Friday, November 22, 2013

When the Game Didn't Count

Confusion, shock and heartbreak.

Those are a few of the emotions that my father, Gary Hunziker, recalled as he looked over the player names and scoring totals penciled on pages 6 and 7 of the old, tattered 1963-64 Memphis High School basketball scorebook.  His Scotland County Twentieth Century History class had found the book in an old trophy case last spring.  Having played for the Kahoka Indians in 1963-64, my father immediately thought back to one of the most memorable games he experienced that 27-3 season, if not in his high school career.  Even though no points appear next to his name in the scorebook, my father has shared his memories of that day and game with my brothers and me as we grew up. Unfortunately, the story always ended in confusion.  So you can imagine how thrilled he was when one of his students approached him last April with a stack of scorebooks from that era. As he set aside all but the 1963-64 book, he thought possibly the pages would help answer some questions about that day, or worse, create more.  Dad glanced over the weathered pages and began to tell his students about the once heated rivalry of Memphis and Kahoka high schools and why of all games, he remembered this one most. 

1963-64 Memphis (Mo.) High School Scorebook

The rivalry between Memphis and Kahoka schools has spanned generations but many would debate that the rivalry was the strongest in the 1960s.  Both schools were highly competitive in all their athletic programs, but basketball was the main attraction in both communities. Together, the schools had won their share of Mississippi Valley conference championships in past seasons, and this conference season both were expected to be competitive as well. In 1963-64, Memphis and Coach Joe Branham had a strong starting line-up, which included seniors Thomas Kirchner, Rob Moore, Phillip Moss, Ralph Carver and Charles King.  Many considered Coach Neil Knight’s Kahoka team to be balanced from top to bottom, led by seniors Sam Bogener, Doug McCulloch, Elmer Boatman, and juniors Steve Sherwood and Ron Fry. 

1963-64 Kahoka Indians

1963-64 Memphis Tigers
The basketball contest between Kahoka and Memphis followed Kahoka’s championship run in the LaBelle tournament a week earlier, so Kahoka was confident going into Memphis.  The Tigers had beaten their first opponent Wyaconda by nearly fifty points a week before, so both communities expected a hard-fought game.  In those days, each Mississippi Valley school played each other twice so not only was each game important but each team wanted to prove early in the season who was best prepared.  What both teams didn’t suspect, was neither would be prepared for what happened that day.  

The game was fast paced from the tip-off as both teams were athletic and played an up-tempo style of basketball. Center Charles King and guard Rob Moore helped their Memphis Tigers take control of the game early, scoring 16 of the team’s 24 total first quarter points.  Kahoka’s center Sam Bogener and forward Doug McCulloch combined for 16 of Kahoka’s 18 total points. The cadence of both teams didn’t let up in the second quarter.  With Sam Bogener in foul trouble, Kahoka’s starting guard Steve Sherwood scored 6 points while forward Elmer Boatman tallied 9 points. Again, King and Moore led the Memphis Tigers in the second quarter scoring column and the Tigers walked into their locker room feeling confident, up 48-41 at halftime. 

As my father began to talk to his students about the events of the second half, he gazed down to the date penciled in the upper right corner of the score sheet and then explained that not only was this no ordinary game, more importantly, it was no ordinary day.  In fact, everyone had been confused since 12:30pm, which carried over into the evening events.  The date in the book read November 22, 1963.

Page 7 in the 1963-64 Memphis scorebook

The game is memorable because around the same time that my father and his Kahoka teammates were arriving by bus in Memphis to prepare for the junior varsity and varsity games that evening, the Presidential plane, Air Force One, was also arriving at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington D.C.  The aircraft had landed carrying both newly sworn in President Lyndon B. Johnson and the body of President John F. Kennedy who had been shot and killed earlier that day as his uncovered limousine drove through Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas, Texas.

The whole world was shocked that President Kennedy had been killed. Anybody living at that time could probably tell you exactly where he or she was when they first heard the tragic news that the President was dead, the victim of an assassin’s bullet.  Most high school students at the time remember being shaken, saddened, angry and very much confused as to why anyone would want to kill the President of the United States. The whole afternoon was clouded in uncertainty, as teachers and students waited for information and answers to questions such as, “Who really shot Kennedy? Was there a conspiracy to kill the president?”  It all seemed so surreal.  For many communities, evening school events were still to take place, including a high school basketball game to be played in Memphis against Kahoka. 

Prior to a big game, an electric atmosphere usually consumes the crowd.  Players and coaches are normally overcome with nerves and excitement as they anticipate taking the court for warm-ups.  “This evening”, Rob Moore recalls, “everyone seemed to be in a trance – preoccupied”.  My father remembers the twenty-five mile bus ride as “a very quiet one” and when normally the fans would be engaged in the game, that night everyone’s thoughts were with the Kennedy family and the future of America. 

As confusion still surrounded the events earlier that day in Dallas, confusion would also play a significant role in the outcome of a basketball game between the two bordering counties. 

