Indiana Hoops Part #1: Hall, Hoosiers, and a hard lesson …

I’m back home Thursday from my 2nd major road trip of the year. Unfortunately. 

I’ll get into more detail about the sudden change of plans toward the end of this blog entry, but let’s enjoy the great things that I DID see along the portion that I went on. 

For those that don’t know, I have 3 weeks of vacation each year. For the last couple of years, I’ve gone on major trips for 2 of the weeks, and lighter ones on the other week. This is Week 3 of 3 this year, and it’s a trip into Indiana for a combination of two passions: Road Trips and High School Sports. 

I travel throughout Illinois all of the time: for sports, history, and sports history. What makes Indiana hoops so different than the rest, I didn’t really know. After all, Ohio was where baseball started to gain steam (Cincinnati), and where football did, too (Canton). Indiana also has Notre Dame Football. I can only surmise: Many rural schools didn’t have football, and basketball was the popular attraction in these rural towns. It got to be quite a thing. Nearly all of the largest gyms in the nation are in Indiana. 

Let’s go:

I woke up at 3 a.m. and left a few minutes later having already packed the day before. I like to leave super early, when it’s dark out, because at the start of these trips I’m already driving by things I’ve already seen before. The goal was to make it to Danville and the Indiana border by sunrise, and I did just that. Now I can see things I haven’t seen before, sort of. 

When I was young, my family took a trip to Indianapolis. We saw the Speedway, downtown, and Fairmont (where James Dean is from). This isn’t my first trip to the capitol of Indiana. I drive a 2006 Ford Focus with more than 160,000 miles on it, so it’s an old car and I’m trying to figure out my fuel mileage. I filled up the day before and reset the trip odometer. I hit the border, and I’m about 2/3-rds empty. I’m not going to make it to Indy on a full tank. That sucks, because it makes my “mpg” less than 30 for highway. So I’m trying to stretch it out as much as I can, and eventually make it to a Sunoco gas station in Lizton, about 15 miles shy of Indy. 

The first thing I notice when I get to the gas station is that the price is $3.19. I gassed up back home for $3.36. That’s Illinois for you. Next was the price of some of the gas station’s items, particular pop, where 12-packs were about $1 less than back home. That’s Illinois for you. I get a half-tank of gas, just enough to make it to New Castle. 

Rainbow Warrior

Then I get back on the Interstate (74), and go past an underpass for “Jeff Gordon Boulevard.” At this point, I’m remembering that Jeff Gordon grew up in Indiana, and I pull over to do some research: Is he from here? 

So my first stop (how impromptu) was the high school that Jeff Gordon went to. He has been racing vehicles since he was a young boy, but found out that he ran cross country as a high schooler. So he was doing some racing – albeit on two feet – in school. The course back when he attended in the late 1980s, was on campus at Tri-West Hendricks HS, and I went there to see where he raced. 

That stop, and the fact that I completely forgot the time zone change, put me about 90 minutes behind schedule. I wanted to see Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, too. That was my first planned stop. It’s about 1/2-mile north of 38th Street (a major east-west street through the city). I wanted to go inside, but didn’t think about it. Just seeing it from the outside was good enough for me. They don’t call it a Cathedral for nothing. It’s nearly 100 years old and looks extra special! 

I had to hit the road quick because there were a couple of places that I didn’t know how long I was going to take there, and they both having closing times. 

New Castle is home to three interesting things: The Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame, the largest high school gym in the nation, and a hotel named after Steve Alford. How many “local legends” have a hotel named after him? I once stayed at Ronald Reagan Hotel, but Steve Alford is no Ronald Reagan. Alford is a native of New Castle, and tore it up at Indiana U and Bobby Knight. My Iowa friends know him as the Hawkeyes’ former head coach. Actually, having a hotel named after you is pretty cool. 

“In 49 states, it’s just a game”

The Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame is very cool! Illinois has been trying to get one established for years, but hasn’t quite gotten there yet. Outside, there are colorful flags of some of the schools that have won titles over the years. One of the first indoor displays is an exhibit from recent inductees. There’s also a replica concession stand from the old days. Tons of hoops items, newspaper clippings, pennants, jerseys, flags, etc. all over the place. Some special exhibits dedicated to certain teams, coaches and players. 

At the hall, there also is a hall of inductees with brief bios of them. I actually saw Illinois’ version of this at the old Holiday Inn in Normal. However, about 15 years ago, that hotel closed abruptly, and the story I heard was that the hall exhibit was left abandoned and there was some rescuing of sorts to salvage the exhibit. Indiana’s is well-preserved. So as I’m cruising through the exhibits in Indiana, I can’t help but to think about what an Illinois version would look like. All while still appreciating the history of Indiana. 

The most interesting item there that took me was the 1969 State Championship trophy, won by Indianapolis Washington HS and George McGinnis. That thing is 4 feet tall! About twice the size of any Illinois championship trophy! In fact, Illinois’ state championship trophies are smaller now than the version before it. I don’t know for sure, but I assume that trophy was taken there after the school closed in 1995 (it was reopened in 2000). 

