News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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September 4, 2010

Author gathers basketball history on 1,200 Indiana high schools

‘Hoosiers All’ revealed surprising facts

TERRE HAUTE — In writing a book about the history of Hoosier basketball, Emerson Houck stumbled upon an interesting phenomenon.

Prior to 1933, girl’s basketball was quite popular in Indiana. Maybe the female side of the sport fell victim to cutbacks caused by the economy of the Great Depression. But even after the nation recovered and women filled the workplace vacancies created by World War II, girl’s basketball did not rebound to its pre-1933 status.

Houck, a basketball enthusiast, said he noticed as he traveled the state to collect information on Indiana’s premier sport, that while active at some schools, girls basketball did not take off again in popularity and status until after Title IX went into effect in 1972.

“All the good lessons you get from athletics, such as sportsmanship and teamwork, are as important for girls as they are for boys,” Houck said Friday during a book signing at the Vigo County Public Library. “I may look into the cause of that for another book.”

Emerson has authored “Hoosiers All: Indiana High School Basketball,” which covers almost every Indiana school that ever had a team, along with information on their mascots, colors and best seasons. Of the 1,200 schools that existed in Indiana before the school consolidation efforts of the 1960s, Houck has tracked down information on most of them.

“Not all 1,200 schools, but I got close,” he said.

The people he and wife Jane met along the way as they traveled the country highways, stopping at small town diners, and talking with local folks to collect basketball stories and long-ago photos, have been compiled in the thick volume. And interestingly, the schools are categorized according to mascots. Birds have a big section — think Coalmont Cardinals and Garfield Purple Eagles. And then there are the quirky names in another section, like the Jasper Jeeps and West Baden Sprudles. And did you know that only two high schools in the nation have eels as a mascot? Both the Clay City Eels and Eminence Eels are in Indiana, and not that far from each other.

“They’re the ones who have a special place in my heart,” Houck said of the unusual mascots.

But mostly in the book, he wanted to capture the stories of that one great season that each school has had over time.

Take little Freelandville, for instance, which won its only sectional title in 1941, but lost to the Washington Hatchets in the regionals. Washington went on to win the state tournament that year.

Many Hoosiers know the story of the 1954 Milan High School team, which won the state tournament in a David versus Goliath contest against Muncie Central. That season was the inspiration for the 1986 movie “Hoosiers,” but the movie differs greatly from the true facts of that great contest, which portrayed the Hickory Huskers as a small school with less than 10 boys on the team.

Houck said he talked to Milan Coach Marvin Wood after he moved on to coach at North Central High School in Indianapolis, and learned that the school had 161 students at the time. Of the 83 boys in the school, 57 came out for basketball, and the school had varsity, junior varsity and freshman teams. Coach Wood was only about 25 at the time, and the team had a lot of returning talent after having advanced to the quarterfinals in 1953.

Houck writes that the state tournament system of Hoosier basketball did a lot to develop the hometown pride and values common across the state. But the creation of a four-class tournament system in 1997 has taken some getting used to for most folks.

“I think with one-class basketball, maybe there were less distractions,” he said. “I think there was more verve and excitement. But now, I think it’s coming back.”

Interestingly, Milan would have been considered a class 3A school under today’s system, not one of the smaller schools in class 4A.

Houck said that if he had to rank some of the best state finals games, he would consider the 1969 championship for Washington High School with George McGinnis, the 1982 state title for Plymouth with Scott Skiles, and the 1990 title for Bedford North Lawrence with Damon Bailey. The 1991 contest between Glen Robinson of Gary Roosevelt and Allen Henderson of Brebeuf did not live up to his expectations, he said.

Looking at all of the Final Four contests in Hoosier high school basketball, Houck said it seems that the greatest games have been settled by one point or in overtime.

“There’s no single best game,” he said. “Probably the best one most people would say is the one that their own team won.”

Houck is traveling around the state promoting his “Hoosiers All” book. Anyone interested in more information on it can check at the Vigo County Public Library, or go online to www.hawthronepub.com.

Lisa Trigg can be reached at (812) 231-4254 or lisa.trigg@tribstar.com.

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