From Academic Kids

This page is about the movie "Hoosiers". For information on the word itself, see Hoosier.

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Hoosiers is a 1986 movie, based on a true story, about a small-town high school basketball team that made the state finals, telling the story of a coach with a spotty past, and the town's basketball-loving drunk, who lead their team to victory. It stars Gene Hackman, Barbara Hershey, Dennis Hopper and Sheb Wooley.

The movie was written by Angelo Pizzo and directed by David Anspaugh. It was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Dennis Hopper) and Best Music, Original Score (Jerry Goldsmith).

Hoosiers was recently the choice of the readers of USA Today newspaper as the best sports movie of all time. In 2001 the United States Library of Congress deemed the film "culturally significant" and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.

A museum to commemorate the real life achievements of the 1954 Milan Team has been established — information regarding this project can be viewed here: Milan '54 Museum (http://www.milan54.org).

The film is loosely based on the story of the 1954 Indiana state champions, Milan (IPA ; MY-lun) High School. In most states, high schools are split into classes, usually by enrollment, and separate state championship tournaments are held for each classification. However, at that time, Indiana conducted a single state basketball championship for all schools, and continued to do so until 1997.

Some elements of the film do match closely with those of Milan's real story. Like the movie's Hickory High School, Milan was a very small high school in a rural Indiana town, although Milan's enrollment of 161 more than doubled Hickory's 64. Both schools had undersized teams. Both Hickory and Milan won the state finals by two points: Hickory won 42-40, and Milan won 32-30. The final seconds of the Hoosiers state final hold fairly closely to the details of Milan's 1954 final; the final shot in the movie was taken from virtually the same spot on the floor as Bobby Plump's actual game-winner. The movie's final game was even shot in the same building that hosted the 1954 Indiana finals, Butler University's Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

However, some key details differ radically:

  • The rosters – In the movie, Hickory only had eight players at most, and had a roster as small as six; Milan had a larger roster. (Of the 73 boys who were enrolled at Milan High in 1953-54, 58 tried out for the team.)
  • Coaching controversy? – The controversy surrounding the coach and his methods, an important element of the movie's story, was completely absent in Milan.
  • Town drunk – The town drunk character from the movie, who was also Hickory's assistant coach, was also missing from the real Milan team.
  • The previous coach – In the movie, Hickory's best player initially refused to play, as he was devastated by the sudden death of his previous coach. This has no parallel in the Milan story. The previous coach at Milan had been fired after the 1951-52 season.
  • Underdog status – Hickory was depicted as a massive underdog throughout the movie. Milan entered the 1953-54 season as one of the favorites to win the state title, as it returned four starters from a team that lost in the state semifinals the previous year.
  • Close tournament finishes – In the movie, Hickory won each of its tournament games by two points or less. In 1954, Milan won seven of its eight tournament games leading up to the final by double-digit margins, and the other by 8 points.
  • Head coaches – Milan's real-life coach, Marvin Wood, could hardly have been more different than Hickory coach Norman Dale (the Gene Hackman character). Dale was a middle-aged former college coach with a shady past and a volatile temper, and had a romantic relationship with a fellow Hickory teacher. Wood was only 26, and married with two children, when Milan won the state title, and had coached the Indians to the 1953 state semifinals. Wood was a soft-spoken man of high integrity who often practiced alongside his players. (Wood died of bone cancer in 1999.)
  • The championship game – In the state championship scene, the movie portrayed Muncie Central (South Bend Central in the movie) as an predominantly black team. The real Muncie Central (http://www.thestarpress.com/tsp/series/milan/muncie/index.htm) was a predominantly white team with three black members. The movie probably borrowed from the actual history of the 1954 state quarterfinals, in which Milan defeated the segregated Crispus Attucks High School in Indianapolis led by all-time great Oscar Robertson. In the movie the Muncie/South Bend coach is played by Ray Crowe, who coached Crispus Attucks in 1954 and would lead the team the next year, 1955, to become the first all-black team (http://www.indystar.com/library/factfiles/history/black_history/attucks.html) to win the state championship. On a side note, the fact that South Bend Central was mostly black and that the team made poor decisions in the last minute of the title game was criticized by Spike Lee, who felt the end of the movie catered to racial stereotypes.

There were other connections between the movie and real life. Hinkle Fieldhouse of Butler University in Indianapolis was for decades the site of the high school state championship game and was used as the site for the movie. The announcer of the championship game in the movie was Hilliard Gates, whose voice was familiar to Indiana high school basketball fans of the 1950s and 60s.

The sports teams of Indiana University are called The Hoosiers.

See also


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