The 1954 Milan Indians
The Real "Hoosiers"

Movie Poster
"A basketball hero around here is treated like a God."
-- Hickory High School teacher Myra Fleener in Hoosiers.

   Hoosiers is a cherished sports film, starring Gene Hackman, Barbara Hershey, and Dennis Hopper, in an Oscar-nominated performance. In the story, Hackman coaches a 1950's Indiana high school team in what could be his last shot at a title.
   This story is loosely based on a real event in 1954, when a team from a tiny high school in the farmlands of Indiana rose against all odds to win the state basketball championship.
   In 1954, Milan was a quiet rural town in the southeastern part of Indiana, with a high school of 161 total students, 75 being boys. But it became the scene of one of the greatest basketball stories in history. Their championship season, immortalized in the 1986 film, had plenty of real-life drama, but, said Angelo Pizzo, the scriptwriter, a great deal of fictionalization was necessary for the Hollywood feature "because their lives were not dramatic enough... The guys were too nice, the team had no real conflict." So changes were made... But how truthful is the film?

1954 Indiana High School Basketball Champs: Back Row (left to right) Glen Butte, Kenny Wendelman, Rollin Cutter, Bill Jordan, Clarence Kelly, asst. coach, Indianapolis policeman, Pat Starke, Coach Marvin Wood. 2nd Row: Marcus Combs, Jr. High coach, Roger Schroder. Front Row: Bob Engel, Gene White, Ron Truitt, Bob Plump, Ray Craft
   In 1954, tiny Milan, with a sharpshooter named Bobby Plump, dominated much larger schools on their way to a 28-2 record and the Indiana state finals. Among their victims was Oscar Robertson's high school team (Crispus Attucks High School in Indianapolis). In the finals, they shocked everyone when they squeaked past powerhouse Muncie Central for the Indiana state crown on Plump's last-second shot. It was considered one of the greatest basketball games ever played, and has attained a legendary status. In September 1999, Sports Illustrated named this team one of the top 20 teams of the century. The sports writers of Indiana named the "Milan Miracle" the #1 sports story in Indiana history.
   It is a story that bears repeating. Milan's 32-30 victory over heavily-favored Muncie Central has since been a rallying cry for every small school in the state.

   But the real story actually begins a year before that championship season. In the 1952-1953 season, their new coach, Marvin Wood, brought a "continuity basketball" program to one of the state's smallest high schools and also taught his young charges a full-court trapping defense and a four-corners offense he called "the cat and mouse." At first Wood was not very popular in the community -- he was replacing a very popular coach, and closed the team's practice sessions to the public while changing the offensive and defensive schemes. This caused quite a bit of controversy. But under his leadership, the Indians advanced to the final four of the state, bowing out in the semi-finals to South Bend Central (the school the fictional Hickory Hucksters defeated for the state title in Hoosiers). The nucleus of that team returned to form the '54 championship team.
Rising Sun 52 - 36 (W)
Vevay 64 - 41 (W)
Osgood 48 - 44 (W)
Seymour 61 - 43 (W)
Brookville 24 - 20 (W)
Hanover 67 - 36 (W)
Lawrenceburg 50 - 41 (W)
Versailles 39 - 35 (W)
Frankfort 47 - 49 (L)
Columbus 52 - 49 (W)
Rising Sun 74 - 60 (W)
Versailles 52 - 46 (W)
Napoleon 41 - 34 (W)
Holton 44 - 30 (W)
Hanover 38 - 33 (W)
Napoleon 61 - 29 (W)
Sunman 42 - 36 (W)
Versailles 48 - 42 (W)
North Vernon 38 - 37 (W)
Aurora 45 - 54 (L)
Osgood 38 - 30 (W)
Cross Plains 83 - 36 (W)
Versailles 57 - 43 (W)
Osgood 44 - 32 (W)
Rushville 58 - 34 (W)
Aurora 46 - 38 (W)
Montezuma 44 - 34 (W)
Attucks 65 - 52 (W)
Gerstmeyer 60 - 48 (W)
Muncie Central 32 - 30 (W)
   The Indians began their rise to the top of the 751 teams entered in that year's tournament, with a record of 19-2. The mighty men of Milan then cruised through the state tournament relatively untested, until the final game against the Muncie Central Bearcats.
   Wood knew that his players would be intimidated in the spotlight of a state championship. So, in a scene recreated in the film, he measured the height of the basketball goal in the monstrous Hinkle Fieldhouse as the team took the floor for a practice, to illustrate that it was exactly the same height as the goal in the tiny gym at the team's hometown school. That act, Rev. Daniel Motto later told the South Bend Tribune, was meant to reassure the team that, despite the enormous size of the field house where the state finals were being played, the team should "cast out their fear." Motto said when he watched "Hoosiers" for the first time, he sat on the edge of his seat, waiting to make sure that scene was in it. When it was, Motto said, he knew the movie was truly inspired by Wood.
   The final game was a bruising, low-scoring affair. The Indians were paced in scoring by senior Ray Craft. However, Coach Wood's delay tactic game plan would place the ball in the trusty hands of another senior, Bobby Plump.
   With the score tied at 30-30 in the final quarter, Plump held the ball at the top of the key for four minutes before firing a shot that missed its target.
   The Indians kept Muncie Central from scoring on its next possession, setting the stage for Plump to redeem himself.
   The senior guard would not disappoint, draining a shot at the top of the key with barely any time left to win the state championship 32-30. "The coach just shortened the game," Craft said. "If we went at the rate the game was going at, he felt that we wouldn't have won. Bobby held the ball once, missed, and then we went back to him. The right guys won."

