, Rollin Cutter, Bill Jordan, Clarence Kelly, asst. coach, Indianapolis policeman, Pat Starke, Coach Marvin Wood. 2nd Row: Marcus Combs, Jr. High coach, Roger Schroder. Front Row: Bob Engel, Gene White, Ron Truitt, Bob Plump, Ray Craft
   In 1954, tiny Milan, with a sharpshooter named Bobby Plump, dominated much larger schools on their way to a 28-2 record and the Indiana state finals. Among their victims was Oscar Robertson's high school team (Crispus Attucks High School in Indianapolis). In the finals, they shocked everyone when they squeaked past powerhouse Muncie Central for the Indiana state crown on Plump's last-second shot. It was considered one of the greatest basketball games ever played, and has attained a legendary status. In September 1999, Sports Illustrated named this team one of the top 20 teams of the century. The sports writers of Indiana named the "Milan Miracle" the #1 sports story in Indiana history.
   It is a story that bears repeating. Milan's 32-30 victory over heavily-favored Muncie Central has since been a rallying cry for every small school in the state.

In real life, Milan High School didn't come out of nowhere. The Indians had made the state semifinals the previous season.

   But the real story actually begins a year before that championship season. In the 1952-1953 season, their new coach, Marvin Wood, brought a "continuity basketball" program to one of the state's smallest high schools and also taught his young charges a full-court trapping defense and a four-corners offense he called "the cat and mouse." At first Wood was not very popular in the community -- he was replacing a very popular coach, and closed the team's practice sessions to the public while changing the offensive and defensive schemes. This caused quite a bit of controversy. But under his leadership, the Indians advanced to the final four of the state, bowing out in the semi-finals to South Bend Central (the school the fictional Hickory Hucksters defeated for the state title in Hoosiers). The nucleus of that team returned to form the '54 championship team.



Rising Sun 52 - 36 (W)
Vevay 64 - 41 (W)
Osgood 48 - 44 (W)
Seymour 61 - 43 (W)
Brookville 24 - 20 (W)
Hanover 67 - 36 (W)
Lawrenceburg 50 - 41 (W)
Versailles 39 - 35 (W)
Frankfort 47 - 49 (L)
Columbus 52 - 49 (W)
Rising Sun 74 - 60 (W)
Versailles 52 - 46 (W)
Napoleon 41 - 34 (W)
Holton 44 - 30 (W)
Hanover 38 - 33 (W)
Napoleon 61 - 29 (W)
Sunman 42 - 36 (W)
Versailles 48 - 42 (W)
North Vernon 38 - 37 (W)
Aurora 45 - 54 (L)
Osgood 38 - 30 (W)

Cross Plains 83 - 36 (W)
Versailles 57 - 43 (W)
Osgood 44 - 32 (W)

Rushville 58 - 34 (W)
Aurora 46 - 38 (W)

Montezuma 44 - 34 (W)
Attucks 65 - 52 (W)

Gerstmeyer 60 - 48 (W)
Muncie Central 32 - 30 (W)
   The Indians began their rise to the top of the 751 teams entered in that year's tournament, with a record of 19-2. The mighty men of Milan then cruised through the state tournament relatively untested, until the final game against the Muncie Central Bearcats.
   Wood knew that his players would be intimidated in the spotlight of a state championship. So, in a scene recreated in the film, he measured the height of the basketball goal in the monstrous Hinkle Fieldhouse as the team took the floor for a practice, to illustrate that it was exactly the same height as the goal in the tiny gym at the team's hometown school. That act, Rev. Daniel Motto later told the South Bend Tribune, was meant to reassure the team that, despite the enormous size of the field house where the state finals were being played, the team should "cast out their fear." Motto said when he watched "Hoosiers" for the first time, he sat on the edge of his seat, waiting to make sure that scene was in it. When it was, Motto said, he knew the movie was truly inspired by Wood.
   The final game was a bruising, low-scoring affair. The Indians were paced in scoring by senior Ray Craft. However, Coach Wood's delay tactic game plan would place the ball in the trusty hands of another senior, Bobby Plump.
   With the score tied at 30-30 in the final quarter, Plump held the ball at the top of the key for four minutes before firing a shot that missed its target.
   The Indians kept Muncie Central from scoring on its next possession, setting the stage for Plump to redeem himself.
   The senior guard would not disappoint, draining a shot at the top of the key with barely any time left to win the state championship 32-30. "The coach just shortened the game," Craft said. "If we went at the rate the game was going at, he felt that we wouldn't have won. Bobby held the ball once, missed, and then we went back to him. The right guys won."

The Miracle Men of Milan: Bobby Plump (second from right) and his Milan High School Indian teammates celebrate after winning the state championship on March 20, 1954. Picture thanks to: Bill Herman / The Indianapolis News
   Plump's famous final second shot assured the championship victory for the Indians, and the Indiana High School Athletic Association awarded him the Trester Award for mental attitude, sportsmanship, and character.
   "The shot heard 'round the world'" changed his life, his teammates' lives, and his community's image forever.
   "We came from a small community," Ray Craft said. "We wouldn't have gone on to college, unless we had won. I think about nine of the 12 guys on the team graduated from college. It was an important event for the community."
   Even today, the '54 Indians impact is still felt by the community.
   "Bobby Plump is a legend. He could've probably been governor of this state if he wanted to," said Roger Dickinson, president of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. Plump was named one of the Most Noteworthy Hoosiers of the 20th century by Indianapolis Monthly Magazine. He was also one of the 50 greatest sports figures from Indiana in the 20th century, according to Sports Illustrated.

   "The community is still celebrating," Don Swisher, superintendent of the Milan Community School District, said in an October 1998 article for the Odessa American. "People come from all over to see the trophy and team picture in the foyer of the gymnasium."
   "It gave the little schools the chance that they could win. It gave hope. It gave dreams to people that we can beat the big guys," Dickinson said. "It made this state great in its basketball heritage."


    And Hoosiers has helped to keep the story alive. In 1998, the current-day Milan and Muncie Central squads played against each other at the gymnasium where the movie was filmed. The game sold out, and was televised across the entire state and Indiana television added additional lighting to the gymnasium (actually in Knightstown).
   Sadly, though, an actual "David vs. Goliath" match-up will never happen again in this state, as the Indiana High School Athletic Association did away with the single-class, "everybody in one big tournament" format at the end of the 1997 season.
   Wood was elected to the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in 1971. Wood never stopped coaching. Finally, in 1999, he resigned as the coach of his granddaughter's seventh-grade basketball team because of a recurrence of bone cancer. The 70-year-old Wood submitted a resignation letter to the Kirtland (Ohio) School Board in the wake of learning that bone cancer which had been in remission for more than seven years had returned. He died in 1999.
   Plump went on to play basketball for Butler University where he was the MVP his junior and senior years, and one of the NCAA's best free throw shooters of all-time. After graduating, he played for Phillips 66 of the National Industrial Basketball League. After retiring from basketball he sold life insurance for many years. But he was always best known for his final shot for Milan.
   Finally deciding to make that notoriety work for him, Plump opened a restaurant called 'Plump's Last Shot' in Indianapolis. It's filled with memorabilia from the 1954 state championship.
   Indian guard Ray Craft became the assistant commissioner of the Indiana High School Athletic Association. He has two cameos in the movie: Ray is the person who greets the Huskers when they arrive at the state finals, and the guy who tells the team that it's time to take the court for the final game.

Clips from the Film: Hoosiers


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