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I admit this isn’t a true Indy Challenge for two reasons. First, Watching Hoosiers isn’t a uniquely Indy experience. Second, I have, in fact, seen the film before, it had just been a while.
Before refreshing my memory all I could really tell you was that the film was about a small-town basketball team that wins the big game in Hinkle. Oh, and Gene Hackman and Barbara Hershey share an awkward kiss somewhere in the mix.
As Hoosier basketball hysteria kicked into high gear with a Sweet Sixteen appearance and Indiana high school basketball finished up the season, I thought it was a good time to pop in the Hoosiers DVD for a lazy Sunday afternoon.
For those of you still unsure of the details of the film, Gene Hackman stars as Norman Dale, a fallen college basketball coach who takes a coaching and teaching job at tiny Hickory High School. The townsfolk, particularly interim principal Myra Fleener (Barbara Hershey) aren’t too welcoming of the new coach and his style. But Coach Dale persists with his tactics and even extends an assistant coaching job to Shooter (Dennis Hopper in an Academy-Award winning role), a struggling alcoholic whose star basketball player son has chosen to sit out for the season. Fumbles and successes–both on and off the court–take place throughout the film, all leading up to the state championship game against South Bend (Muncie Central in real life).
The 1987 film has an effect on people, enough so that ESPN.com and its fans both voted it the greatest sports film of all time. As I was slowly pulled into the world of Hickory basketball, I could understand why. Hoosiers represents a lot of things. To those outside Indiana, it mainly represents a true underdog story. We love to see the little man succeed and Hoosiers doesn’t disappoint on this front. The fact that it’s based on the true Milan High story makes it an even greater story to love.
But Hoosiers also hands a heavy dose of nostalgia. We live in a world far removed from the 1950s rural community portrayed in the film. Email inboxes aren’t a priority–or even a concept–in their world. People in Hickory know each other and have conversations in person. They make their livings as farmers and teachers. And the town’s hopes and dreams partially lie with the success of the high school basketball team.
As a native Hoosier it’s particularly interesting to see the passion for ball that grips the community and fills the gym on Friday nights. It’s an accurate depiction of days I wasn’t old enough to see. Today’s high school teams face less full-community support and even less stand-filling games. The supposed death of Indiana basketball and the closing of Anderson’s Wigwam, the same gym my father and sister graduated high school in, were big enough to capture the attention of the New York Times this past week.
Hoosiers returns us to the glory of Indiana high school basketball, when the class system didn’t separate the Milans from the Muncie Centrals and the game was the unquestionable Friday night activity. It shows us an image of a community coming together when we live in times of political division and turmoil. It’s a nice two hours.
If you haven’t seen Hoosiers and you live in Indiana, then I suggest you watch it pronto or risk extreme ridicule from a die-hard fan. Even if you aren’t a basketball fan (something else you might consider keeping to yourself, especially in the aftermath of a stellar IU season and during a powerhouse return of the Pacers), still watch. It’s as much a story about people and community as it is about the game.