The day had been in the works since last summer. It happened Friday.
When friends Tom and Char Kuhn visited from northern Indiana last August, we went to Cincinnati for a Reds vs. Cubs game. The Kuhns are huge Cubs fans, but not only that. As we motored toward home on U.S. 40, Tom chatted about his beloved movie, Hoosiers.
If you grew up in Indiana, especially, chances are you've not only seen the film, but you've wiped a tear from your cheek when the Hickory Huskers "win this game for all the small schools that never had a chance to get here."
But wait. Even if you aren't from Indiana, or if you are from any other state or Great Britain, Japan or some other location around the globe, you may have swiped your own tears as well. The movie is loved throughout the world. The Brits know it as Best Shot.
So back to August. We're rolling along talking about Hoosiers. As timing would have it, just ahead is Knightstown, Indiana, site of the Hoosier Gym where all the Huskers' home games were filmed. The 1921 building is the pride and joy of the town and open most days, 9-5. In fact, if you want to rent the place, it's just $30 an hour. But tour it? Free. It's in pristine shape and yes, you can shoot some hoops off a floor so shiny you could eat off it.
Tom wonders if we can possibly see it. Of course! We're one right turn off U.S. 40 away. We pull up to 355 North Washington St., and Tom, Char, and Brian get out and walk to the gym where they stare in the front doors. It's around midnight on a residential street. I stay with the getaway car in case a cop pulls up and wants to know if we're up to no good. Not vandals; just fans.
The trio couldn't see much in the dark. Thankfully, no porch lights flipped on at the houses all around us, so we pulled away with a vow to return.
ABOVE LEFT: locker room in the gym basement. We watched the movie Hoosiers the night before our visit and this scene looks the same as in the movie where Gene Hackman, who plays the head coach, uses those steps in the hall. ABOVE RIGHT: Volunteer Mervin Kilmer loves sharing stories about and giving a tour of this jewel.
Hoosier Gym volunteer Mervin Kilmer explains how the venue was found by Hollywood. Producers of Hoosiers, filmed in 1985, wanted an early 1900s gym in a small town, preferably one still in use. They had a list of around 65 locations.
They decided on the Waveland, Indiana gym. However, they were told they'd have to hurry because the place was slated for demolition and they had signed the contract for the work. So the movie brass kept looking and a story about the search appeared in a newspaper.
Knightstown Banner Owner Peg Mayhill said, according to Kilmer, "What they're looking for is what we have." When the producers came for a look, they agreed immediately that they had found their gym
The townspeople were excited and folks from throughout the region answered the call to appear in crowd scenes on the bleachers. Says Kilmer, "Can you imagine Hollywood coming to Knightstown, Indiana?"
Oh, they imagined all right, and donned their 1950s-era clothing and got their hair styled by the movie crew on site. Racks of '50s clothing were there for the extras to choose from.
While the entire movie was filmed in Indiana, only the home gym scenes were made in Knightstown. New Richmond, Indiana, in Montgomery County, was the main location for most other scenes.
A call went out for high school and college boys under 6'2" to try out for the Hickory Huskers' team and for other basketball scenes in the movie. Eight hundred showed up in the first round. Kilmer says that ironically, the shortest teammate, Ollie in the movie, was in real life the best player and had to be taught how to play poorly.
Screenplay writer Angelo Pizzo had his doubts, says Kilmer, that "it would ever amount to anything." The first critic said it was poorly written and too long. Pizzo went back to work on the script and the second critic -- who read it after a revision -- wept over the script and said it had to be be made into a movie.
The film is about more than hoops. It's about second chances. It's about succeeding even when the odds are against you.
Today, between 60,000 and 70,000 visit the Hoosier Gym each year. That includes teams and fans from all over the world, including basketball greats such as Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Lebron James and Carmelo Anthony.
And it includes great basketball fans such as Tom Kuhn who visited yesterday and has been busy rubbing away those goosebumps.
Before we visited the Hoosier Gym, we lunched at Hoosiers Home Court Cafe, 12 E. Main St. in Knightstown. I can recommend the chili burger, made by owner Kevin Richey. But Char had the classic Hoosier tenderloin. When in Rome ...
The morning started in New Castle at "The World's Largest and Finest" high school gym, New Castle Fieldhouse. Our thanks to the high school administration for allowing access. Of all the day's venues, Tom says the Fieldhouse is his favorite.
The Fieldhouse has hosted Hoosier hoops and the Trojans since 1959 and it is as beautiful as ever. As someone who has worked in and written about this area of the state for 29 years, I can tell you that basketball is as much a part of the air here as is oxygen.
Then it was on to the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame, within sight of the Fieldhouse. We all agree that the Hall is done beautifully, and there is so much to see and enjoy.
It was a day to remember; a special day in Henry County. And in our friendship.