An Indiana Tradition
If you were to take a drive across central Indiana 25 years ago, there were two things you were guaranteed to see. That would be cornfields and basketball goals. I would wager that while on any given drive out in the rural of Indiana, you could not drive past more than one home that did not have a basketball goal, on the side of a barn, in the driveway or in the backyard. It WAS the Hoosier pastime. It was such a passion the term Hoosier Hysteria was tabbed to describe the state of excitement it produced every winter. This was the only “downtime” farmers had, so it was the perfect sport for all Hoosiers.
The term Hoosier once quotes as “A person born or living in Indiana, industrious, hospitable, down-home folk, who enjoys popcorn, race cars and BASKETBALL.”
The developement of the tradition
Even though the game was invented by James Naismith in 1891 in Springfield, Massachusetts, Legendary Coach Bobby Knight coined it as being developed in Indiana. Naismith once visited an Indiana basketball state finals game only to find 15,000 screaming fans, and later wrote "Basketball really had its origin in Indiana, which remains the center of the sport."
High School Basketball
As a kid every Friday night from mid November through the end of February was pre-planned. Basketball. There was always a great match up between area High School teams. I lived in Madison Country, with several county schools and we had three great City teams from Anderson. We had the Indians (Anderson High school), the Pirates, (Madison Heights High School) and the Highland Scots, all usually was in the top 10 team in the State. The best part was our county schools seemed to always manage to sneak at least one in the states top 20. The Anderson Indians was the home of the Wig-Wam which seated right at 9,000 people, and during tourney time it would pack in around 10,000, standing room only crowds. It is the second-largest high school gym in the world. In the early 70’s it had 4500 season ticket holders and always had a sold out crowd.
Just a few miles southeast of Anderson in a town called New Castle was the Fieldhouse that seated more than 10,000 and IS that largest High school gym in the world. It produced the likes of Kent Benson and Steve Alford.
As a mater of fact 15 of the 16 largest high school gymnasiums in the world are located in Indiana. These are known as Hoosier Temples.
The Indiana high school basketball championship was hosted at the legendary Hinkle Fieldhouse, at Butler University until 1971. It was built in 1928 as the second largest basketball arena in the world.
There was a movie Hoosiers which was ranked number 13 greatest movies of all time by the American Film Institute. It did a marvelous job of capturing this “hoosier hysteria” on film. It was based upon the town of Milan, whose High School team won the 1954 State Championship.
Up until 1996, every County held a tourney called the Sectional. The winner of that moved onto the Regional tourney, then the Semi-State and finally the State tourney. That all changed when they decided to enforce what is known as “Class Basketball”. Depending on the size of your school, you would be categorized into one of five classes. 1A would be for the largest, and 5a would be for the smallest schools. Each class now has its own tourney to determine a “state champion”.I think I speak for many Hoosiers, when we said it “Killed” basketball as we once knew it. The thrill of a small school going up against the large school to post an upset no longer exists. Most kids from small schools; win or lose, were motivated to do better than they believed was possible, to beat the big schools in a championship game. Class basketball removed that dream from kids.
Some of the greatest basketball players and coaches of all time had Indiana roots, such as: Larry Bird, Oscar Robertson, Olympian Steve Alford, Coaches Bobby Knight, and John Wooden to name a few.
Even though basketball is not quite the sport it once was in Indiana, the memories I have makes me very proud to call myself a hoosier.