Hoosiers Hysteria: Butler Brings Jimmy Chitwood and Hoops Film To Life
Everyone has seen Hoosiers. And if you haven’t, you should probably stop reading my article now, and rush over to your local Blockbuster. Quite simply, Hoosiers is one of the greatest sports movies of all time.
Hoosiers is based on the true life story of small town Milan High School’s magical 1954 season. In the movie version of the story, Hickory High, located in rural Indiana, barely has the numbers to field a team, but under the leadership of controversial coach Norman Dale, Hickory makes an improbable run to the Indiana state championship.
The parallels between Coach Dale’s Hoosiers and Butler’s Bulldogs are simply incredible. Butler’s 2010 run in the NCAA tournament is an updated version of the 1986 classic. Don’t buy it? Take a look.
This year’s Final Four will be held at Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium, less than seven miles from Butler’s campus. Furthermore, Milan High School itself is a mere 80 miles from Lucas Oil Stadium.
Without the great state of Indiana, you can’t tell the story of Hoosiers. Thankfully, the setting of this year’s Final Four is perfect for the Butler Bulldogs to recreate the magic of Hickory High.
Small but Mighty
The fictitious Hickory High is a small rural school that mirrors its true life counterpart Milan High. Furthermore, Milan High is still the smallest school to win the overall Indiana state championship. Only 73 boys were enrolled at the school during their 1954 championship season.
While Butler’s Indianapolis locale may not mirror the rural setting of Hickory or Milan High, Butler's status as a mid-major correlates to Hickory and Milan’s status as a small rural schools.
Additionally, if Butler does take home the NCAA crown, they would be the smallest school in history to do so. That sounds a lot like Milan High to me.
The championship game of Hoosiers is one of the most recognizable sports movie moments of all time.
The Hickory players, use to playing in their own tiny home gym, are instructed by Coach Dale to measure the height of the hoops in the large gym that hosts the championship game. It’s Coach Dale’s way of showing the players that the court is no different than any they have ever played on.
So, where were those unforgettable championship moments filmed? At Hinkle Fieldhouse, home court of the, you guessed it, Butler Bulldogs.
South Bend Central High
In the aforementioned championship game, Hickory clashes with the South Bend Central High School Bears. South Bend Central High School is a large city school, with a rich basketball history and a prominent coach, played by Ray Crowe. South Bend Central High School seems a lot like Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans.
If Butler does get past Izzo and the Spartans, Duke, with their storied history and Hall of Fame coach, may be waiting to set the stage for an even more meaningful end to Butler’s run toward Hoosiers glory. Duke’s Blue Devils even sport similar blue and white uniforms to those worn by South Bend Central High School in the movie!
The Butler Way
When former Butler player and current Athletic Director Barry Collier took over as head coach of the Bulldogs in 1989, he established “The Butler Way.” The Butler Way is generally defined as a team-first attitude, unselfish style of play, and a commitment to improving.
The Butler Way calls for a precision based offense that relies on players to display a high basketball IQ. On defense, they should be relentless and guard the ball ferociously.
In Hoosiers, Coach Dale, played by Gene Hackman, who would make a great Barry Collier in the sequel by the way, states, “five players on the floor functioning as one single unit: team, team, team, no one more important than the other."
A precise and deliberate offense. Tough, nose to the grindstone defense. A team first and foremost attitude. It sounds like The Hickory Way had a huge impact on Collier’s development of The Butler Way.
What fond memories we have of Hickory High’s star Jimmy Chitwood. Easily Hickory’s best player, Chitwood decides he isn’t playing ball in the coming season.
Heeding the warnings of faculty member Myra Fleener, Coach Dale does not make the effort to change Chitwood’s mind.
Then, amid controversy that leaves Coach Dale on the brink of being fired, Chitwood decides he wants to play on the condition that Coach Dale stays.
In true Hollywood fashion, Chitwood helps turn Hickory’s season around and knocks down the game winner that hands the state title to Hickory.
Jimmy Chitwood’s baby face, style of play, and leadership can’t help but bring to mind Butler’s own…
Hayward is Butler’s unquestioned star and a team leader, despite the fact that he is only a sophomore. Hayward leads the team in scoring (15.5 ppg) and rebounding (8.2 rpg). At 6’8” he can both score and defend in the post, and like Chitwood, is an excellent shooter.
Hayward is to Butler what Jimmy Chitwood was to Hickory High. With the game on the line it will likely be Hayward with the ball in his hands and the opportunity to channel Chitwood and become a hero across the Hoosier state.
So, has Hayward seen the movie? Of course, he is a Hoosier himself!
The Brownsburg native had this to say about the classic, "I can't really tell you how many times I've watched that movie. I think everyone growing up in Indiana watches that movie. I've lost count. It's always on TV, I feel like. So whenever it's on, love basketball, love watching that movie."
Speaking of Jimmy Chitwood, his character was based on a real life player from Milan’s 1954 championship team named Bobby Plump. Like Chitwood, Plump scored the bucket that made Milan High School the Indiana state champions.
After leaving Milan High, Plump enjoyed a successful college career in which he led a small college’s basketball team to its first ever appearance in the NIT. The school? Butler, of course.
Plump, now 73 years old, currently stands 11th on Butler’s all-time scoring list. While playing for Butler, Plump traveled on an airplane for the first time in his life. The trip was to East Lansing, Mich., to take on, coincidentally, the Michigan State Spartans.
Is Butler really that much of an underdog? Sure, they are a mid-major school, and entered the NCAA tournament as a five seed, but the Butler Bulldogs shed the title of pushover years ago.
2010 marks their fourth consecutive trip to the tournament, and third trip to the Sweet 16 or beyond since 2003. For some perspective, Kentucky has only made three trips to the Sweet 16 since 2003 as well.
Furthermore, Butler entered the season ranked 11th in the AP Poll. The Bulldogs aren’t exactly George Mason.
On a similar note, Milan High School’s triumph wasn’t exactly the David slaying Goliath story it is portrayed as in Hoosiers. Yes, rural Milan High School was small, but like Butler, it was no pushover.
Milan High School had made a run to the state semifinals the year prior to their championship run, and returned four starters from that team. In 1954, Milan High School, like Butler this season, entered the season with high expectations.
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