Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Milan miracle

It was a cold winter night in 1954 when players from tiny Milan High arrived at Butler University Fieldhouse in Indianapolis to play the Indiana basketball state championship game against Muncie Central. Muncie had over 1,600 students. Milan had only 161, but 58 of the 73 boys at Milan tried out for the team. Milan players were awed by the huge fieldhouse until soft-spoken Coach Marvin Wood asked one of them to measure the distance from the floor to the basket. "It's the same as at home," they realized.

On game night, 15,000 fans packed the stands. The teams were so well matched they were eventually tied 30-30 with 18 seconds left on the clock. Milan's Bobby Plump held the ball as the clock ran down to five seconds. Then he sprung into action. With three seconds remaining, he drove a jump shot home. It never even touched the rim. But the victory was bigger than basketball for this team of farm kids. Seventeen of the Milan senior class of 30 went on to college that year, including nine of the 12 players. As one recalled, "winning that game made us realize we could do things we never thought were possible."

The 1986 motion picture Hoosiers starring Gene Hackman was only loosely based on Milan's David and Goliath victory. But parts of it were accurate. This inspiring short clip shows how the team prayed before the big game. www.youtube.com/watch?v=3gKbrj2nZis.  And if you have five minutes to spare, you can meet some of the players and see Plump's final shot (as broadcast live in 1954 on black and white TV) at www.youtube.com/watch?v=p6_Tk_FyoVE.

But the movie omitted the biggest lesson of the Milan miracle. When the team came home the next day, their win was celebrated with a giant bonfire. Several people gave speeches, and then Coach Wood's wife shared a benediction which should be on every Indiana license plate. She reminded the team, "It's nice to be important, but it's more important to be nice."

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