Does art imitate life? There was actually a Rudy. There was a Jackie Robinson as in the movie "42", and there was a team called Texas Western as in the movie "Glory Road" though they are now called UTEP. But sadly, there was no Hickory Huskers, the Indiana farm country team from the movie "Hoosiers".
I was visiting the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame (east of Indianapolis, if ever in the area), admiring all the displays of great Indiana high school and college basketball players (Larry Bird, Steve Alford, Rick Mount, etc.) when one of the older employees there asked me, "Did you like the movie Hoosiers?". Duh, but I replied, "of course, one of my all time favorites". She proceded to tell me that the actual gym where the movie was filmed is only 15 miles from where I was standing. And suggested that if I had the time and interest..., she didn't need to say more, I was out the door and on my way.
About 25 minutes later I was pulling up to the curb outside this very unassuming old school brick building. The street was quiet with no cars or people around. I walked up to the door, glancing around for someone, anyone, I pulled on the handle and it opened! I made my way into the actual gymnasium. With my imagination in overdrive, all my senses were alive searching for hints of the sweet history of what had occurred in this building. Immersed in my awe, I was suddenly brought back to reality by the voice of one of the tour directors asking me if was a fan of the movie. He proceeded to take me around the entire structure, locker rooms, the benches where certain portions of the movie had been filmed, and he even let me shoot some baskets.
Although there was no Gene Hackman, Hickory Huskers, or Jimmy Chitwood, this story is mirrored and based off the true story of 1954 Milan High School out of the state of Indiana.
Milan High School, the real life Hickory Huskers, had an enrollment of 161 students making it smallest school to ever win a single-class state championship title in Indiana. Generally, until 1997, Indian grouped all the schools into one tournament, no matter the size, with the very small school teams being ecstatic to make the regional finals. In truth, the 1952-1953 Milan team actually made the final four of Indiana High School championships, losing to South Bend South rather badly. Their coach Marvin Wood (actor Gene Hackman character) was in his first year at the school, so his second year with four returning starters was much anticipated. The Milan team did not disappoint fans, going 19-2 during the regular season, then winning sectionals, regionals, and semi-state where they beat Indianapolis Crispus Attucks. Milan's star player and future hall of famer Oscar Robertson 65-52 before going to the final four again.
In the final four, this time they first beat a big school out of Terre Haute, before playing the 5 time state champion Muncie Central in the championship. It was a real nail biter and decided on a last second shot from Bobby Plump (actor Jimmy Chitwood character), whom hit a 14 foot last second shot to give them the title and immortality portrayed in Hoosiers.
Hoosiers was one of my favorite sports movies and qualifies for my top ten movies of any genre. Along that same vein, combining sports and movies, my top 10 is as follows:
- Hoosiers (1986)
- Remember the Titans (2000)
- For the Love of the Game (1999)
- The Natural (1984)
- We Are Marshall (2006)
- Draft Day (2014)
- Miracle (2004)
- Rocky (1976)
- Seabiscuit (2003)
- The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000)