Milan, Indiana Still Weeps for Joy Over Its 1954 Championship Team That Inspired Hoosiers

updated 03/30/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/30/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

Don't go poking around the basketball lore of Milan (pronounced My-lan), Ind. without a ready supply of handkerchiefs. The calendar may say it's been 33 years this month since Milan won the state title in a classic upset that is the basis for the movie Hoosiers; but to this day most every business in town has a picture of "the boys," and no Milanite of a certain age can talk about that championship season without tears. "It was wonderful, the town was full of happy people," says Millie Nocks, 68, as she gazes at a photo of the team on the wall of Rosie Arkenberg's restaurant. Then, between quiet sobs, she says, "God bless those boys."

Hoosiersis not a literal telling of what is known as "the Miracle of Milan." Screenwriter Angelo Pizzo, who grew up in Bloomington, says he was inspired by what happened in 1954 but not bound by it. True, one player's father was an alcoholic, and so is Dennis Hopper's character. But it's not so that star forward Bobby Plump (called Jimmy Chitwood in the movie) sat out half the season, or that the team had only six players: There were ten. A few folks are sore that Milan was not one of the Indiana locations for the film, or even mentioned at all, and even Rosie, an admirer of the film, quibbles with the scenes showing fans in bib overalls. "We went to the games in our finest clothes," she says. Just the same, the people of Milan love Hoosiers. A newspaper in Indianapolis asked Bobby Plump to review it and he took a notebook to the theater, but he cried so much he forgot to write anything down. "Those boys that made the movie are Hoosiers," he says. "They understand us."

Plump is 50 now and runs the Bobby Plump Insurance Agency in Indianapolis, but he is still recognized all over the state as the boy who wrought the Miracle. First, he led Milan to a semifinal victory over all-black Crispus Attucks of Indianapolis, whose star was Oscar Robertson, later of the Milwaukee Bucks. Then came Muncie Central, which was 13 times Milan's student-body size. Near the end, with the score tied, Plump held onto the ball for four heart-stopping minutes, then his last-second jump shot sailed up and swish, the Miracle.

"I don't see how there can be any more thrill in a Hoosier kid's life than what happened to me," says Plump, then ashy kid who suddenly was giving speeches all over the state. Like his teammates—who get together in town every Easter—he readily says the win "changed my life." Nine of the players got college scholarships, an unprecedented number for Milan, which that year enrolled only 73 boys.

"When it happened, we were celebrities," says team member Ray Craft, who married cheerleader Virginia Voss and is now the state's commissioner of high school basketball. "And we still are." Of course Indiana basketball is about winning, and not even Craft was immune when, back in Milan as coach, his record slipped to 11-10 in his fourth season and he quit. So he sympathizes with Kelly Simpson, the new coach: He ended his first year at 1-18 and jokes, nervously, "I guess they won't be making a movie about us."

Milan never made it back to the state finals. Marvin Wood, the 1954 coach, who is now a guidance counselor, admits, "Nothing's ever come close to that moment. I peaked when I was 26, and I've enjoyed it for 33 years." Well, so has the town. The years haven't been awfully kind: There is no theater anymore, the furniture store burned down and all seven doctors have left town. But Milan's got great memories.

From Our Partners