When it comes to cementing Indiana’s basketball reputation, the state owes a debt to the 1986 movie Hoosiers. Inspired by the events leading to the 1954 state championship game between tiny Milan and powerhouse Muncie, the movie filmed on location in historic gyms, downtowns, and churches around Indiana. Its most iconic venue, Knightstown’s Hoosier Gym, remains a mecca for fans of the film and game.
Before it gained national recognition, the gym sparked local pride as home to the Knightstown Falcons and later the Knightstown Panthers. Before constructing the gym in 1921, Knightstown Community School held basketball games in a hall above the town drugstore and in a church basement. After the school system built a new high school and gym in 1966, it shuttered the old gym. It sat mostly empty for nearly 20 years, until location scouts for Hoosiers chose the site to stand in as home gym for the fictional Hickory Huskers.
Recast as a community center and museum featuring memorabilia from the film and area sports teams, the non-profit Hoosier Gym regularly hosts basketball exhibitions, including the popular Hoosiers Reunion All-Star Classic, where teams of top athletes from around the state play as a Hickory Husker or Terhune Tiger.
“People are drawn here because of the movie, then they get here and understand this is a really neat old building,” says Events Coordinator Bob Garner, who played as a senior in 1966 with the last Knightstown basketball team to use the building. “And of course, everyone wants to shoot a basket.”
Going into 2020, the gym was in better shape than ever, with a new roof, windows and other repairs funded by a $500,000 grant from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs.
In a normal year, the gym hosts more than 80 basketball games and attracts upwards of 60,000 visitors from all over the U.S. and beyond. But 2020 was anything but normal, as the pandemic forced the facility to cancel most of its in-person events. The lost revenue put a dent in its bottom line, which relies on income from games and souvenir purchases. To help recoup some of the lost income, the Indiana Broadcasters Association partnered with drive-in theaters in Fort Wayne, Indianapolis, and Terre Haute to host screenings of Hoosiers, raising around $15,000.
2021 marks a major anniversary year for the site, as the gym turns 100, Hoosiers turns 35, and the neighboring Knightstown Academy turns 145. Volunteers are planning several events to mark the occasion, including a block party and parade on May 22 that will include the Hickory Huskers bus from the movie. All events depend on current recommendations concerning gatherings. Stay updated by visiting hoosiergym2021.com and thehoosiergym.com.
Rising above the town of Milan, population approx. 2,040, a water tower proclaiming “State Champs 1954” celebrates the community’s claim to fame. The tower commemorates Milan High School’s basketball team, which famously beat Muncie Central 32-30 with a buzzer-beating shot to win the state championship at Butler Fieldhouse in 1954. Dubbed the Milan Miracle, the match-up drew David and Goliath comparisons (Milan High School’s enrollment was 161 compared to Muncie’s 1,662) and inspired the 1986 film Hoosiers.
The tower was built in 1924 to provide fire protection for the Milan Furniture Company. Last painted in 1969, its lettering was nearly unreadable by 2017, when the Town of Milan secured donations and a $28,452 grant from Rising Sun Regional Foundation to make repairs, install new lighting, and repaint the iconic tower black with white lettering.
Drive to see it for yourself and make plans to visit the Milan ’54 Hoosiers Museum, located in the former State Bank of Milan on Carr Street. The first floor offers a treasure trove of memorabilia connected to the 1954 team, as well as movie props and uniforms from Hoosiers. The museum’s hours are Wednesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., with groups by appointment. Learn more at milan54.org or by calling 812-654-2772.
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