I’m one of the millions of viewers rooting for the 15th and 16th seeded teams to “knock-off” the big guys. This week we were amazed to see it happen twice in one day. It truly excites we Hoosier born basketball fans because that’s the tradition we were born into.
The game of basketball was invented by James Naismith in 1891. In 1925, after viewing an Indiana high school state basketball championship, Mr. Naismith wrote that even though the game was invented in Massachusetts, “basketball really had its origin in Indiana, which remains the center of the sport.”
During that period of the first half of the 20th century, basketball was a natural for Indiana. The majority of the state was agricultural, so the state was made up of hundreds of small towns, each with their own school system containing little schools with small enrollments. A school only needed 7 or 8 guys to put a basketball team in the gym and have a shot at beating the other small schools on their schedule. Each small school dreamed of winning the Indiana State Championship. If one of these little schools happened to have two great players in the same year or two, the entire town would turn out to pack the gyms and dream of glory.
I, like every Indiana kid I knew, grew up dribbling a basketball and shooting hoops at the basket over the garage or on the side of the barn. With every shot we fired in practice, we were silently counting down the clock pretending that shot was the winner in the big game.
When I was 12 years old, it happened. The little guys knocked off the big guys in the State Championship. It never happened before or after but it fortified the dreams of the small schools until urbanization and school consolidation replaced the little schools. This single-class tournament system ended after 1997 and, like the rest of the states, a tiered system based on enrollment was initiated.
Going back to 1954, Milan, a school with an enrollment of 161, upset Muncie Central, a school with 1600 attendees. I’ll never forget my dad and I jumping and screaming in front of our Philco black and white TV.
For the next 50 years, the small-school dream stayed alive. The plot of the famous movie, Hoosiers (Gene Hackman, Dennis Hopper, and Barbara Hershey) was based on the 1954 Milan champions.
The last season for a single-class state basketball tourney was 1997. That final year, the 1997 State Champion was Bloomington North. I will visit the halls of Bloomington North in early June this year to proudly watch my grandson’s graduation.
I’m a natural skeptic, especially about myths, legends, rituals and anything that was drummed into my head by parents, teachers, politicians or anyone in authority. I always search for the truth if it can be found.
So, what about this Hoosier Hysteria and the millions of kids who “dribbled” before learning to walk. Did it produce any talent? How far do Indiana “basketballers” make it in college or pros?
My truth-search begins tomorrow. Stay tuned.