The Butler Did It: “Hoosiers” All Over Again
Hinkle Field House at Butler University, scene of hoop miracles.
There’s a scene in the movie classic “Hoosiers” where Coach Norman Dale, played by Gene Hackman, gives a short locker room speech before his Hickory High School team plays for the Indiana state championship.
Once coach Dale finishes, he asks his players if they have anything to add. One of the Hickory players says: “Let’s win this one for all the small schools that never had a chance to get here.”
Well sometimes dreams do become reality, and Hollywood tales come true. Like Hickory High, Butler University, which punched a ticket to the Final Four with a win over Kansas State, is representing all the small schools across America who’ve ever dreamed of going to the Final Four.
Butler is a David among the Goliaths. A member of the mid-major Horizon League, is 32-4 and hasn’t lost a game since December. The fifth-seeded Bulldogs have won 24 games in a row.
Not Many Surprises
Although 11th-seed George Mason did make the Final Four in 2006, you really need to go back to 1966 to find the last time a small school won the NCAAs. That was Texas Western, now UTEP, which surprised top-ranked Kentucky.
Loyola of Chicago was an upset winner in 1963. The Ramblers, now members of the Horizon League, stopped two-time champion Cincinnati. Holy Cross in 1947 and CCNY in 1950 were other surprise winners in a tournament generally dominated by the bigger-name schools, like UCLA, Kentucky, Indiana, North Carolina and Duke.
Proving that fact can be stranger than fiction, the final game in “Hoosiers” — where undermanned Hickory beats a heavily favored team from South Bend Central on a last-second jumper by star Jimmy Chitwood — is filmed in Butler’s Hinkle Fieldhouse, called the Butler Fieldhouse in the 50s.
Butler played its first basketball game in the Fieldhouse in 1928, defeating Notre Dame 21-13 in overtime. The name of the facility was changed in 1966 from Butler Fieldhouse to Hinkle Fieldhouse in honor of Butler’s legendary coach and athletic director, Paul D. “Tony” Hinkle.
Historic Butler Fieldhouse
The Fieldhouse has served as host to four U.S. presidents (Herbert Hoover, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford), the Billy Graham Crusade, the Sonja Henie Ice Show, four professional basketball team, even a three-ring circus and a six-day bicycle race.
When the Fieldhouse was originally constructed, it was the largest basketball arena in the United States, and it retained that distinction for more than 20 years. Recent renovation has reduced the seating capacity from 15,000 to around 10,000, but the aura that made Hinkle Fieldhouse one of the nation’s first great basketball arenas remains today.
Fittingly, the Final Four next weekend will be held in Indianapolis, at Lucas Oil Stadium, just seven miles from the Butler campus.
Of course many people know that “Hooisers” is based on the story of tiny Milan High School, which in 1954 defeated heavily favored Muncie Central to win the Indiana state championship. In that game, Milan’s Bobby Plump hit a last-second jumper from roughly the same spot on the floor in the Butler Fieldhouse where Chitwood’s shot won it for Hickory
Does Butler have a Bobby Plump or Jimmy Chitwood moment waiting?
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