Memphis playing in Kahoka later in the 1963-64 season
Everyone has their own tale about the second half of the game.  Kahoka’s coach Neil Knight said it best, “you could pull ten people from the stands that night and each one would tell you something different.”  At one point in the game, most likely at the end of the third quarter, both teams went to their benches as Memphis held a 2-point lead.  The scorebook keepers for both teams were underclassman.  Pat McLaughlin, who kept the Kahoka book said, “I don’t remember why they had me on the book that night.  Normally, Lawrence Brotherton managed our scorebook.”  Although Pat doesn’t remember the incident, others do.  The found scorebook also provided answers.  Since Memphis was the home team, their scorebook was the official book.  Pat’s quarter totals matched the scoreboard totals but the Memphis book did not. Upon review, Pat noticed that 4 points were given to Kahoka in the official Memphis book when it should have been given to Memphis.  Because there was a discrepancy in scores, the officials were notified.  Since the Memphis book was the official book, the officials directed the scoreboard operator to adjust the score to match it, even though incorrect.  Furthermore, the Kahoka book would be the official book the last quarter.  A manageable 2-point Memphis lead was changed to a 6-point deficit.  An eight point swing. Both teams battled in the fourth quarter but when the final buzzer sounded, the score was 85-84, Kahoka.  Did the events in Dallas contribute to the error, or was an honest mistake made during a fast paced game?  Who knows?  It doesn’t matter.

Ultimately the change to the score may have changed the outcome of the game. Who won the game?  Why was the score changed?  Who should have won? You would expect anger amongst the home crowd in protest and celebration amongst the Kahoka fans that made the trip to the game.  Neither, which many of the players from both teams remembered, happened.

Days following the game, Memphis would file an appeal to have the game thrown out due to the adjustment made between the scorebook and scoreboard.  A tape of the game also accompanied the appeal. The ruling would take months, but eventually the Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA) would conclude that the game be ruled “No Contest”.  This is confirmed in the Memphis scorebook where both pages have a large “X” penciled across them and the words “No Contest” written at the top.  A victory would not be given to either team, nor would a loss.  The game vanished from both team’s record, as though it was never played. 

Memphis players and scores

Kahoka players and scores
I share this story because growing up my father spoke of what he referred to as the “JFK” game.  He remembered it not only because of the controversy that ensued at the scorer’s table, but most importantly he remembers it because of the day it shared with history.  November 22, 2013 marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, one of the most momentous and analyzed moments in American history. Even half a century later, questions persist. 

My father told his students that although the game between rival schools was hard fought, it only seemed fitting that no team won on that day.  Where a game should have mattered most, it mattered least. It’s hard to imagine anyone would want to celebrate a victory on one of the worst days in the history of the United States.  An error may have changed the outcome of a basketball game, but the events in Dallas changed America. 

John Fitzgerald Kennedy (May 29, 1917 – November 22, 1963)

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Gorin's Timepiece

As the final sixty-seconds ticked away each quarter, the eyes of the players and spectators would surprisingly gaze up towards the scoreboard in the old Gorin, Mo. high school gymnasium.  It was hard not to stare up at the old scoreboard clock as it beamed bright red and only when the buzzer sounded did the glow fade and everyone's attention would be directed back to the game.  At least that is how I saw it those many years ago as a fourth grader.

When I first began to play organized basketball in 1986, our Kahoka traveling team played many games in Gorin's gym. The gym was home to Gorin High School basketball until 1982, when the high school closed and its students attended Scotland County R-1 Junior - Senior High School. The gym, now the elementary school gym, is unique due to a variety of reasons. It has elevated bleachers on its west side and a stage within the east wall. The barrel roof also dates it, as well as having to pull a string that lights a bulb at the raised score table so the official scorekeeper and scoreboard operator know there is a player checking-in below.

Old Elementary School and Gym
Although the gym's blueprints are similar to other small community gyms in Northeast Missouri, the unique feature that I came to appreciate and enjoyed seeing over the years was the vintage scoreboard that hung in the gym’s southeast corner.  It was a rarity and one that I would not forget over time.

The vintage scoreboard was much different than the modern electrical scoreboards that were fixtures in most gyms at that time and still today. This one had a white clock face that contained the numbers 8 through 1, representing the minutes of each quarter.  It would turn bright red during the final minute of each quarter as a beacon to each team that time was running out. Occasionally the clock hands would confuse a player to how much time was left.  I think most kids focused on the clock's red face or the minute hand and not on the second hand.  As a result, a player would shoot the ball a handful of seconds before they intended to.  It even happened to our team once.

Gorin's vintage scoreboard clock
In the short time I had played organized basketball, I had never seen another like it. Time has passed since that day, but no other piece of local basketball had intrigued me more as a kid. My last grade school traveling team game played in Gorin would come in 1990, and it would be over a decade until I would see its familiar face once again.

Close-up of the old scoreboard clock
After returning to my hometown in 2003 following college graduation and conclusion of an internship, I had a conversation with a friend who had recently hung a vintage scoreboard in his basement.  While he was telling me where he found it, my thoughts quickly drifted back to the old Gorin scoreboard. What happened to it?  Was it still being used?  If not, where was it? 

I liked the idea that my friend was hanging his own vintage timepiece in his man cave as a decorative or conversational piece but I recall my thoughts being more concentrated on preservation. I had a personal connection with the Gorin scoreboard since it was used during my first ever organized traveling team game. 

You may delay, but time will not. - Benjamin Franklin

Many times, schools throw away old equipment to make room for new since they don't have the storage capabilities.  I didn't like the fact that something that was a rooted part of the game for so many years could easily be tossed.  It should be preserved or restored and proudly displayed.  Over the course of time, a vintage item may get lost, misplaced, thrown away, damaged or become inoperative. As a result, my curiosity got the best of me. I had to make a call.

