Friday, March 21, 2014

not a miracle but still an upset

Sixty years ago yesterday--March 20, 1954--Milan beat Muncie Central for the Indiana state basketball championship, 32-30.  Won by Bobby Plump's last second shot, the game ranks among the best "David beats Goliath" sports legends.  Milan High School had roughly 160 students, Muncie Central had over 1600, but as my dad used to say "Only five play on a basketball court."

The game was televised, one of the first in Indiana, a state known for its "Hoosier hysteria."  My father, a young 7th grader in suburban Indianapolis, watched the game on TV as it was played out across town in Butler (now Hinkle) Fieldhouse.  Therefore, I grew up, a couple Midwestern states away, with stories about Indiana basketball and Bobby Plump. Some video here--although beware the strange concluding graphic/cartoon. In 1986 we went to see the movie Hoosiers starring Gene Hackman and several authentic gyms. Great final shot scene with Jimmy Chitwood "I'll make it."  And hey! there's a brief (and unexpected!) mention of Wabash College (who, incidentally, won the NCAA Div III men's basketball championship 32 years ago on March 20, 1982)!

Now when it comes to sports upsets, nothing beats the US Hockey team beating the USSR in the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" at Lake Placid, NY.  That really was a "David beats Goliath" game. As the Indianapolis Star points out, Milan's defeat of Muncie Central was significant, but it certainly was not a shock or miracle.  Milan had a solid, experienced core of players who had played deep into the state playoffs just the year before.  They weren't overwhelmed by the large crowds or the big city lights.  The Star article has some great insights, including Plump's recognition of the Crispus Attucks team Milan defeated to reach the "final four."  The Attucks team starred Oscar Robinson, the future NBA all-star.  Also, the 'final four' then featured the state semi-finals in the early afternoon with the state championship game coming that same evening.

About the movie Plump says:
I was probably doing 10-15 speeches a year prior to that. What the movie did was took the story nationwide, even international. They made a great movie. I laughed, I cried and when it was over, I felt good. They got the last 18 seconds (of the championship game) right. That is the only factual thing in the movie.

The movie Hoosiers does play heavily on the rural Indiana mythos, a great narrative but one that, like all human stories, can be overplayed.  That being said, the movie's opening scenes, as Gene Hackman drives through Indiana's gentle, rolling farmland, each barn featuring a basketball goal, captures a great image. 

I went to Wabash the year after the movie opened and that was how most of the students (and several faculty members) "saw" their home state.  And, as Plump noted, the closing seconds ring true. Whenever the movie played in college, from Marengo to South Bend, from country to city, the guys all cheered when Jimmy Chitwood hit the shot.  Basketball isn't a religion, even in Indiana, but it certainly has religious elements and perhaps nowhere so clearly and unapologetically as Indiana.  It certainly serves a role of restating and reaffirming revelation.

And isn't a part of that revelation supposed to upset what we think can or should happen?

H/T for this post to my father and a bunch of guys from Wabash.

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