30 years later, “Hoosiers” still in­spires

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Michael Marot

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.

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