Front of the old Gorin Elementary School

A few days later, I was on the phone with the Gorin elementary school to inquire about the old scoreboard.  We knew that a modern scoreboard had replaced the older one in the early 1990s since my father remembered seeing a new model hanging on the wall when he took his Luray Jr. High teams to Gorin to play basketball. 

But what had happened to it since? 

I was thrilled to learn that the vintage scoreboard was still in the elementary school's possession.  It's condition was now the lingering question.  We traveled the twenty miles west to Gorin to talk about the old scoreboard.  When we asked where it was, my father and I were led out to a small white storage shed next to the school.  When they opened the doors, there set the old scoreboard leaned up against the left wall as we entered. Having been exposed to weather elements, the scoreboard was covered in dust and the clock face may have had a small tear and a few dents in it.  A portion of it was covered with other accumulated materials and equipment so it was hard to tell its overall condition. The scoreboard needed to be removed before the weather, small animals, etc. ruined the old parts that would be extremely difficult to replace today.

The old Gorin scoreboard was stored inside this building for many years
After we examined it, we asked the principal if the school would consider selling it.  She didn’t think it would hurt if we just wanted to take it since it was just collecting dust, taking up room in the small storage shed and not it the best of conditions. We recommended that she speak to the school board first about our request to buy it.  We just didn't feel right taking it since it is a part of the school's history.

Within a few weeks we were told that upon discussion, the school board felt that it should go to auction so everyone had an opportunity to buy it.  We agreed, but I knew then that I didn't have a chance to own it.

Gorin is the Home of the Bulldogs

Lost time is never found again - Benjamin Franklin

As I launched this blog about the basketball hidden gems that our family have come acrossed over the years, my thoughts would once again drift towards the old scoreboard.  Last July, almost a decade after the auction, we decided to contact the owner, Jim McQuoid, to see if we could stop by, see it and take some pictures.

When we arrived, he pointed to a barn that stood a very short distance from his residence. In the back of the barn, secured against the side set the scoreboard.  Jim had mentioned on the phone a few days earlier that it hadn't been restored yet.  I had looked forward to getting a close look at it since I was used to looking at it from afar growing up.

Gorin's scoreboard years later
Over time, many of the light bulbs had been damaged or lost when it was owned by the Gorin elementary school but Jim had tried to replace them over the years. Although the "Home" and "Visitor" name plates are missing, he plans to replace them with "Gorin" and "Memphis" nameplates someday as a way to remember the basketball glory days and the county rilvary between the two schools. Unfortunately, we were unable to locate any manufacturer plate with a name or date on the scoreboard. This would have aided in learning when it was built and by whom although this model looks similar to the scoreboards built by Naden Industries, Inc. of Webster City, Iowa, which was established in 1933.

After we examined the scoreboard over for a few minutes and got some of our questions answered, our conversation shifted to his memories of the scoreboard and Gorin basketball.  

We immediately began to talk about the once basketball rivalry between Gorin and Memphis High Schools.  Jim's eyes lit up regarding this subject.  Before Gorin High School closed in 1982 and students began to attend Scotland County R-1 Junior - Senior High School (formerly Memphis High School), these two schools had a heated rilvary since they were in the same county in northeast Missouri.  Jim remembered many of the hard fought games because he too had played in Gorin's gym in the late 1950s and in 1960.

I would learn that Jim attended Memphis High School and had played in those competitive games.  His son had played elementary school basketball for Gorin in the 1990s so his family had a connection to the scoreboard, much more than I did. He had purchased the scoreboard for his son to hang in his basement once he graduated and had a place of his own. Although the scoreboard is stored in their barn, it will be restored and displayed one day.

While my father and I traveled back to Kahoka, I mentioned that I was thrilled that the scoreboard had found a home.  I was also content that I would not own this piece of local basketball history.  After we talked to Jim about how much basketball meant to the Gorin community before the high school closed, I realized that one of the only mementos remaining from that era, meant much more to Jim and his family since they had much deeper ties to it.

As Jim's face had glowed when we began to talk about the days of old and the basketball rilvary that once graced the Scotland County countryside, I began to look forward to my next visit, when I would see the familar scoreboard once again. Maybe then, its clock face will too glow bright red.

A familiar face

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Most Memorable "Hoosiers" Scene

It should be of no surprise that Hoosiers (1986) is one of my favorite movies. It is an inspiring film that should be seen by all young basketball players because of its important message about teamwork, believing in yourself, and overcoming adversity. From the rural Indiana landscape montage scene at the beginning of the film to the final sequence with the little boy shooting baskets in an empty gym, there are many scenes throughout the film that we can relate to.

While every Hoosiers fan has their favorite scene, I wanted to write about a couple of my favorites that perfectly capture the real-life emotions tied to sports.  Moments like these are cemented into our memory from the days when basketball played a larger part in our lives, so when watching Hoosiers, we relive those real-life moments once again.

Who doesn’t remember, as a player or coach, the first time running out of the locker room onto the court? You first hear the pep band and the crowd cheering and then you see everyone in the stands as you take the floor. At that moment the hair on the back of your neck stands straight up as though electricity is flowing through the gym.

The “Welcome to Indiana Basketball” scene exemplifies this moment the best I have seen on screen. While newly hired coach Norman Dale (Gene Hackman) pauses before opening the door leading to the gym, you can faintly hear the fans cheering on the other side. While he opens the old gray wooden paneled door, he steps into an electric atmosphere like no other. As a basketball fan and having lived similar moments, I have never watched that scene without getting goosebumps as it reminds me of days past.

