|'Hoosiers' in reel life
By Jeff Merron
Special to Page 2
With March Madness in full swing, Page 2's Closer Look series figured it would be a good time to revisit the Maddest March of them all -- the one in which Milan High School, enrollment 161, won the Indiana state title. The victory, immortalized in the 1986 film, "Hoosiers," 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."
So, "Hoosiers" isn't a true story? Well, it sort of is, but mostly isn't. Or, it mostly is, but sort of isn't. You decide.
In real life: The team that won the championship is Milan High. There is no town of Hickory in Indiana.
In reel life: Hickory wins the title in 1952.
In reel life: The previous coach dies, which is a crucial part of the plot -- the team's star player, Jimmy, doesn't play part of the season because he's so upset.
In reel life: The head coach, Norman Dale, is a middle-aged man with a mysterious past that includes being suspended years ago for punching one of his star players.
In reel life: Coach Dale alienates just about everyone with his independence, and there is a town referendum on whether the school should keep Dale on as coach.
In reel life: The assistant coach, "Shooter," (played by Dennis Hopper in an Oscar-nomination performance), is the town drunk and the father of one of the players.
In real life: Coach Wood was softspoken.
In reel life: Hickory is the ultimate Cinderella team, a classic underdog coming out of nowhere.
In reel life: Coach Dale has slow-burning romance with teacher Myra Fleener (played by Barbara Hersey).
In reel life: Coach Dale is a taskmaster during practices, running the players through drills. He does so wearing shirt and tie.
In reel life: Jimmy Chitwood, the team's star player (the Hollywood version of Bobby Plump) sits out half the season because he's so upset about the previous coach dying.
In reel life: Hickory's total enrollment of 161 is so small that it can only field a team of six players.
In reel life: The manager, "Ollie," comes on the court in the semifinal and hits two free throws to win the game.
In reel life: The film's director found it 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.
In reel life: Jimmy Chitwood, during the timeout with 18 seconds remaining in the championship game and the score tied, is told that he'll be a decoy while the team runs its "picket fence" play, and a teammate is assigned the final shot. When the teammate, in the team's huddle, gives a look of dismay and eyes Jimmy, Jimmy says, with confidence, "I'll make it."
In reel life: Hickory wins the action-packed final by a score of 42-40.
In reel life: "Hoosiers" has been listed by many publications as one of the best sports movies ever made.
In reel life: "Hoosiers" is available on VHS and DVD.
"Hoosiers" is one hour and 54 minutes long. Although, as Bobby Plump said in his 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."
"Closer Look" will be a regular Page 2 feature, exploring a hot sports topic in greater detail.