John Ur makes a play at picking the best films of Indiana, the Hoosier State.
Let's start with the obvious. If you were going to name a film Home in Indiana, where would you shoot it? If you guessed Indiana, you’d be wrong. Most of the film was shot in Kentucky. How about The Hoosier Schoolmaster? Though it was made three separate times between 1914 and 1935, it was never shot in Indiana. But the Hoosier State hasn’t been completely left out in the cold. Of those movies that were shot in Indiana, two of them are some of the most famous school sports stories of all time.
The name Hoosier has an unconfirmed origin. Some believe it evolved from a slurring of words like “who’s there” to “Who’sh’ere?” The word could have referred to boatmen, who after successfully “hushing” up opponents in a brawl were known as “hushers.” Another folk tale refers to a man named Samuel Hoosier who hired men to work on the Louisville and Portland Canal. These men came to be known as “Hoosier’s Men” or “Hoosier’s.” The use of the word was, and can still be in some areas, derogatory taking the meaning of slow, derelict or irresponsible. But one movie was able to go a long way in turning that meaning on its head.
The 1986 film, Hoosiers, about an underdog high school basketball team from the small (fictional) town of Hickory, Indiana, is considered one of the top 10 all-time sports movies. Its inspiring storyline launched a league of imitations, all hoping to capitalize on the film's success: Down and out ragtag team gets a new coach with a new style that clashes with the old. After arguments and turmoil, the team comes together and starts to play bigger than themselves, culminating in a most unlikely of championships. Must be Hollywood putting a spin on reality, right? Wrong. The story was inspired by Milan High School’s 1954 Indiana state championship victory.
New Richmond, Indiana, starred in Hoosiers as the town of Hickory. Today, there are signposts around town commemorating the locations represented in the film. Greg Guffey’s book “The Greatest Basketball Story Ever Told” explains how the town still revels in its adopted role: “As [the fictional] Milan the town still lives for ’54, so does New Richmond the town live for ’86 and Hoosiers. A small sign hangs under the customary town marker. ‘Welcome to Hickory,’ it reads. The post office has ‘Hickory, Ind.’ under its regular New Richmond identification.”
Since we’re on the topic of stories that are so fantastic even Hollywood couldn’t have scripted it any better, let’s head north to South Bend and talk about Rudy. Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger was not the first person to grow up dreaming of playing football at Notre Dame. Throw a dart anywhere on the map in the Northeast and you'd come within 10 miles of a boy who grew up with the same idea. But after a life-changing moment, Rudy decides he must try to follow his dreams no matter what (cue the trumpets). He is first denied admission to Notre Dame (minor key – dreams look dashed), he heads to a small local college to raise his grades (major key – a new hope). He is finally admitted to Notre Dame, walks onto the football team and earns a spot on the practice squad (crescendo to the climax). After obstacle upon obstacle, in the last moments of his last home game, Rudy gets on the field. The entire crowd is chanting his name. He rushes the quarterback and gets a sack (Trumpets Blare!!) and he’s carried off the field on the shoulders of his teammates. Woo, my heart is pumping.
Besides small town shots in Joliet, Rockdale and Whiting, Indiana,
the majority of the film takes place on the campus of the University of
Notre Dame. The
campus is a tourist destination itself without the movie, but the film
can give you a look at some of the famous spots you would see in a
guided tour: The Basilica of the Sacred Heart,
and of course, the famous Golden Dome.
So what have we learned today, kids? Follow your dreams. Never give up. Fight 'til the end. And if you’re looking for inspiration, look to Indiana. Who’s with me?
Photo: Touchdown Jesus watches over Notre Dame's campus, by John Ur