Hoosiers director, David Anspaugh, has said that this film sequence was one of his favorites in the movie. It was one of the more personal ones for him. He tried to capture in that shot the feeling that he used to get as a kid when he would walk into his gymnasium on a Friday night. He said that he would get smacked in the face with all that color, sound and excitement. 


"Welcome to Indiana basketball"
Although this scene brings back memories as a high school player, in recent years I was able to recapture the same experience on two occasions, both as a fan while watching high school basketball in Indiana.

My first experience was in 2004 while attending the 50th anniversary reunion of the 1954 Milan vs. Muncie Central state championship game, which inspired the movie Hoosiers. This game featured the present day teams playing one another. The game took place at the famous Muncie Fieldhouse that holds 6,547 spectators and was also broadcast live on ESPN 2. 

From the player introductions until the final horn, the crowd cheered throughout. And they were loud, extremely loud. The emotions on the court would carry over to the bleachers.  The reaction of the fans would change from excitement to nervousness to frustration and back to excitement; all in one possession. The ups and downs were felt by all; the way it should be when watching the sport.

The woman sitting next to us said it best after we told her that we drove from Missouri overnight to watch the game. She turned to us and said, "It doesn't get any better than watching Indiana high school basketball." With those words, she was pretty much saying exactly what coach Norman Dale told himself before taking the court for the first time, "Welcome to Indiana Basketball" and the hysteria that follows it.

Hoosier Gym door leading to gym floor
It was during the second occasion years later that I truly got that electric feeling one would experience as a player. It was while I opened the same gym door that Gene Hackman opened twenty-five years earlier on set.  I walked into the same atmosphere when attending the 2009 Hoosiers Reunion All-Star Classic game held annually every June in Knightstown's Hoosier Gym. Again the crowd was screaming, shouting, and singing. This was a All-Star game representing the best senior basketball players throughout the state and the crowd was as raucous as you would expect in a state championship game. It gave us the feeling that we were watching something special. In a way, we were, although many would say that any game, regular season or post season in Indiana would generate a similar atmosphere.

2009 Hoosiers Reunion All-Star Classic
My favorite scene in Hoosiers also takes place in the Hoosier Gym. It is the last scene in the movie when the camera panes across the gym floor where a young boy is shooting hoops and then zooms in on the Hickory Huskers 1952 State Championship photo in the corner.  During this scene, you hear the voice of coach Dale during the challenging, rewarding, and emotional times as he gets to know his team throughout the season. His echoing voice is a reminder of the importance of teamwork which made the team stronger and ultimately come together as one single unit.

In the Hoosiers 2-Disc DVD Collector's Edition (2005 release), Director David Anspaugh and Screenwriter Angelo Pizzo provide commentary throughout the movie as a bonus feature. It was Angelo Pizzo who said about the final scene, "we felt all along to end the movie on the basketball court would have made it feel like a big cliche. In a sense, we had to bring us back down to earth, back to the land, and give us a sense of continuity, tradition and the importance of basketball in Indiana. And how the legacy lives on."

A copy of the original photo still hangs in the gym

This scene is timeless. The moment on film could have taken place a month after the championship game or decades later. The scene not only spoke of a team and coach coming together but also illustrated tradition being carried on through a future generation of younger players. I can imagine the future Hickory players looking up at the 1952 photo and being inspired like many young players in their own hometown gyms today.  Our surroundings play an essential part in our upbringing and to stay motivated in what you enjoy in life, such as basketball, the environment around you and the presence of all the tradition that surrounds you must provide inspiration. Ending the film this way, brought forth that sense of tradition and how the legacy lives on through future generations of players.

I too have shot around in an empty Hoosier Gym.  It is very inspiring and peaceful. A Zen type of moment. Many people enjoy shooting around because it reminds them of basketball past. More importantly, I hope young kids go there to dream of the future. 

This scene does bring out the young kid in each of us, like the young boy shooting baskets during this memorable final scene.

Shooting at Hoosier Gym
In her 2010 book, The Making of Hoosiers: How a Small Movie from the Heartland Became One of America's Favorite Films, author Gayle L. Johnson said, "the movie’s final image was staged on the Huskers’ home court. The script described zooming in on a large team photo hanging on the wall, but it was David Anspaugh’s idea to include the kid shooting baskets. After rehearsing the shot in the empty gym, the director sensed that the scene could be improved. As a painter or composer might put it, 'There’s a color or a stroke that’s missing,' he said." Additionally, Johnson wrote in her book that adding the young boy, "provided some action and extra visual interest, as well as a personal, human element that gave a touching scene even more emotional resonance."

In the Hoosiers DVD Collector's Edition, Anspaugh said that the kid was not originally in the scene. He said, "they originally shot this scene in an empty gym with those voices from the past echoing." Knowing that the scene would be impactful with a kid in the scene, Anspaugh ordered a crew member to go to the local elementary school and find the best seven or eight year old. The kid that was selected ended up being the son of one of the school's custodians. In the final sequence, the boy makes a handful of shoots as the camera rolls behind him.

"The kid was like Jimmy. He never missed a shot", Anspaugh said in his commentary.

Anspaugh then mentioned something to Angelo Pizzo and the viewing audience that my brother and I have also questioned over the years. As if speaking to the little boy in the final scene, Anspaugh said, "if you're out there, let us know where you're at. I would love to know what happened to that guy."

