The question asked most often about 1954 state basketball champion Milan High School is whether players from the smallest school to ever win an Indiana state title expected to run the field in the state tournament.
That’s according to Glen Butte, one of 161 students who attended high school at Milan that year — and played on the state champion team that upset basketball powerhouse Muncie Central 32-30.
Butte said he answers the question the same way each time: The team had such a positive attitude that the players never entered a game believing they would lose.
Such messages were woven through stories Butte shared with about 70 Rockcreek Elementary School students he visited the school east of Columbus on Thursday afternoon.
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“I hope you learn that you will make a lot more out of your life if you are positive, no matter what you do,” Butte said.
Although 63 years have passed since the state championship game, Butte — then 15 and a sophomore on the team — could still paint a clear picture for students of the final moments of the game.
Tied at 30-30, Milan player Bobby Plump hit a 14-foot shot as time expired that would forever change the lives of everyone on the team.
“When the ball went through the net, I knew we were state champions,” Butte said.
But the full weight of that moment did not sink in until the team arrived back in Milan the next day to an estimated crowd of 30,000 — far in excess of the town’s population of about 1,150, Butte said.
There, while taking in the glory, players received some advice.
“The coach’s wife (Mary Lou Wood) turned to us and said, ‘It’s nice to be important, but more important to be nice,'” Butte said.
History scripted in that basketball game and celebration was the basis of the film “Hoosiers,” which is marking its 30th anniversary with a special showing today at the Park Theatre in North Vernon.
Butte spent time explaining to Rockcreek students that not every moment of the movie — a fictional account based on the events from the 1954 Indiana state basketball championship — was accurate. He said about 25 percent of it was true, including the final 17 seconds of the game.
Accurate or not, nearly every student raced for the table when Butte offered free autographs. One student at the end of the line eagerly asked Butte to sign something more than the piece of paper — his blue backpack.
“This is like a dream come true, seeing him,” fourth grader student Noah Gabbard said, hugging his newly autographed treasure.
Other students soaked in Butte’s messages and memories with eager ears.
“Just knowing how much effort they put into it shows you how much harder you should try at the stuff you would like to accomplish,” said Madelynn Garrett, a Rockcreek fourth-grade student and basketball player.
Butte and five other Milan team members, including Plump, Roger Schroder, Gene White, Rollin Cutter and Ray Craft, along with cheerleader Pat Marshall and the head coach’s wife, have been invited to today’s 30th anniversary “Hoosiers” tour in North Vernon.
The 1986 film “Hoosiers” starring Gene Hackman and Barbara Hershey will be shown 2 p.m. Sunday at the Park Theatre in North Vernon. A VIP event begins at 1 p.m.
Admission prices: $10 for adults, $5 kids; includes admission to the movie and the meet-and-greet session on stage afterwards.
VIP event: $20, includes exclusive access to the players prior to the movie, as well as admission to the movie and meet-and-greet session afterwards.
Tickets may be purchased at the Park Theater box office, 25 N. Madison Ave., or by calling 812-346-0330.