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Latest News from Around Madison County
- Category: Sports
- Published on Wednesday, 18 January 2012 16:03
Contributed article by: Michael Pierce
As a kid in Anderson, basketball meant more to us than most kids in other states. It was a religion where we learned early how to dribble and pass. It was bred in us from the start. For me, that was in the 5th grade. Before that, we watched the big kids play.
I must have been 7 or 8 when I noticed the excitement of High School Basketball. We lived on the corner of 7th and Jackson and would notice when traffic would pick up with cars decorated for the big game. We didn't live too close to the Wigwam, but we lived close enough to tell something was up. I was just a kid attending 7th Street School. At that time I wasn't sure what it was. It was something; people were coming from all over the county.
In the spring I played in the school's sandbox - hearing bigger kids play on the hoops. Sometimes we watched. They had so much fun but we didn't have enough in us to shoot a goal that high. We went on our way, thinking "Someday I'll play."
In 5th grade a neighbor put up a goal, trying to get us kids into a sport we would all love. On it he painted the "Inza Court Pacers," after our beloved Indiana Pacers. This was my coming out and time of figuring out the game. We still couldn't shoot, but we could dribble a ball. I started watching games on TV. I was hooked like everyone else.
It wasn't till 7th grade when I when I was in a foster home in Orestes that on my birthday I received a transistor radio and heard my first game on WHBU. Madison Heights won the Sectional, with Bobby Wilkerson, and went to the State Finals. I couldn't help but to get caught up in all the hoopla - I was a Hoosier, born and bred.
The excitement that year with Wilkerson being named on the Indiana All Star Team that plays Kentucky in their annual battle for bragging rights perked my interest in a storm of emotion. That year my brother came up with a book named "Hoosier Hysteria" which told the history of every team that won the State and who had been named the coveted "Mr. Basketball." That book was like the Holy Grail itself to us. We wanted to learn all we could. Anderson High School had three titles and in 1946 "Jumping Johnny Wilson" won fame as Mr. Basketball. Anderson was seeking to add a title as they hadn't had one since '46. It could have been them or Madison Heights, we were just hungry. We didn't care which one would win it. Just bring it home to Anderson.
Both big schools and small schools made their mark. One of the best stories came in 1954 when little Milan won it all. Years later they made a big Hollywood movie called "Hoosiers," which everyone saw at least once. Hoosier Hysteria is something you're born with; if you're from Indiana you know what I mean.
After that year my life did change. Any free time I had, I could be found on the court, dribbling my ball, practicing hooks, free throws, and playing Around the World to try to improve all the angles of my shots. I could be by myself, it didn't matter to me that I was alone on the court; I was getting ready for the next game, whoever would play.
It was Thanksgiving week when I went to the Wigwam for the very first time. Anderson was coming off a rebuilding year and was ranked rather high. First the reserves hit the floor and then came The Indians, ready for war. Right before the game the Indian and Maiden dazzled us with dance, sparking an energy like a Baptism of fire, and I could finally see what the commotion was about. Hoosier Hysteria was working on me. Anderson High School was back and this time we wanted it all.
The Wigwam basketball court itself is a historical place. There was actually an older one that was built in or about 1925. This burnt down in '58 which led way to a bigger and bolder Wigwam which seated nearly 9,000 screaming fans. It held so many memorable moments I cannot imagine an Anderson without it.
Each and every week we went to the games. We sat on the top row facing the band. We had a view of the best players in the state. The teams that battled for number 1 were in perfect view. They were battling right before our eyes.
We'd listen quite close when they played on the road. Over the radio, we heard play by plays. We wished we were there to see our team win. We were simply thrilled with the way that they played.
We all debated who our favorite Indian was. Was it Harry Stamp, Tony Marshall, or Roy Taylor? It didn't matter, for they were a team. We would have had any Indian take the final shot. They all could hit under any pressure.
We got excited when the Sectional Brackets came out. Hoosier Hysteria was about to unfold. Every school in the county filled the Wigwam. We cheered for our favorite and waited to see. Losers would go home while the winners play on. People stood by the door hoping to buy a ticket from the fans whose teams had lost. Every night the action grew more frenzied. Saturday night Anderson won going to the Regionals, where they took that one, too.