Final scene in Hoosiers

The kid couldn't miss
While attending the Hoosiers 25th anniversary reunion held in Knightstown in 2010, I spoke to the author of The Making of Hoosiers, Gayle L. Johnson about her recently released book. After minutes of discussion, she looked over to a 30-something year old guy who just entered Hoosier Gym and asked me, "Have you met Roger Hamilton, Jr. yet?" I quickly responded, "No, should I?" She told me to go on over and introduce myself.

Not knowing what to expect, I immediately introduced myself to Roger. We talked briefly about the reunion and that as a longtime resident of Knightstown he remembers the production crews, actors and the excitement of a film being made in his hometown. He then mentioned the reason Gayle had sent me over to him. He talked of the day that while attending elementary school in 1985, the boys in his 3rd grade class were asked to line up. He was then selected and asked to put on a white t-shirt to add that hint of color that Director David Anspaugh thought was missing in his final scene.

I realized then that Roger was the young boy shooting hoops at the end of the film.

I only spent a minute or two talking with Roger because I knew there were probably others that wanted to talk to him or that he wanted to speak to. My thoughts drifted back to what David Anspaugh had said about Roger Hamilton, Jr in his commentary.

Meeting Roger Hamilton, Jr. at the Hoosiers Reunion

While I relaxed in the Hoosier Gym bleachers during the Hoosiers 25th anniversary reunion later that afternoon, a new scene emerged before me. A scene that did not catch the attention of most fans that day. I noticed Roger walk over to the exact spot where twenty-five years earlier he was making basket after basket as the camera paned over him. He then shyly walked up to Maris Valainis (Jimmy Chitwood) and Angelo Pizzo who were finishing a conversation with a local fan.  Although David Anspaugh was not present that day, I still expect this would be a moment Roger was looking forward to reliving once again after so many years.

As Roger turned to re-introduce himself to Angelo Pizzo after twenty-five years, I knew that I was about to add another memorable scene to my list. Although I could not hear what was being said, I could only imagine how this scene would unfold and how the long conversation would start.

"Hello Mr. Pizzo", Roger would say. "Do you remember the young boy shooting baskets at the end of your movie?" 


Roger walking up to Screenwriter Angelo Pizzo

Monday, May 27, 2013

Knightstown's Gym of Inspiration

Hoosiers (1986) has been listed by many media outlets as one of the greatest sports movies ever made. The film was ranked #13 by the American Film Institute on its 100 Years… 100 Cheers list of most inspirational films.  More importantly, Hoosiers was been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”  

It is a timeless movie that transcends generations and incites inspiration.  The story may take place in the basketball rich-tradition state of Indiana in the early 1950s, but its premise relates to teams around the globe since it could happen any year, anywhere, to anyone.  It could even happen to the small community of Knightstown, Ind.

The movie is known for its inspirational plot, inspired by the story of the 1954 Milan Indians, as well as its cast of known actors. Casting Gene Hackman as coach Norman Dale, Dennis Hopper as Shooter, and Barbara Hershey as Myra Fleener was a huge step towards the movie's success even before a scene was filmed. I have always felt that in many films, the actors alone are not the most memorable characters in a scene.  In many cases, the film location creates the perfect backdrop that without it, I question if the scene would have had the same impact on viewers. As a result, my favorite character casted in the movie Hoosiers is none other than the small Knightstown gym used as the home of the Hickory Huskers.

My twin brother and I with the Hickory Huskers
Over the last ten years, I have visited The Hoosier Gym seven times.  My first visit was in 2003 when I was completing an internship with Pacers Sports & Entertainment in Indianapolis.  I have attended various events held in the gym since then, including the 20th and 25th anniversary reunions of the filming of Hoosiers, which brought back many of the cast and extras.  In addition, my brother and I attended the 2009 Hoosier Reunion All-Star Classic basketball game where we cheered on the likes of Parade Magazine All-Americans Skylar Diggins (Notre Dame) and Kelly Faris (UConn), as well as, Indiana’s Mr. Basketball, Jordan Hulls (Indiana).  My brother’s varsity girls basketball team from Northeast Missouri also had the opportunity to practice prior to the big game as the All-Stars watched on.  A memory that will stay with them forever, especially as they watched many of these players compete for a NCAA National Championship the next four years.

I was amazed how well the old gym had been maintained and how much it still resembled how it looked when filming wrapped in 1985. The lobby contains a vast amount of memorabilia from Knightstown basketball past, as well as, Hoosiers production and filming pictures and much more.  The timeworn ticket booth as you enter the lobby is only a glimpse of the nostalgia that awaits as you step through the doors and walk onto the gym floor.  The lobby, gym, and basement gives you a rare look into what small-town, early twentieth century basketball would have been like. While shooting around, you can't help but be inspired by your surroundings.

Ticket Booth
The Historic Hoosier Gym should be included on every basketball fan’s bucket list. When driving through Indiana on Interstate 70, it is only a 4 mile detour southeast on IN-109. It's accessibility is just one of the reasons I enjoy visiting.  It is available to the public to tour and even shoot a few baskets. If you want to rent it, you can do that as well. I guarantee you’ll visit it more than once.

Scotland Co. Lady Tigers practicing
2009 Hoosier Reunion All-Star Classic basketball game

Shooting hoops prior to the 25th Hoosiers Anniversary Reunion
Thousands of basketball and movie fans visit the gym annually, but that wasn’t the case years before Hollywood set up production in the small community. With the persistence of one resident and a little luck, Knightstown's old gym has went from unused to inciting inspiration to all who visit it.