The Miracle Men of Milan: Bobby Plump (second from right) and his Milan High School Indian teammates celebrate after winning the state championship on March 20, 1954. Picture thanks to: Bill Herman / The Indianapolis News
   Plump's famous final second shot assured the championship victory for the Indians, and the Indiana High School Athletic Association awarded him the Trester Award for mental attitude, sportsmanship, and character.
   "The shot heard 'round the world'" changed his life, his teammates' lives, and his community's image forever.
   "We came from a small community," Ray Craft said. "We wouldn't have gone on to college, unless we had won. I think about nine of the 12 guys on the team graduated from college. It was an important event for the community."
   Even today, the '54 Indians impact is still felt by the community.
   "Bobby Plump is a legend. He could've probably been governor of this state if he wanted to," said Roger Dickinson, president of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. Plump was named one of the Most Noteworthy Hoosiers of the 20th century by Indianapolis Monthly Magazine. He was also one of the 50 greatest sports figures from Indiana in the 20th century, according to Sports Illustrated.

As part of the social fabric of Indiana, basketball has always mirrored broader social patterns in the state. Given the context of Indiana's reluctance to adequately desegregate its high schools, the notion of containing blacks on the court by slowing down the game, stalling, and cat-and-mousing takes on deeper meaning. The educational, as well as the social and political, containment of blacks in everyday Indiana society reflects the same desire behind the effort to prevent black basketball players from, literally and figuratively, taking off. The motivation behind both forms of containment is white paranoia: What would happen if "we" let "them" go? Would "we" lose "our" schools? Would "we' lose "our" pastime?
--from 'Under the Boards: The Cultural Revolution in Basketball,' by Jeffrey Lane; University of Nebraska Press, 2007 (Chapter 5: My Dad Was a Military Man: Bob Knight, Paternalism, and Hoosier History).

   "The community is still celebrating," Don Swisher, superintendent of the Milan Community School District, said in an October 1998 article for the Odessa American. "People come from all over to see the trophy and team picture in the foyer of the gymnasium."
   "It gave the little schools the chance that they could win. It gave hope. It gave dreams to people that we can beat the big guys," Dickinson said. "It made this state great in its basketball heritage."

   And Hoosiers has helped to keep the story alive. In 1998, the current-day Milan and Muncie Central squads played against each other at the gymnasium where the movie was filmed. The game sold out, and was televised across the entire state and Indiana television added additional lighting to the gymnasium (actually in Knightstown).
   Sadly, though, an actual "David vs. Goliath" match-up will never happen again in this state, as the Indiana High School Athletic Association did away with the single-class, "everybody in one big tournament" format at the end of the 1997 season.
   Wood was elected to the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in 1971. Wood never stopped coaching. Finally, in 1999, he resigned as the coach of his granddaughter's seventh-grade basketball team because of a recurrence of bone cancer. The 70-year-old Wood submitted a resignation letter to the Kirtland (Ohio) School Board in the wake of learning that bone cancer which had been in remission for more than seven years had returned. He died in 1999.
   Plump went on to play basketball for Butler University where he was the MVP his junior and senior years, and one of the NCAA's best free throw shooters of all-time. After graduating, he played for Phillips 66 of the National Industrial Basketball League. After retiring from basketball he sold life insurance for many years. But he was always best known for his final shot for Milan.
   Finally deciding to make that notoriety work for him, Plump opened a restaurant called 'Plump's Last Shot' in Indianapolis. It's filled with memorabilia from the 1954 state championship.
   Indian guard Ray Craft became the assistant commissioner of the Indiana High School Athletic Association. He has two cameos in the movie: Ray is the person who greets the Huskers when they arrive at the state finals, and the guy who tells the team that it's time to take the court for the final game.

