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.
I’ve been fortunate as of late to have a couple long-time friends win championships as coaches. Although just a fan, and a fan from afar at that, it’s hard not to get drawn in to the entire competitive series, and experience the emotion of the ups and downs as the tournaments wind to a conclusion.
First, my high school (Solon, Iowa) and ex-teammate, friend and Solon head varsity coach Brad Randall finished an unbeaten 28-0 season by winning the Iowa 2A boy’s basketball championship. Along the way, they came back from 15 points down in the second half of the semifinal against two-time defending state champions Western Christian (from Hull, Iowa), and finally won after two overtimes. My own view of this was through an online score update on the Iowa High School Athletic Association site, and it was a long time between automatic refreshes when the score was tied. Ultimately, however, they came out on top, and then won the championship the next night rather handily against Pella Christian. Ironically, of the four semifinalist (the other being Ft. Dodge St. Edmond), Solon was the only public school. I explained the 1.65 multiplier that is applied to “non-boundaried” schools in Illinois, and Brad indicated there had been talk about implementing a 1.50 muliplier in Iowa. I’m not sure the population density in Iowa gives schools that much of a “recruiting advantage,” at least in the more rural areas. How many kids live within 30 miles of Hull, Iowa, compared to the number of kids that live within 30 miles of a Chicago school? Regardless, Solon is the champion, and Brad also pointed out that he believes it was the first time ever that the four semifinalists were the same two years in a row. I would think that speaks to the school, community and coaches more than anything else.