The Hoosiers Experience

Wingate, Indiana was home of the Indiana state high school basketball champions in 1913 and 1914. A sign as you pass through the town proudly proclaims such. On our journey this day, it was the first town of significance we encountered after leaving Interstate 74, and owns a rich basketball history that includes the 1920 national high school championship. Today, however, we are searching for New Richmond, the settlement that owns the distinction of also being the fictitious town of Hickory, made famous by the 1986 movie Hoosiers.

From Wingate, the GPS routed us through a series of roads so narrow we could drive on the left shoulder and still be in our own lane. Surrounded by cornfields, the road to Hickory was as desolate as the movie’s opening scenes.

New Richmond boasted a population of 349 in the 2000 census, and that seems overstated. When we stopped to take a photo of the sign leading into the town, we chatted briefly with a man mowing his lawn who, after several minutes of contemplation, tried to guide us to the old barn/homestead field site.   We never found it, but we did find the historic TJ Oppy hardware store that was used for the barbershop scenes in the movie. The post office and town hall both fly the “Hickory” reference proudly, and we later learned that the proprietor of the local hardware store is a historian of the movie and has many relics from the movie in his store.  Unfortunately, we didn’t learn that until our next stop.

From New Richmond, we traveled to Knightstown where the Hoosier Gym is located. The gym is now a community center filled with Hoosier’s memorabilia, and manned on a daily basis by volunteers that can tell you everything about the building. Mervin Kilmer is one of the staples of the organization, and lives just a few houses away. He graciously showed us anything we wanted to see, and even went home and retrieved a map and photos of a similar trip he took a few days before.  It was Mervin that told us about the hardware story in New Richmond, something we’ll keep in mind if we make the trip again in the future.

The gym itself is open to visitors, and we spent over an hour not just looking at the movie artifacts and the facility, but actually shooting basketballs inside the gym itself. Of the ten or so visitors that had arrived that day before us, there were seven different states represented.  A gentleman from Texas that was in the area.  A woman’s basketball player from Cedarville University traveling to see a friend.  Mervin told us this is a daily occurence – people come from all over to see the Hoosier Gym.

A 25th anniversary of the filming of the movie will include an Indiana all-star game and parade the first week of June, 2010. Mervin said the committee has addresseded personal letters to Gene Hackman, Dennis Hopper and Barbara Hershey in hopes they will return for the festivities.

From Knightstown, the next stop was the restaurant owned by the son of Bobby Plump, the Milan, Indiana player that made the actual game-winning shot in the 1954 state championship. Plump’s Last Shot is located in the Broad Ripple section of Indianapolis, and our casual bar atmosphere included a huge tenderloin sandwich that neither of us could finish. Mr. Plump frequents the establishment, but unfortunately wasn’t there when we were.  His high school letter jacket was though, along with his letter jacket from his days as a star basketball player at Butler University.

With that in mind, we finished the trip by driving to Butler to see Hinkle Fieldhouse, the historic site that both hosted the original 1954 championship game and also served as the movie location for the fictitious final between Hickory and South Bend Central. Unfortunately, the fieldhouse was locked and we were unable to get inside.

What did we miss?  Well, we didn’t make it to the actual town of Milan, Indiana, home of the 1954 state champions the movie was based on, but most if not all of the movie was shot elsewhere.  We also didn’t make it to Nineveh, the site of the school scenes in the movie.  The school has since been demolished, and a post office now sits in it’s place.

The movie Hoosiers was ranked #4 on the American Film Institute’s list of the 10 greatest films in the genre “Sports” in June 2008.  It was a long day of driving, but an enjoyable pilgrimage into Hoosiers movie lore.

Photos:  (1)  The New Richmond, Indiana water tower.  (2)  New Richmond city limits and the town proclaiming itself to be Hickory.  (3)  The historic TJ Oppy hardware store.  The right section of the building served as the barber shop location in the movie.  (4)  The historic Hoosiers Gym located in Knightstown, Indiana.  (5)  Plump’s Last Shot, the bar/restaurant named after Milan, Indiana star Bobby Plump and owned by his son.  (6)  Hinkle Fieldhouse on Butler University’s campus, the site of the 1954 championship game and also the movie location for the fictitious 1952 championship won by the Hickory Huskers.  (7)  The locker room in the Hoosier Gym in Knightstown.  (8)  The front entrance of the Hoosier Gym in Knightstown.

Credit:  All photos copyrighted and property of Jeff Findley.


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