30 years later, “Hoosiers” still inspires
milan, ind.» Jordan Burton’s first serious history lesson about Milan basketball came in first grade.
His parents plopped him in front of a television set, showed him “Hoosiers” and spent the next two hours separating fact from fiction. He heard a lot more about it during another conversation with the grandfather of a friend: Glenn Butte, who played on the state championship team portrayed in the popular film that hit theaters 30 years ago this month.
Now a four-year starter at Milan, Burton looks at the two large banners in the school’s 2,300-seat arena — Milan Finalist 1953 and Milan State Champs 1954 — and finds his daily motivation.
“It’s been too long,” he said before a practice that the rest of the varsity players missed because they were still playing football. “I’ve been looking at those banners for four years. I’m just waiting for my chance.”
Three decades after “Hoosiers” inspired millions, the high school team from this rural community in southeastern Indiana and its players remain the biggest stars in town. There is a pride here that will never fade for the Milan Miracle, when the Indians came from behind to stun Muncie Central 32-30 at Butler University’s field house in Indianapolis, back when Indiana still had its any-team-can-win-it, all-classes-welcome tournament.
Of course, the Hollywood version strayed from the actual story line. Screenwriter Angelo Pizzo didn’t have a choice.
He and director David Anspaugh started plotting their project as Indiana University students, but it wasn’t until Pizzo returned to his home state in 1981 that he started seriously putting together the script. His research began with a drive to Milan and the realization that there was a major problem with the story.
“I took a class at USC grad school called the art of dramatic writing and I’ll never forget that the first thing the teacher wrote on the blackboard was that the essence of all drama is conflict, whether it’s internal or external,” Pizzo said before describing a conversation he had with Gene White, another player on the 1954 title team. “I remember asking, ‘Did everyone get along with the coach?’ He said, ‘Oh, we all loved him.’ I said, ‘What about the players, did everyone get along with the players?’ He said, ‘We all played together from the time we were in second grade. We were all best friends.’ And I’m thinking, ‘This is going to be the most boring story of all time.’ ”
Pizzo did much better than that, creating one of the best sports flicks ever by combining pieces from Milan’s improbable tale with some of his own high school experiences.
When “Hoosiers” actually hit theaters in late 1986, star player Bobby Plump and his teammates never dreamed how much the Hollywood adaptation would change their lives, not to mention the traffic in this little town, population 1,900.
The stories prove it, and Plump makes sure everyone hears the best of the best.
His favorite is the one about late New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner insisting former Chrysler chairman Lee Iacocca watch “Hoosiers” on his private plane. As the story goes, Iacocca wasn’t initially interested, but Steinbrenner put it on anyway. By the time the plane landed, Iacocca wanted to see it a second time.
There’s the one from last summer when swimmer Michael Phelps acknowledged watching the movie twice before adding yet another Olympic gold medal to his collection.