Long for hoops? Take a short drive north
Summer may be a time for flip-flops and beach balls, but for those who pine for a fix of roundball action of another sort, involving high tops, nets and hoops, a quick jaunt to central Indiana is just the trick to stave off the longing for basketball.
Three stops that must be made by any basketball nut include the old Knightstown Gym, where the movie ‘Hoosiers’ was filmed, a quick visit to the New Castle Fieldhouse (the largest high school gym in the world), and a stroll around the corner to the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame.
And the best part about visiting the three locations is that two of them are free.
The old Knightstown Gym was constructed in the early 1920s and looks much the same today as it did when it was built. That nostalgic feel is what brought Hollywood to the small community in 1985 to film ‘Hoosiers,’ which was recently voted the all-time best sports movie by ESPN.com and one of the top five movies all-time by Sports Illustrated.
The front lobby of the gymnasium houses all sorts of memorabilia from the Gene Hackman flick. Photographs shot by extras, pieces of the gym floor, autographed items and the like fill two trophy cases. Among the items from the movie is a basketball autographed by NBA legends Magic Johnson and Larry Bird and phenoms Carmello Anthony and LeBron James. The quartet filmed a special documentary for ESPN at Knightstown last month.
Today, the gym is a community center. It’s hosted basketball leagues, dinners, weddings and even a couple of funerals.
Visitors can take a shot like Jimmy Chitwood on the recently refinished floor. They can walk through the tomb-like locker room and vent like Coach Norman Dale. Or they can just sit in the stands like Shooter McFly. And, yes, the photo of the fictional 1952 Indiana state champion ‘Hickory Huskers’ is there, too.
Free tours of the facility can be made by calling the Knightstown Chamber of Commerce at 1-800-668-1895.
A short, pleasant drive northeast of Knightstown is the city of New Castle.
Passing Steve Alford’s All-American Inn (a giant tennis shoe and two basketball courts are next to the hotel), go to Trojan Lane and turn right. A few hundred feet on the left is the Hall of Fame (we’ll get to that later) and then just past that is the New Castle Fieldhouse, home of the New Castle Trojans.
Construction on the massive facility was started in January of 1958, but a steel collapse delayed completion for a couple of months. On Nov. 21, 1959, the 9,325-seat fieldhouse was dedicated. Twenty years later, an organization called ‘Gym Now,’ which raised the money for the facility, turned the fieldhouse over (debt-free) to the New Castle Community School Corp.
Fans walk into the bowl-like gym on the top level, which is a 1/7-mile walking track for the community (open twice a day). The facility has hosted the Harlem Globetrotters, the Milwaukee Bucks, the Indiana Pacers, the I.U. Hoosiers and even a roller derby.
Row after row of thick, hardwood bleachers form a deep, octagon-shaped frame for the parquet floor, and it isn’t until you walk to floor level that the vastness of the place is realized. It’s big. Real big.
Once the ‘Wow!’ has worn off, it’s time to head just around the corner to the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame ‘ the only statewide high school basketball museum in the world.
The cost of admission is $4, children 5-12 are $2, and pre-schoolers are free.
The attractions are worth three times as much.
Players such as Oscar Robertson (Indianapolis Crispus Attucks), Larry Bird (Springs Valley), Bobby Plump (Milan), Steve Alford (New Castle), Eric Montross (Lawrence North) and Damon Bailey (Bedford-North Lawrence) have all sorts of items on display. The girls aren’t forgotten, with exhibits honoring the likes of Abby Conklin (Charlestown), Shanna Zolman (Wawasee) and others.
But the artifacts are the bread and butter of the Hall of Fame.
The oldest basketball on display is one used in 1910 at Beaver Dam in its only home game (held in the attic of a restaurant). The first glass backboard, purchased in 1920 by coach and federal judge Harry Champ for his Owensville Kickapoos, is also there. An iron hoop from the birthplace of basketball in the state ‘ the Crawfordsville YMCA ‘ is next to Champ’s backboard. Manual scoreboards and other score-keeping devices hang on several walls.
Harrison and Crawford counties aren’t forgotten at the Hall.
There are items from New Middletown, New Amsterdam, Elizabeth, Mauckport and nearly every other high school school that existed in both counties. A banner from the Leavenworth Wyandottes hangs near the souvenir shop, and a No. 55 jersey from Crawford County hangs in one of the glass-enclosed showcases. A letterman sweater from New Amsterdam and a photo of the 1936 girls Harrison County championship team from New Salisbury are there, too.
Also on display are sectional championship basketballs from Elizabeth (from 1974, often called the ‘Holy Grail’ ball) and Morgan Township, circa 1965, and a 1954 sectional runner-up ball from the Laconia Aces, who were coached by Burrel Ludlow.
Placecards in every showcase offer up all kinds of interesting facts. For instance, did you know that in the 1930s the team champion of the girls Harrison County Tournament was presented with a rolling pin as a trophy? The rolling pin would be decorated with ribbons in the color of the winning school.
Obviously, ‘P.C.’ at that time stood for ‘pre-consolidation,’ not ‘politically correct.’
For those who prefer to get hands-on with the exhibits, there are several kiosks that present game tape from long ago and a rundown of every state championship basketball team, a trivia challenge, and there’s even a basketball goal for those who want to try and win the state title on a last-second shot (only 25 cents a chance). Two computer terminals have a list of the state’s all-time leading scorers and other statistics (although they were missing the addition of South Central graduate of 2003, Rachel Dixon, who ranks 14th all-time in scoring with 2,057; her 757 points her senior year ranks 11th). After a walk through the exhibit areas, go to a simulated locker room and listen to legendary coach John Wooden give a pregame speech.
The Hall of Fame Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. The museum is closed Mondays and on the following holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, and Easter.