According to The Hoosier Gym website (, in the early 1920s the Knightstown Community School didn’t have a gymnasium of their own.  Games were either played above the local drugstore or in the basement of a local church. Knowing the importance of having a gymnasium, hundreds of citizens and local businesses in the small Knightstown community helped raise the funds to begin construction. In late 1922, the construction of the Knightstown Gym was completed and available for games and civic and community events.  Improvements were made over time, which included the exterior face lift with a front entrance and lobby, basement dressing rooms, and large classrooms.

Knightstown gymnasium in 1935 before the front lobby was added

The front of The Hoosier Gym today

Locker room used in filming

In 1966, the Knightstown Panthers played their last regular season game at the gym.  A newer facility was constructed and for the next 20 years, the old gym saw little activity...until 1985.

According to Gayle L. Johnson, author of The Making of Hoosiers - How a Small Movie From the Heartland Became One of America's Favorite Films, in March 1985 the filmmakers and studio were scouting locations throughout Indiana to film Hoosiers. Their goal was to find a community with everything they needed - an early 1900s era high school and gymnasium and an appealing downtown.  Director David Anspaugh and the writer, Angelo Pizzo explored the state, including the town Milan, which inspired the film but it was considered too large even though it had a population under 2,000. They visited many communities in the southern region but those towns were also too large or the gyms too new. 

Front entrance to the lobby
While reading about the location search in the newspaper, longtime Knightstown resident Peg Mayhill immediately thought of the Knightstown gym.  In The Making of Hoosiers, Johnson states that with a school yearbook in hand that showcased her town's 1920s era gymnasium, Peg visited the Indiana Film Commission. Mayhill made multiple follow-up contacts with the Film Commission to make certain her community's gym would be under consideration. 

Her persistence paid off when the filmmakers decided to visit Knightstown in late spring. The old Knightstown gym would be considered but a decision would not be made for several months. In late summer, a press conference was held at Butler University, where Pizzo and Anspaugh announced the list of possible filming locations had been narrowed done to five locations, Knightstown included.

In the upcoming days, Mayhill and the Knightstown community would learn that the Knightstown gym was selected to be the home of the Hickory Huskers.  Johnson mentions in her book that writer, David Anspaugh would comment, "we saw countless gymnasiums. ... We walked into this gym in Knightstown, and there was no mistake. We were home; this was it."  Pizzo said that the building reminded him of the "glory days" of Indiana basketball, before school consolidation, when every town, no matter how small, had its own school and team.

Not only was the design of the gym what the filmmakers were looking for but the gym was ideal for filming as well. The filmmakers liked that the gym had windows on three sides which brightened the space and gave it a feeling of openness.  The rafters formed a intricate latticework.  Greenish gray paneling separated the bleachers from the court. 

Let's win this game for all the small schools that never had a chance to get here. - Merle Webb (Hoosiers)

When reading about Mayhill's determination to have the old Knightstown gym considered for the movie, I couldn't help but be reminded of the Hickory player Merle Webb and his message before the state final game about "winning the game for all the small schools that never had a chance to get here."   The quote also ties well into what the Knightstown gym was up against.  The gym was once a center-piece of the community for decades but had seen little activity for years.  Knightstown's newer, larger gym was now serving the community.  The old gym's chances of surviving were growing less and less each year.  But thanks to an outspoken and determined community member, the old Knightstown gym had won the chance to be an essential part of something special.  It had won the BIG game.

Walls consist of greenish gray wood paneling

Intricate latticework in rafters & greenish gray bleachers

Memorabilia display in lobby

The film's producers would choose multiple communities, like Knightstown, near the Indianapolis hub to film their sports movie.  Since they were unable to find a single town that provided the school, gym and downtown, the film would use separate locations for each. New Richmond, to the west of Indianapolis, would serve as the fictional town of Hickory. Nineveh, to the south, would be home to Hickory High since they had the old schoolhouse that the film producers were looking for.  All classroom scenes, as well as, Jimmy Chitwood shooting hoops outdoors where filmed there. 

The hidden gem that many Hoosiers fans might not be aware of is that the film's writer and director did find their ideal community that had everything they needed.  In April of 1985, they scouted Waveland, a community of 460 located in the west-central Indiana, near Crawfordsville.  Its 1912 school, 1937 built gym, along with the town's downtown square were ideal for what they were looking for in the same location. However, they would soon learn that construction was to begin on a new school. Waveland had passed a bond to tear down the old high school (then used as an elementary school) and build a new school. Construction could not be halted since contracts had been signed, nor could the community leaders be convinced to hold-off demolition.  As a result, scouting continued and Knightstown would eventually be selected.

Waveland High School - built in 1912

Waveland High School Gym (Kyle Neddenriep photo)

It’s hard to say what the fate of the Knightstown gym would have been if another gym was selected for the film. Would it have been torn down or left to deteriorate or used as a community center?  I'm not sure anyone knows. What is known is that due to fate, thousands of fans flock to Knightstown each year to see the old gym and find inspiration.  Celebrities, college teams, and ordinary people across the world know of Knightstown and their historic gym.  With the help of the community and those that care for the gym, it will probably never be demolished and the inspiration that we all get from stepping inside, will live on.

