For some sports fans, the 1986 film Hoosiers is one of the greatest basketball stories ever told. It tells the tale of a small-town high school in Indiana winning the state championship, against all the odds. The underdog story is one many fans can relate to, but the tale is actually inspired by real-life events.
Milan High School
In 1954, a small town high school basketball team was about to have the season of their lives, and it would be told across the world. With an enrolment of just 161, there weren’t too many players for the coach of the basketball team to choose from. The Milan High School Indians finished their regular season with a 19-2 winning record and set themselves up for a chance at state history. They could become the smallest school ever to win the single-class basketball title in Indiana.
At the time, there were a lot of rural schools in Indiana which meant smaller schools made it through several rounds in the basketball tournament. It was only when these smaller schools played larger schools in urban areas that they would taste defeat. Small schools just couldn’t compete against the larger teams. Teams like the Milan Indians had to expect they would only get so far before coming up against a much larger school, at which point they would most likely lose.
The path to glory
Milan High School Indians were dominating their schedule before entering a state-wide tournament. The Indians had great success, losing just twice before making it into the regional competition. Milan easily made their way through the sectional, beating everyone and moving onto the regionals against Aurora.
Aurora was one of the two teams that Milan had lost to so it was going to be tough for the smaller school. Milan won both games and easily moved on to the Semi-State. In the first game, they beat Montezuma after becoming the unexpected favorites as their opponents had been defying the odds just as much as them.
Things seemed to be going too well, but Milan would face a really tough test against Indianapolis Crispus Attucks. The Attucks had future Hall of Fame basketball star Oscar Robertson in their team, but Milan managed to get ahead and stay ahead, before running out comfortable winners.
A routine victory against Terre Haute Gerstmeyer Tech in the first game of the State Finals set up a showdown with Muncie Central for the big game. Muncie had a much larger pool of players to choose from and were a strong team, but Milan kept in the game. It was a slow and defensive contest and was tied 30-30 as the final seconds approached. Milan had one last attack and netted as the buzzer hit, winning the game and denying Muncie a fifth state title.
The Hoosiers is an iconic film, but the real events that inspired it are something dreams are made of. The unlikely heroes were welcomed back to their hometown to a parade of 40,000, even though Milan only had a population of 1,150.