Seeing Things, Saying Things

Musings About Writing, Photography and Teaching

Posts Tagged ‘Indiana

Hey Indy!

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Many people hardly look out the window when they fly, but I make it a point to request a window seat and watch the landscape below as we cruise along.

I want to know where I am an I enjoy seeing places where I once lived and/or know.

I was en route from Cleveland to Phoenix aboard a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 when the captain said we were over Muncie, Indiana.

At the time, there was a cloud cover so I couldn’t see anything.  But I kept looking and soon the clouds parted and I was able to pick out Indianapolis, a city where I lived in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

That is the White River meandering just west of downtown.

Written by csanders429

June 9, 2017 at 3:31 pm

One of the Magnificent 92

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Indiana has a lot of stately courthouses that tower over the square of the county seat communities that they serve. Most were built in the late 19th and early 20th century.

I don’t know if this makes Indiana unique or any different than any other Midwest state.

Nearly three decades ago, the late Ira Wilmer Counts, Jr., a professor of photojournalism at Indiana University traveled the state and photographed the 92 courthouses in the Hoosier State.

I don’t know how long that took, but it probably wasn’t done in a week.

His work was placed on a display with the exhibit text written by his colleague, Jon Dilts, who was my adviser during my time in graduate school at IU.

Their work was eventually made into a book titled The Magnificent 92 Courthouses of Indiana and a poster. I had a framed copy of that poster that sat on the wall above my desk for many years.

Professor Counts didn’t have far to go to photograph the courthouse in Bloomington, the home of the IU main campus and the county seat of Monroe County.

I admired Professor Counts’ work for his ability to vary the angles and compositions of the courthouses.

I never had Professor Counts for a class during my time at IU. I only knew him casually, if that.

He had a distinguished career that landed him a place in the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame.

An Arkansas native, Professor Counts is best known for his prize-winning photograph of a black student seeking to integrate a segregated high school in Little Rock in 1957.

When he died of cancer at age 70 in 2001, Professor Counts merited an obituary in the New York Times and other publications. His book about Indiana courthouses was mentioned in the Times obit.

Whenever I see a courthouse in Indiana I’m reminded of Professor Counts and his devotion to telling the story with images of the architecture of another era.

Small Town Institution

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I’ve been in a few arguments over the years about what constitutes a small town.

I describe the place where I grew up in east central Illinois as a “small town,” but other say that with a population of 20,000 my hometown doesn’t qualify as a small town. But I don’t consider it a city or even an urban area.

There is little doubt, though, that Milltown, Indiana, population 807, is a small town. I’ve only been there because my wife once lived there before we met.

It’s a quaint little town amid the rolling hills of Southern Indiana in that buffer zone between the North and the South.

One of the town’s institutions is Maxine’s Market. I’m told that this business has undergone some name and ownership changes over the years and perhaps it has a new name and owner now. It might even be out of business, although I found some references to it online.

I made this image in July 2011 on slide film that I exposed in the waning days of my time as a film shooter.

I don’t think I’ve ever been inside this market, but I’ve seen it from the outside a few times.

It is a typical small town establishment that is part grocery story and part community gathering spot.

Note the bulletin board sandwiched between the ubiquitous ice storage locker and the wooden front doors plastered with decals promoting various products.

More than any other place in town everyone goes to Maxine’s, even those who complain about having to drive some distance to shop at a real supermarket. There probably are some who find that Maxine’s has what they need.

Places like Maxine’s can never hope to match the selection of a Walmart supercenter, but it has an ambience that those big box stores can never match even if they claim to be about small town values.

Regardless of what the folks of Milltown think about this market, all of them would miss it if it went away.

As It Once Was in Small Town Indiana

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In the final scene of the movie Hoosiers, a small boy dribbles a basketball beneath a photograph of the 1952 Indiana state champion Hickory Huskers, dreaming of some day winning a title himself.

But chances are that title was not the state championship but the sectional tournament. In 1950s Indiana, winning the sectional title was as big as players in small schools dared dream.

The sectional was the first of three tournaments that a team had to win to reach the Final Four, which was played in Indianapolis.

Hoosiers was inspired by the story of how Milan High School won the 1954 state tournament, becoming the smallest school to ever do so.

But that was an aberration. Small schools stood little chance to win once they got past the sectional tournament because they would be playing larger schools and their deeper talent pool.

There never again was another Milan that won the championship when it was still single class. Milan was a once in a lifetime team.

Hickory is a fictional school and the actual 1952 Indiana champion was Muncie Central. The boys in the photograph in the Hoosier Gym are actors and their coach was actor Gene Hackman.

What some visitors might pay less attention to are the small banners “honoring” the 1931 and 1932 sectional championships that Hickory “won.”

Those banners are not meant to be just mere movie set props. And there is a reason why there is a line in the movie in which coach Norman Dale tells his players that it has been a decade since Hickory was in the sectional tournament title game.

Winning the sectional was once a big deal in Indiana, particularly if you had to knock off a larger school to do it.