   "Hoosiers" is one hour and 54 minutes long. Although, as Bobby Plump said in an ESPN chat, "the film captured what it was like growing up in a small town in Indiana and how important basketball was," there's probably more truth than accuracy in the film. "The final 18 seconds were the only thing factual in the movie about the Milan-Central game," Plump told the Saturday Evening Post in 1987. "From the time the ball was in bounds after the final timeout, the movie was accurate."



PLACE IN HISTORY: "Hoosiers" was called the best sports film ever made by Marv Albert, and was nominated for two Academy Awards. PLACE IN HISTORY: The Indianapolis Star said the "Milan Miracle" was the top sports story in Indiana history.
CHAMPIONSHIP YEAR: 1952 -- they came out of nowhere. CHAMPIONSHIP YEAR: 1954 -- they lost in the semi-finals the year before.
ENROLLMENT: Hickory High School's total enrollment of 161 is so small that it can only field a team of six players. They finish one game with four players on the court. ENROLLMENT: Milan High did have an enrollment of only 161, but 58 of the 73 boys in the school tried out for the team. Milan High had 10 team members in 1954.
HEAD COACH: Norman Dale (Gene Hackman) is a middle-aged man with a mysterious past. It turns out that he is fresh off a 12-year stint in the Navy, which he had joined because he was fired from his previous job as a national champion collegiate coach for hitting one of his players. He is banned from college basketball.
HEAD COACH: Marvin Wood was 26 years old when he coached Milan to the title. Wood often said, "God was coaching that team, not me." Kerry Marshall, who wrote the biography of Wood, called "A Boy, A Ball, and a Dream," remembered that Wood's favorite song was "Jesus Loves Me" and his favorite words were "I'll try."
FORMER COACH: The previous coach has died, and the team's star player, Jimmy, doesn't want to play basketbal anymore because he's still grieving. FORMER COACH: The previous coach, Herman "Snort" Grinstead, was fired for ordering new uniforms against the superintendent's orders.
PRACTICES: Coach Dale is a taskmaster during practices, running the players through drills. He always wears a shirt and tie. PRACTICES: Coach Wood often suited up in workout clothes and played with the team during practices.
TEAM MANAGER: "Ollie" (Wade Schenck) comes on the court in the semifinal and hits two free throws to win the game, granny-style. TEAM MANAGER: Oliver Jones stayed on the sidelines and didn't make any heroic buckets, granny-or-any style.
ASSISTANT COACH: "Shooter" (Dennis Hopper) is the town drunk and the father of one of the players. ASSISTANT COACH: Marc Combs and Clarence Kelly were the assistants -- neither of them drunks.
LOVE INTEREST: Coach Dale romances teacher Myra Fleener (Barbara Hershey). LOVE INTEREST: Coach Wood was in fact married with two children, so it can be assumed that there was no romance with a teacher at the school.

His wife, Mary Lou, often worried aloud, "If a basketball and I were placed at half-court, which one would he choose?"

Rick Paridaen, a friend of the Wood family, finally revealed at Wood's funeral, "The real love of his life was Mary Lou."

STAR PLAYER: The moody-but-talented Jimmy Chitwood (Maris Valainis) sits out half the season because he's so upset about the previous coach dying, and is busy being tutored by Myra Fleener, who hates basketball. STAR PLAYER: Bobby Plump played the entire season without any moping or whining about the previous coach, although he said in an ESPN chat that "Snort" was "the most popular coach in Milan's history."
STATE TOURNAMENT: The Huskers win every game in the tournament on a last-second shot. STATE TOURNAMENT: Milan won their first eight games in the tournament by at least eight points. Seven of those victories were by double-digit margins.
INSPIRATIONAL COACHING MOMENT: Coach Dale gathers his nervous team and has them measure the height of the hoop where the state finals will be played. "Ten feet," a player answers. Coach Dales reminds them that it's exactly the same height as the hoop in their tiny home gym, and is nothing to be afraid of. The players laugh and nod, ready to take on Goliath. INSPIRATIONAL COACHING MOMENT: Yup, it really happened. Coach Wood measured the height of the Hinkle Field House, where the 1954 state finals were played to "cast out their fear." Rev. Daniel Motto spoke of this moment at Wood's funeral in October of 1999, saying that when he saw this scene in the movie, he realized the film was truly inspired by Wood.
FINAL GAME ATTENDANCE: It was impossible to find enough extras to fill Butler University's Hinkle Fieldhouse, where the scenes for the final game were shot. About 1,000 extras had to be shuffled all around the arena as the actors went through their moves. FINAL GAME ATTENDANCE: Hinkle Fieldhouse was packed to the rafters, and tickets were being scalped for up to $50.
FINAL GAME ANNOUNCER: Hillard Gates. FINAL GAME ANNOUNCER: Hillard Gates. Yup. The same guy.
FINAL PLAY: The team huddles during the timeout with 18 seconds remaining in the championship game and the score tied. Jimmy Chitwood is told by Coach Dale that he'll be a decoy on the final play, while the team runs its "picket fence," and a teammate is assigned the final shot.

