One of the most popular tourist attractions in our immediate area is the Hoosier Gym in Knightstown, IN. In 1985 two of my mother’s dearest friends, Peggie Mayhill and Josephine Carter, learned that Angelo Pizzo was looking for a venerable high school gym for his movie Hoosiers. They encouraged him to visit Knightstown’s 90-year-old crackerbox gym. He liked what he saw, and it became the home court of the fictional Hickory Huskers. Gene Hackman, Barbara Hershey and Dennis Hopper were in town for several weeks filming the movie, and a lot of local folks were hired as extras, a very exciting time for the community.
Hoosiers was released 26 years ago. Amazingly it still enjoys a strong cult following, and thousands of visitors come to Knightstown each year to bask in the aura of the Hoosier Gym.
In case you did not know, Hoosiers is based upon a cosmic event in Indiana sports history. In 1954 tiny Milan High School upset mighty Muncie Central, then one of the largest schools in the state and a perennial basketball powerhouse, in the championship game of Indiana’s then single-class state high school basketball tournament. They prevailed 32 – 30 on a last second shot by Bobby Plump.
On November 10 the Hoosier Gym Community Center of Knightstown, a not-for-profit group who maintain the gym and keep it open for visitors, hosted an event to raise funds for roof repairs. In return for a $10 donation, guests enjoyed a pork barbeque dinner and watched a film of the Milan – Muncie Central game, followed by a showing of Hoosiers. Draper provided a 275” diagonal HDTV format FocalPoint screen, which filled the stage end of the tiny gym.
On a personal note, I grew up in Knightstown and played basketball for the Knightstown Panthers. The Hoosier Gym was our home court at the time, and I spent a lot of hours there. Our fondest dream was to win the New Castle Sectional (first round of the state tournament) and advance to the Muncie Regional, where we would undoubtedly have been destroyed by Muncie Central. We never made it, but Milan’s victory in 1954 enabled us, and all small town Indiana boys of our generation, to dream the impossible dream.