Before I went on this trip, I went on a small trip the Saturday prior to Chicagoland for a couple of things. One was to visit the baseball field in East Chicago (read about that trip HERE), and the other was at a baseball card show in Orland Park (read about that trip HERE). The East Chicago baseball field, Block Stadium, was there both Kenny Lofton and Tim Stoddard played their prep baseball careers. 

The Lofton-Stoddard comparison goes like this:

• They both went to the same high school: East Chicago Washington (now closed and razed)

• They both played in the Indiana State Basketball Finals: Stoddard 1971, Lofton 1988

• They both played in the NCAA Final Four: Stoddard at NC State, Lofton at Arizona

• They both played in a World Series, and are the only two athletes to both play in a World Series AND the NCAA Final Four.

• They both were involved in films after their playing careers: Lofton is a film producer, and Stoddard had cameo roles in a couple of movies (“Rookie of the Year” in particular).

Although Lofton went on to have the better baseball career, Stoddard is the only MLB player to have won a World Series (1983) AND a NCAA men’s basketball championship (1974); AND on top of that a high school basketball state title (1971). 

Stoddard’s 1974 NC State team knocked out 7-time defending national champion UCLA in the semifinals en route to the national title. UCLA was coached by Indiana native John Wooden (Martinsville). Stoddard’s Wolfpack teammate Monte Towe was from Converse, Indiana, and his head coach Norm Sloan was from Lawrence, Indiana. 

Back to the trip: There also were a couple of things from the 1971 East Chicago Washington team on display, including a scorecard from a radio station broadcasting the game. East Chicago has a special display in the middle of the main display room, along with Milan (from “Hoosiers”) and Indianapolis Crispus Attucks, where Oscar Robinson went to school. 

So I really enjoyed my trip through the museum, and seeing many of the old things that made up the atmosphere of prep basketball of times gone by. 

“Hoosiers”

Only about 15 minutes away, Knightstown was my next stop: The home gym from “Hoosiers” is there, and I wanted to see it before it closed for the day. 

I’ll be honest, when I pulled up to the front of the gym, I thought, “They filmed that movie in that tiny building?” The outside looked smaller than I thought it would be. Yeah, it’s much bigger when you actually walk inside it. 

My tour guide, Rex, walked me through the artifacts in the lobby, the history of the gym, tidbits from the movie that I’ll have to rewatch over and over again to find out, and a tour of the locker room – which is in the basement underneath the stage. I had only seen the movie a couple of times, so I didn’t know a lot of the back story. Rex clued me in on a lot of interesting things: The writers were students at IU and heard about the Milan team, no one was sure it was going to be a good movie until it was seen, and most of the players were first-time actors. 

Now if I told you the whole deal, you probably would be less inclined to visit. So I’ll leave it right here. This is a place you HAVE to see for yourself if you’re a local sports lover. This is a real gym where real high school hoops games were played in, and still are played in – high school all-star games are there, and other regular season games are scheduled in it. The gym floor also creaks like the old days, too! 

Next stop is back in New Castle …. BUT ….

That’s when the trip shut down. 

Basically, to summarize my issue, I forgot to pack a very important thing I needed in order to sleep. I spent the rest of the night finding a temporary solution to the problem, and eventually was successful in that. However, I had to abort the rest of the trip and head back home the next day. 

I missed out on seeing a basketball game at the New Castle High School field house that night. I had intended Wednesday to see the Milan “54” Museum in Milan, home of the state championship team that inspired “Hoosiers.” Thursday was going to be spent in the hometowns of Larry Bird (French Lick) and John Wooden (Martinsville). I’ll have to repackage that into next year’s road trip.

So an abrupt end to the road trip took place, but I really enjoyed the time I did spend on the road!!

The future

In the days before I left for this trip, I decided that I was only going to go on one major road trip a year here on out for as long as I’m single. If together with someone, then obviously all changes. I’m trying to save up for bigger trips, in particular to see distant family members. My original plan was to go on the Lake Michigan Circle Tour in October of 2022, and either Myrtle Beach or New Orleans in 2023. 

I think I’ll put the Circle Tour off, and make what I missed this year the #RoadTrip2022. 

I’d like to start this trip in Cincinnati. There are a few places there that I would like to see. Milan is only about a hour west of Cincy, and I’ll pick up where I left off. That means I won’t be able to see the New Castle gym, but I want to find a way to be there at some point in my life. 

I’m going to plan out funding for next year’s trip soon. So what about the other 2 weeks per year that I have for vacation time? I’m hoping to go on more smaller trips and maybe just take that time to rest. In the coming days, I have to think about getting back into a work mode, and I’m already dreading it. 

So the rest of this vacation will be resting, working on my baseball card collection projects, and enjoying a family get-together Sunday. 

Hope you’re week is great.

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