When that teammate gives a look of dismay and eyes Jimmy, Coach Dale asks the team, "What's the matter with you guys?!?"

They all turn to Jimmy.

Jimmy says, with confidence, "I'll make it."

FINAL PLAY: Coach Wood told Plump, not another player, to take the final shot. "I was a very shy kid," Bobby Plump told the Washington Post in 1995. "I never would have said, 'I'll make it.' "
LAST SHOT: Hickory wins the action-packed, team-oriented final game by a score of 42-40. Chitwood makes a thrilling last-second shot.
LAST SHOT: Milan won the final by a score of 32-30. During the final quarter, with Milan trailing 28-26, coach Wood ordered a stall.

Plump literally held on to the ball, without moving, for 4 minutes, 13 seconds, before taking a shot (and missing) with a few minutes left on the clock.

On the next possession, Plump held the ball again, without moving, as the clock ticked down from 1:18 to 0:18.

QUOTE FROM THE LOVE INTEREST: "This place doesn't show up on most state maps. A man your age comes here, he's running away from something or he has nowhere else to go." -- Hickory High School teacher Myra Fleener (Barbara Hershey), to coach Dale. QUOTE FROM THE LOVE INTEREST: "It's nice to be important, but it's more important to be nice."
-- Mary Lou Wood, wife of coach Marvin Wood, after the Indians' 1954 state championship

TOP PHOTO: Front row, from left: team manager Oliver Jones; cheerleaders Marjorie Ent, Virginia Voss, and Patty Bohlke; and team manager Fred Busching.  Middle row: Assistant Coach Clarence Kelly, Roger Schroder, Bill Jordan, Gene White, Bobby Plump, Ken Delap, Ray Craft, Coach Marvin Wood.  Top row: Principal Cale Hudson, Assistant Coach Marc Combs, Ken Wendlman, Bob Wichman, Ronnie Truitt, Glenn Butte, Rollin Cutter, Bob Engle, Superintendent Willard Green

Web Links:
  • Milan High Web Site Tribute
  • Marvin Wood's Obituary.
  • ESPN 2: 'Hoosiers' in reel life.
  • DVD/Video:

  • Hoosiers
  • The Indiana High School Athletic Association has a video of Milan's victory in the 1954 final.
  • Further reading:

  • The Greatest Basketball Story Ever Told: The Milan Miracle, Then and Now, by Greg Guffey, Bob Hammel
  • Bobby Plump-Last of the Small Town Heroes, by Marty Pieratt and Ken Honeywell.
  • A Boy, a Ball, and a Dream: The Marvin Wood Story, by Kerry D. Marshall
  • Five Against the Odds, by Constance H. Frick
  • Hoosier Hysteria!: Indiana High School Basketball, by Bob Williams

  • "Bobby Plump Sparks Milan To 32-30 Upset Win Over Muncie Central; First Championship For Indians," by Cy McBride, Palladium-Item, Richmond, Indiana; Sunday, March 21, 1954; Page 20.
  • "Milan Tips Muncie For State Title," The Times, Munster, Indiana, Sunday, March 21, 1954 ; Page 53.
  • "750 Teams Could Take Lesson From State Champs," The Kokomo Tribune, Kokomo, Indiana; Monday, March 22, 1954; Page 12.
  • "Milan Parade Thirteen Miles Long," The Star Press, Muncie, Indiana; Monday, March 22, 1954; Page 7.
  • "Wood May Coach New School Here," The Indianapolis News, Indianapolis, Indiana; Tuesday, November 15, 1955 ; Page 31.
  • "The Real Norman Dale," by Jeff Carroll, The Times, Munster, Indiana; Friday, March 12, 2004; Page 68, 69, 70.
  • Jeffrey C. Hause has written professionally (in a very amateur fashion) for entertainers like Jay Leno, Jim Carrey, Rodney Dangerfield, Gabe Kaplan, Rick Dees and people he'd rather not tell you about. He's also written screenplays for producers like Ivan Reitman, Richard Donner, Ray Stark, Lawrence Turman, and Samuel Goldwyn Jr., at Warner Brothers, Disney, Universal, Columbia, Franchise Pictures and Interscope. Here's his résumé. You can e-mail him at

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