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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.

The Last Word: When a basketball David could knock off a Goliath

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press
Saturday, March 11, 2017 05:01 am
I became nostalgic after reading sportswriter Reggie Hayes’ story Monday about Churubusco’s celebration of the town’s first-ever boys sectional high school basketball championship last Saturday. It made me feel the aura of “Hoosiers” and Indiana’s single-class basketball days when whole communities identified with and rallied around their high school basketball teams. Obviously, some of that throw-back sentimentality still exists.

Churubusco first competed in the state tournament in1918, but the school’s boys basketball team had never won a sectional title until Saturday. And the community celebration Reggie wrote about harked back to the halcyon days of championship teams riding firetrucks in Main Street parades:

“As the team returned from its 65-56 win over Eastside in the Woodlan Sectional on Saturday night escorted by fire trucks,” Reggie wrote, “cars lined the streets, horns were honking and fireworks were launched. The party was on.”

The culture of high school hysteria from the first part of the 20th Century has evolved from such scenarios to multiple-class basketball with dwindling interest in regular-season games at some schools and more noticeably at tournament games. 

The excitement of earlier days in Indiana basketball stemmed from the inclusion of all boys high school teams in the same tournament, where a small town’s David might knock off a large city’s Goliath, such as occurred in 1954, when Milan (enrollment 161) defeated Muncie Central (enrollment over 1,600) to win the state title. The film “Hoosiers” was based on that legendary story.

Even basketball’s inventor, James Naismith, noted the passion of Indiana high school basketball. In 1925, he visited a state finals game with 15,000 fans in the stands. He wrote that while he may have invented the game in Massachusetts, “basketball really had its origin in Indiana, which remains the center of the sport.” 

Allen County had its own Milan/”Hoosiers”-type story in 1948 when Monroeville High School won the sectional championship by beating Fort Wayne’s city champion Central Tigers in the title game. Monroeville was a community of about 1,000, and the Cubs went up against the big city schools of Fort Wayne, knocking off Central Catholic, Woodburn and North Side to get to the title game against the Tigers.  

Max Robinson wrote in a story for Indiana Basketball History magazine in 2010, “ The celebration in Monroeville was something to behold. A large bonfire in the main intersection was lit that night, with hundreds of people celebrating.”

The Cubs made it to the semistate at the Muncie Fieldhouse, where, like Milan a few years later, they played Muncie Central but in this case lost to the Bearcats 49-38.

“What a great season that was,” Robinson wrote, “and it never could have happened with class basketball. Yes, it was only a one-time occasion, but people still talk about it more than 50 years later.”

Kerry Hubartt is editor of The News-Sentinel.  

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