Hoosiers represents an era when many Indiana schools were operated by townships. In the middle 1950s, Indiana had 776 high schools.

The Indiana School Corporation Act of 1959 mandated that school districts with fewer than 1,000 students in grades 1 through 12 merge with a neighboring district. The number of high schools in Indiana quickly shrank.

Most of the basketball scenes in Hoosiers were filmed in the former Knightstown, Indiana, high school gym. Today that gym is a community center and museum to Hoosiers.

When I visited the Hoosier Gym a few years ago I was reminded of my time in the middle 1980s, when I was a part-time sports reporter for The Herald-Telephone in Bloomington, Indiana.

My job was to cover the outlying high school basketball teams and I saw some gymnasiums much like the Hoosier Gym.

Like the Hoosier Gym, they had banners celebrating past sectional champions. And if a school had a once in a lifetime team that won beyond the sectional tournament, there was a photograph of it prominently displayed on the wall just like in Hoosiers.

The times have changed in Indiana. The last single-class state basketball tournament was played in 1996.

The next season the tournament was divided into four classes based on school enrollment.

Attendance at high school games had been declining for years prior to the switch to a four-class tournament.

Even when I covered high school basketball in the 1980s it wasn’t quite the same as it had been in earlier decades. I used to hear now and again about how that 1959 law requiring consolidation had changed things.

Of course high school basketball also lost popularity because people began having more things to do than attending a basketball game on a Friday or Saturday night.

Nonetheless, basketball remained ingrained in the social consciousness of Indiana. Hoosiers may have resonated with most people because of its storyline of the underdog triumphing, but it also harkens back to a time when dreams of hardwood success were more often than not focused on winning what many today might consider a “lesser” tournament.

Written by csanders429

February 20, 2017 at 5:33 am

Hickory’s Home Gym and Memories of Covering Indiana High School Basketball

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Sitting in these bleachers was the once the place to be in small town Indiana on a Friday or Saturday night.

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Once a high school gym, then the set for a movie, the Hoosier Gym is now a community center.

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Of course the door leading into the gym are made of dark wood. Norman Dale’s voice still echoes off these walls.

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The dressing rooms in the 1950s were quite Spartan.

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Some lines from the movie are scrawled on the board inside the dressing room.

I was driving home Ohio in August 2012 on Interstate 70 in central Indiana when I noticed a sign advertising the Hoosier Gym.

I knew it was where the local basketball scenes had been filmed for the 1986 movie Hoosiers. Set in the fictional village of Hickory, the gym is located in Knightstown and used to be that community’s high school gym. It wasn’t far off the interstate so I made a detour and go see it.

Earlier in my life I had spent time as a newspaper reporter in small gyms like this one covering high school basketball. That included two years in Indiana in the middle 1980s so the Hoosier Gym had a familiar and comfortable feel.

I was transported back to the days when I covered a small school in Greene County that had a storybook season much like the one that inspired Hoosiers.

If you know anything about Indiana high school basketball you’ve heard or read about the 1954 Milan state championship team on which Hoosiers is loosely based.

L&M was a consolidated school for the towns of Lyons and Marco. In the 1984-85 season, the Braves were for a time ranked the No. 1 team in Indiana. They were the subject of stories in Sports Illustrated and Esquire because many thought L&M might be the next Milan.

But their dream was crushed on a Saturday night in Evansville in March 1985. Had the Braves won, they would have gone to the Final Four in Indianapolis.

I covered that L&M basketball team for two years for The Herald-Telephone, the daily newspaper in Bloomington that has since been renamed The Herald-Times.

I was a part-time sports writer attending graduate school at Indiana University. Covering L&M was one of the more memorable experiences of my journalism career and the loss that knocked them out of the tournament would be the last basketball game I covered.

I thought a lot about that L&M team of long ago as I walked around the Hoosier Gym trying to visualize the scenes in the movie that were filmed there.

Hoosiers has a connection with that L&M team. One of the actors in the movie was Wade Schenck, who played the role of equipment manager Ollie. He’s the guy who sinks two free throws to win a key game. Schenck also played on that L&M team that had dreams of being the next Milan.

Hoosiers was not expected to become the big success that it did, making $28 million. Two of the film’s name stars, Gene Hackman and Dennis Hopper, had doubts about it.

But critics have said it resonated because it seemed authentic, even to those who know little to nothing about Indiana high school basketball or life in small town Indiana. That authenticity extended to the gym used in the movie, which still feels like it’s 1952 even if there are some modern touches, e.g., the scoreboard, that are out of  historical context.

But walk around the gym and you can feel like it is 1952 again. You can see the townspeople of Hickory sitting on those hard wooden bleachers on a cold winter night in January and cheering for the Huskers as though that was the most important thing they would do that week with the possible exception of going to church the next morning.

Whatever the outcome of the game they will talk about it all week until the next game. And if Hickory wins that year’s sectional tournament, they’ll talk about that for the rest of their lives.