In 1987, respected movie critic Roger Ebert published the following review of Hoosiers.  He said, "'Hoosiers' is a comeback movie, but it's not simply about the comeback of this small team, the Hickory Huskers. It's also about the comeback of their coach, a mysterious middle-age guy named Norman Dale (Gene Hackman), who seems to be too old and too experienced to be coaching in an obscure backwater like Hickory. And it's also the comeback story of Shooter, the town drunk (played by Dennis Hopper, whose supporting performance just won an Oscar nomination). Everybody in this movie seems to be trying to start over in life, and, in a way, basketball is simply their excuse."

You could say the same thing about Knightstown's Hoosier Gym.


Sunday, March 31, 2013

A Lesson in Patten Gym

Many will associate Northwestern University with academics since it's a private research university, has one of the largest university endowments in the nation, and is placed high in the national and world university rankings.

Others may associate it with athletics since twelve of Northwestern's nineteen varsity programs had NCAA or bowl postseason appearances. Additionally, Northwestern is a charter member of the Big Ten Conference, which is the oldest Division I college athletic conference in the United States. 

Some think of both since Northwestern plays in a conference known for its academics and athletics. Prior to the addition of Nebraska in 2011, the Big Ten was the only Division I conference to have all its members in the Association of American Universities, which is an organization of leading research universities devoted to maintaining a strong system of academic research and education.

Prior to 2002, I didn't know much at all about Northwestern University but my first visit to the Evanston, Ill campus would be an educational one.  When I now see or hear the university's name in the media, I too think of both academics and athletics, but for a different reason.

Northwestern University Seal

Northwestern University Athletics Logo
While attending graduate school in 2002, our sport management club met with various sports professionals in the Chicago area to talk about their organizations and learn how they apply business principles to the sport industry. The conversations that day were a great balance between sports and academics.

Following our meeting with Northwestern's Athletic Director, our sport management club was escorted throughout the many Evanston campus athletic facilities, including Welsh-Ryan Arena, Ryan Field, and the Henry Crown Sports Pavilion / Norris Aquatic Center.  All were very impressive in their own right but it was at our last stop that the Assistant Facilities Director made a nonchalant remark that caught my wondering attention.

As we walked across an ordinary basketball court in a dark facility on our way to the basement, I vividly remember him turning towards a few of us in front of the class and quietly remarked, “you know the first NCAA Men's Division I Basketball tournament championship game was held here in Patten Gym." My ears perked up.

I would learn the week following our club trip that the first NCAA Men's Division I Basketball tournament championship game was indeed held in Patten Gym in 1939 on the campus of Northwestern University, but in the original Patten Gym, not its successor that I walked through on our tour.  Nevertheless, history had taken place on Northwestern's campus and it was a basketball fact that I had not seen or heard before. 

Original Patten Gym (University Archives)
As both the original and new gymnasiums are cemented into the rich history of the Northwestern University campus, so would the history be cemented in my brain and retained for future use.  Eight years later as we prepared to travel across Illinois to play in some of the state's historic gymnasiums, the new Patten Gym was included but I would have to educate myself of its past first.
James A. Patten

According to the University Archives, the original Patten Gym was designed by George Washington Maher and opened in 1910. The gym was named for James A. Patten, a former Evanston mayor, philanthropist, commodities broker, and Northwestern University board of trustees president. It's unique design is said to have derived from armories and massive train sheds. Patten was the largest such building in the Chicago area and many argue that it had the finest athletics facilities in the country.  In 1921, bleachers and a removable basketball floor were installed at ground level on top of the dirt floor and would seat 4,000+ spectators. The arena included a track, a baseball practice field and a swimming pool but its most popular tenant would the Wildcats basketball team;  therefore playing host to their home games.

Original Patten Gym with dirt floor (University Archives) 

Original Patten Gym - site of the 1939 NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Tournament  (University Archives)
University Archives also indicate that in the building’s early years its entryway was decorated with pure gold plating.  Although intriguing, what I found even more interesting was that in 1917, James Patten commissioned the popular American sculptor, Hermon MacNeil, to design statues appropriate to an atmosphere of athletic aspiration, which would be placed in front of Patten Gym for all to see while entering. MacNeil is known for designing the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument (1909–12) in Washington Park, Albany, New York, the Standing Liberty quarter (1916), and later for sculpting Justice, the Guardian of Liberty on the east pediment of the United States Supreme Court building (1935). 

For Patten, MacNeil would sculpt two 9-foot tall bronze Greco-Roman figures of athlete accomplishment and scholarly wisdom. A male athlete in victory, entitled Physical Development and a female figure in academic pursuit, referred to as Intellectual Development. The statues have been known to generations of students by the nicknames of “Pat” and “Jim".

Physical Development

Intellectual Development

After nearly 30 years of use, Patten Gym was demolished in 1940 to make room for Northwestern's new Technological Institute which would house the School of Engineering. Prior to demolition, the original arena would make history in 1939 and host the first NCAA Men's Division I Basketball tournament championship game. The tournament included eight schools playing in a single-elimination format to determine the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball tournament championship.  It wouldn't be until the 1951–52 season when the tournament would be extended to 16 teams and it wouldn't be until 1975 that more than one team from the same conference could play in the NCAA tournament.

The 1939 Tournament began on March 17, 1939, and ended with the championship game on March 27 in Patten Gym. Thirty-minutes prior to the tip off of the championship game, an exhibition game was played, under the original rules of basketball, in front of the crowd of 5,500. In the audience as an honored guest, Dr. James Naismith. 