We were halfway through and everyone was excited. Could this be the year Anderson would win? We haven't had one since Jumping Johnny in '46. Madison Heights gave it a good try, now it was Anderson's turn. We were as favored as anyone else. The Semi-State was won and the State Finals were near. All that week stores in Anderson hung banners supporting our team.
That afternoon would be our last game. South Bend Adams stopped an Anderson rally, leaving us empty, but we still rejoiced. We had next year. Most of our players would come back. Anderson's future showed nothing but promise.
My 8th grade was one of my best schools years. I learned the pride of the teams in Anderson - all three of them, for all three schools represented our town proudly. Anderson High School and Madison Heights showed me spirit throughout their runs giving us so much. I couldn't imagine a better town to call home. Hoosier Hysteria brought us hope. We dreamed of more, believing it would come. This is what life as a Hoosier meant to me - play your best and you will be champs someday.
The next year was more of the same. The Wigwam was the hottest ticket in town. The Indians were ranked It looked like they would win but lost in the Semi-State by a team we beat the year before.
If there was any consolation Roy Taylor was named Co-Mr. Basketball. Only Jumping Johnny had brought Anderson that honor. Our youth was progressing with the coming of a Madison Heights Junior High Player, Ray Tolbert. He showed so much promise that it was believed Anderson was going be a factor for years to come.
The next year was my one and only year at Anderson High School. That year being a student was a dream. Being a part of the student body made it more fun. The team play made us so proud. They had a good year even though they lost some of the best players they ever had. Ray Tolbert started making his mark for Madison Heights. Even though no team in Anderson was favored to win it all, we took pride in the Sectional to see who would win. I believe Anderson won it and didn't go far. We had a good run and it was time to rebuild.
It was with sad regret that I moved to Tennessee. Leaving Anderson hurt me but it showed me all we had in Hoosier Hysteria couldn't be found anywhere else. I even got to play a little high school ball, showing the talent wasn't that good. Even the tournament wasn't anything like ours. Instead of one they split into five. There were no small schools that could win theirs like Milan. Fans didn't fill their gyms like we had at the Wigwam. It just showed me there's no place like home.
Even after I left school I played a lot of ball. Just like my mom, my wife would know where I'd be. I was a Hoosier and the only sport I wanted to play was basketball. It was bred into me and no one could take away basketball, the best sport there ever was.
As the years passed by I would talk to my family to see who had won the Sectional, and if anyone from Anderson would be Mr. Basketball. Just as I thought Ray Tolbert won it in '77, and he went on to play for my beloved Hoosiers. In '84 Troy Lewis won Co-Mr. Basketball, and he went on to play for Purdue. And in '93, Maurice "Kojak" Fuller brought it home for us. The youth of Anderson made us proud.
Even Anderson had some good runs. Norm Held had some teams make it all the way to the final game. I remember one year my brother told me they were in the State Finals. Not wanting to miss the party Anderson had been seeking since 1946, I headed north to watch the festivities. When they won the afternoon game I went to the Mall and bought a shirt that had Anderson State Champs, for I was dreaming just like we all were and was heartbroken when they came up short. I still wore the shirt for win or lose I was proud of my Indians.
One of my saddest days was in '97 when I heard that the IHSAA broke the one tournament into four different classes. No more would a small town like Milan take it all. Indiana was just like the other states. Was this the end of Hoosier Hysteria? In some ways it was for attendance trailed off. I like to think that it is still alive, at least in our memories, for no one can take them away.
Let us remember our cross-town rivalries. How we filled the Wigwam to watch our teams, seeing the battles of highly ranked teams. To me Hoosier Hysteria will never die. It gave us so much. I was born and bred to watch basketball. No doubt about it , it's the way that I am.
My story is not alone. Many generations have lived through this Spirit. How great it would have been, to be in the time that a team from Anderson won it all. The partying on Meridian would have been wild, probably would last a week or two.
The only resemblance to what we had is March Madness, in the way that it is formed. When Butler made it to the final game it took me back to the way I felt as a kid. A college Milan from a school that once held the tournaments we all loved. When they made it to their first final how could you not get goose bumps? A team from Indiana was in it again.
Being born and bred in Indiana, you develop a love for God, family, friends and a sport they call basketball.