Sunday, March 20, 2011

March 20, 1954: The real Hoosiers

INDNANAPOLIS - There are some changes, of course. There always are in Hollywood. In Hollywood, the team was Hickory High School and was led by Jimmy Chitwood. In real life, they were the Milan Indians, led by Bobby Plump. In Hollywood, Chitwood couldn't miss in the championship game. In real life, Plump struggled until deep into the fourth quater.

But those are just details, facts that can muddy up the true story. In this case, the story is of the 1954 Indiana High School basketball championship, the small-town team that beat the big boys and inspired one of the most beloved sports movies of all time.

The 1954 Milan Indians were a genuinely good team. Starting the playoffs at 19-2, they were considered good enough to make a deep run in the one-class Indiana state playoffs. In fact, they had made the state semifinals the previous season. However, at some point, their run was supposed to end, as did all such runs by small schools, once they ran into one of the bigger schools in the state tournament.

Except Milan's run didn't end. Three games from the championship, they beat Montezuma, the only school they played in the playoffs with a smaller enrollment than them. Then came a victory over Crispus Attacks High School from Indianapolis, a school featuring future NBA hall-of-famer Oscar Robertson. Then it was Terre Haute Gerstmeyer Tech, who Milan beat easily, 60-48, to advance to the championship game.

In the final, the Indians faced perennial power Muncie Central. In a surprising defensive battle, the score was tied 26-26 entering the fourth quater. Plump, who had been slumping in the game, froze the ball for more than four minutes to shorten the game. Then, with the score tied 30-30, Plump shot the Indians into immortality, making a 14-foot jumper from the right side as time expired to give the Indians the state championship.

Indiana controversially split its high school basketball teams into four classes in 1997, ending the era when a small school like Milan could play the big schools in the state tournament. This move meant that Milan remains the smallest school to win the one-class state championship in Indiana.

Milan also lives on in cinema history, even if their school name isn't mentioned. Thirty-two years after Plump made his championship-winning shot, Jimmy Chitwood thrilled theater-goers with a championship-winning shot of his own. And through the magic of Hollywood, the 1954 Milan team lives on forever.

Bobby Plump's shot (skip ahead to 5:30 to see just the last shot):

Jimmy Chitwood's shot:

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