Chaucer wrote in The Canterbury Tales that when spring arrives “than longen folk to go on pilgrimages.” So it was that while on vacation I decided to visit a shrine or two. Of course, this led me to Henry County.
I’d been in New Castle before, attending a meeting at the community foundation. But this time I was able to enter the sacred space of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. On that particular day, the long walk from the parking lot to the front door was lined with clothes and shoes, set out on tables. Under a sunny sky, The Hall was having a yard sale.
Inside I watched the brief film that tried to explain why basketball is special in the state of Indiana. It was preaching to the choir but nicely done. Wandering up and down among the glass cases, I saw photos, trophies, newspaper clippings, jerseys and letter sweaters — all the material embodiment of legends and heroes.
The most special of all, always paired in my mind, are the 1954 and 1955 state championship teams. You know the stories, too. The first is the Miracle of Milan with Bobby Plump’s last shot. The second, as wonderful, is the first school ever to win a state championship for Indianapolis — Crispus Attucks with its star, Oscar Robertson. I was once privileged to attend a 50th anniversary reunion of that team and the team it beat in the finals, Gary Roosevelt. The Indiana Humanities Council was part of the celebration at Hinkle Fieldhouse via a grant for the project, which was directed by Dr. Bill Wiggins.
Afterwards I went through the enshrinement gallery, with its exhibit of black-and-white portraits drawn by the artist Keith Butz. Each player or coach is depicted in two images, one at the time of induction into the Hall of Fame and one as he or she looked back in the day. (Girls and their coaches were included although they did not get a state tournament until 1976.)
I could have spent more time there, but I wanted to move on to my next stop in Henry County, the Hoosier Gym. Taking Route 3 south from New Castle, past I-70, to U.S. 40, then turning west brought me quickly to Knightstown. It took a bit of searching to find the Gym because it’s attached to the Knightstown Academy, which looks more like a courthouse. It was, however, once a school, and when the county built a new consolidated high school, a developer bought the Academy, now on the National Register, and turned it into condominiums.
A weekend festival was about to start, with a commemorative game to be played between “Hickory High” and “Terhune.” Again I found piles of T-shirts and souvenirs for sale outside and a volunteer docent inside to explain about how “Hoosiers” came to be filmed in this gym. I asked him whether the film crew had to do much to prepare the site for movie-making. No, he said, it only needed a coat of paint and a bit of gloss added to the floor. Otherwise, it was already perfect.
Still owned by the town, the Hoosier Gym is administered separately from the condos, so it is watched over by its community group, just as the Hall of Fame is. Therein lies the true soul of Indiana basketball, for legendary games are not only about those who are heroes but also about those are witnesses.