Hoosier Gym filled with history about "Hoosiers
KNIGHTSTOWN — There are not many basketball fans in Indiana that have not seen or been touched by the movie “Hoosiers,” which was released in 1986 and has been winning the hearts of hoop fans for over 30 years.
Even my late wife Trish, who hated sports, loved two sports movies — “Hoosiers” and “Field of Dreams.”
ESPN voted it as the No. 1 sports movie of all-time. You won’t find many hoops fanatics in Indiana or elsewhere that would disagree with that ranking.
In 2001, “Hoosiers” was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
It is fictional story of the Hickory Huskers, a tiny high school in Indiana that goes on to win the state championship.
The movie was loosely based on tiny Milan High School winning the 1954 Indiana state title, defeating Muncie Central 32-30 on Bobby Plump’s game-winning shot.
Even though it was fictional, it still resonates today.
Saturday, I had the opportunity to step back in time and cover the Dugger Union boys and girls basketball teams as they played games in the Hoosier Gym, which was the home gym for Hickory in the movie.
The gymnasium, used by Knightstown High School, was built in 1921 and used until 1966, when a new high school was built.
Even though I have covered games in hundreds of gymnasiums around the state in my career, there was indeed something different about this.
On first glance, the gym appearance relatively the same, featuring that dull gray paint for the seats and sideboards, which prevented players from going into the stands.
But there were a few things differences from the movie as the gym has new scoreboards which features Hickory as the home team and hated Terhune as the visitors. There were modern backboards and the narrow benches from that time period were wider and under each basket, instead of on the narrow sidelines, which barely would have had enough room for benches some 60-plus years ago.
Even though the court was painted to reflect the way a typical basketball court is today, but with the red “H” in the middle, you could see the images of the narrow lines that created the smaller lanes, or paint, that was used in the 1950s.
The state championship team picture, which hung in the gym in the final scene of the movie, was still proudly displayed.
If not mistaken, the locker room used by Hickory was the same as Dugger Union used.
After the Lady Bulldogs were dressed and at the top of the stairs waiting to take the floor for warmups, I had a chance to go down into the locker room used by the Huskers.
At the time, Dugger Union twins Kaylee and Kinlee Ballard, were down there practicing before singing the National Anthem before both the girls and boys game. They were very, very good.
It reminded me of a time where eventual Mr. Basketball Phil Cox sang the National Anthem before leading Connersville to the state championship in 1972 at Assembly Hall in Bloomington. But I digress.
The room featured a blackboard full of sayings from the movie, like “Picket fence,” I’ll make it,” and “Four passes,” to name a few.
While coach Joe Pigg and the Lady Bulldogs were waiting, I couldn’t help but be transformed back to the movie where Gene Hackman, as Hickory coach Norman Dale, was waiting to enter his home gym for the first time as head coach.
I vividly remember the line from the movie and asked Pigg if he was going to say it. I was not sure if he remembered it, but with a smile on his face he said he was not going to say it.
After asking him twice, I said it. “Welcome to Indiana basketball.” Even the young Lady Bulldogs, none of who were born when the movie was made, smiled, at least some of them did.
In my mind, I could see the scene playing out, even though it has been a while since I last saw it. Until Hackman opened the door, you could not hear the band blaring.
Both teams were already on the floor in layup lines warming up. Coach Dale made his way across the floor, through the visitors and eventually shaking the opposing coach’s hand.
As you might recall, that is the game where coach Dale benched Rade Butcher, for not follow directions about running a patient offense, and finished the game with four players, causing an uproar. I can still hear Hackman telling the ref, “My team’s on the floor.”
In the next scene comes one of my favorite lines from the movie, Hackman is in town the next day when people are razzing him about him playing with three players next time.
Fern Parsons, who played Barbara Hershey’s mom Opal Fleener, told Hackman, who was helping the Fleener women load grain onto the truck, “Mister, the sun don’t shine on the same dog’s a.. every day, but you have not seen a ray of light since you have been here.”
How true it still is today, if only for me.
Anyway, as you can tell the movie has always meant a lot to me, even though it was fictional and some critics panned it because it did not follow the sectional, regional, semi-state and state finals path as us Indiana basketball fans have come to know.
The one thing I wonder about is how they managed to get all the crew for film and lighting into that tiny gym without falling over each other? It must have been a sight to see, as it was Saturday watching the Bulldogs compete at that historic site.
“I think everybody should try and do this,” Pigg said afterwards. “I know it is something we won’t ever forget.”
Also, the hoosierarchive.com has some great trivia about the movie that I would like to pass along.
• The Knightstown gym was used for elementary-school activities and faced destruction in 1988 when it was no longer needed after the 112-year old former high school next door was to be vacated for the new elementary north of town.
The gym and school were eventually saved by Historic Knightstown, with the help of Historic Landmarks of Indiana.
The school became 35 income-assisted apartments and the town took ownership of what became known as the Hoosier Gym. Bob Garner, who manages the facility, said it was the 1990s when the town saved the gymnasium and it took off in its present state (hosting 80 high school games a year and an annual All-Star game in June), welcoming “Hoosiers” fans and visitors daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., about 10 years ago.
• Downtown Hickory was actually New Richmond, population 400 in northwestern Montgomery County.
• Hickory High School was 78-year old high school turned primarry school, located in Nineveh in Johnson County.
It housed 172 students in grade K-4 and was scheduled to close at the end of the school year.
• The gym of St. Philip Neri Catholic School in downtown Indianapolis, built in 1926, was painted green and yellow and used as the Cedar Knob gym, the home of the fight scene.
• The 800-seat, 56-year-old College Avenue Gym in Brownsburg, in northeastern Hendricks County, hosted the movie’s sectional game. It hadn’t been used as the high school’s home court since 1957, when a new gym was built.
• The 2,200-seat Memorial Gymnasium was built in Lebanon, in central Boone County, in 1931, was used for the regional championship game.
Rick Mount, the first high school athlete to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated and Purdue and Indiana Pacers standout, played there from 1962 to 1966. The gym and the 1922 high school next door were vacated in 1968 after a new school and gym were constructed in another part of town. The newly renamed Memory Hall saw sporadic use after that.
• Hinkle Fieldhouse, one time known as Butler Fieldhouse, was site of the state championship game.
It was used to host the Indiana High School state finals until 1971, when it moved to Assembly Hall and eventually Market Square Arena, then Conseco and now Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
It was definitely a trip back in time, even if it was it was like a dream sequence in a movie.