The championship game would be the last basketball contest played in the original Patten Gym. Although Ohio State kept the game close at halftime with a score of 21-16, Oregon would finally pull away and beat Ohio State, 46-33.

Oregon vs. Ohio State in 1939
As Patten Gym was being demolished, a new gymnasium was being constructed.  It would also be named for James Patten.  The new Patten Gym was rebuilt at 2407 Sheridan Road, just a few blocks north of the original Patten Gym though it would be notably smaller. The new gym's exterior is of lannon stone, which was used on many other University buildings, and the architectural style echoed some of the Gothic details of the other buildings on campus, such as Deering Library, Scott Hall, and of the proposed Technological Institute which would be constructed where the original Patten Gym stood.

Basketball court in new Patten Gym (University Archives)
Although varsity athletes worked out in the new Patten Gym and their coaches had offices there, the facility afforded little room for spectators. The basketball courts measured a full 18 feet short of regulation size.  As a result, the Northwestern Wildcats played its home games at Evanston Township High School for a twelve-year period until McGaw Memorial Hall (now known as Welsh-Ryan Arena) opened in 1952.

According to the University Archives, "the new gymnasium was intended to meet the needs of the growing program of intramural sports at Northwestern, as well as to hold physical education classes". 

Today, Patten Gymnasium continues to serve as the primary location for the intramural sports program, and sport club programs, such as women's fencing, lacrosse, field hockey, and men's and women's soccer. In addition, it's seventy-five feet long by six lanes wide swimming pool area was renovated in 1998 and became the Gleacher Golf Center, which is arguably the finest indoor learning center in collegiate golf. 

New Patten Gym - built in 1940
As our family walked into the ivy-lined Patten Gym in October 2010, we were appreciative that the staff was congenial and accommodating.  Although students and faculty need identification to enter, they didn't think twice about letting us in to look around and play our game of 2-on-2. The student managing the front desk was not aware that another Patten Gym came before this one, nor that it had basketball significance. I wasn't surprised.

Although the gym lights were turned off on my first tour years earlier, the gym was glowing this time around. I now could see that a regulation game could not be played here, let alone the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball tournament. Nevertheless, we played our game at the new gym to pay homage to the history that had taken place at the original.

Patten Gym basketball court in 2010

Warming-up for our traditional 2-on-2 game

Shooting to see who gets the ball first
The original gymnasium may no longer stand, but there are still a few reminders of it on campus.  While traveling on Sheridan Road, look over at the Technological Institute which houses the Robert R. McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science.  The original Patten Gym once set on this parcel of land prior to 1940.  Or you can do what we did and visit the new Patten Gym, which is only a few blocks north of the original site on Sheridan Road.  The inside may look nothing like the original, but when you approach the front doors you are reminded of the past.

That is because the front doors and the two MacNeil statues were retained from the original gym and relocated to the new gym facing Sheridan Road.  They were dedicated during Homecoming on Nov 2, 1940.  It is these hidden gems, representing both athletic achievement and intellectual development, that come to mind when I see or hear of Northwestern University in the media.

New Patten Gym in its early years
According to the Hermon A. MacNeil website, the male statue is named Physical Development and is of, "two stylized men playing football, one standing, one fallen. The standing figure's proper right leg is forward, his muscles well-defined. A cape is draped behind him and over his proper right arm. At his waist he wears only a sash. In his proper left arm he holds a ball with a bird on top. The fallen male has his head at the feet of the other man, and his body and legs extend upward behind him. His proper left hand braces his fall, and he wears a helmet and shirt. Around the back of the piece are sculpted vines and foliage."  An inscription on the statue is from Alfred Tennyson's Ulysses. It reads:

"To strive to seek, to find and not to yield."
Alfred Tennyson

The female statue is named Intellectual Development (aka The Scholar). It is a standing female with torch with eagle atop. A boy is seated at her feet holding lyre with turtle shell. The inscription on the back reads:

"And after all - is not that enough to have lived for-
To have found out one true thing and therefore
one imperishable thing in one's life"
- Charles Kingsley

According to the Hermon A. MacNeil website, the quote refers to Eratosthenes excellent attempt to calculate the circumference of the earth from the shadows of the sun in two different locations, on the solstice.

MacNeil's statues out front of Patten Gym 

After finishing our game of 2-on-2, we walked out the original wooden front doors and down the steps towards Sheridan Road. We passed between the famous MacNeil statues representing physical and intellectual development and couldn't help but think how important their images and message are in a setting such as Northwestern University.

It doesn't surprise me that MacNeil chose these themes for his sculptures. These hidden gems are symbolic of the importance of being a well-rounded individual. Studies have been conducted over the years that reveal that sports participation in school does in fact show promising results for improving students’ academics. The thought is that students who participate in sports, have a competitive disposition which also motivates them to do well in their studies.

Where once the statues were a beacon to student-athletes walking into the original Patten Gym of the importance of having both a sound body and mind, the same two statues now remind all students participating in intramural, club sports, and physical education classes of the importance of physical and intellectual development.

I leave you with this final history lesson since we are on the subject of athletics and academics.  Northwestern University hosted the first NCAA Men's Division I Basketball tournament in 1939, nearly 75 years later there is only one "BCS" conference team to never make the NCAA Division I tournament...

...the Northwestern University Wildcats.