After 47 years, Milan still recalls its dream game

Memorabilia on display at Milan shop

Ben Fronczek
Staff Writer

(June 2001) Milan, In –There are probably many debates over what marked the top Indiana event in sports history.

Milan Museum

Not among the people in Milan, though. Just look at the town’s water tower, which pays tribute to the 1954 Milan High School championship basketball team.
This 13-man team from this small, rural town in southeastern Indiana made history the evening of March 20, 1954, when it upset the highly favored Muncie Central at Butler Univer-sity’s Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Artifacts, books, movies and memories have kept alive the story of what has been considered by many a prime example of David defeating Goliath. Anyone who has seen the 1986 movie “Hoosiers” knows this.
Even today, the score rings loud here: Milan 32, Muncie Central 30. The winning basket by Bobby Plump is the moment that will not perish from this town’s pride. An example is the nostalgic display at the Milan Station Antiques and Collectibles, located on State Road 101 in Milan.
The store’s owner, Roselyn McKittrick, has spent the last 30 years dreaming up a display paying tribute to the championship team. It now sits in the middle of her store but someday could rest in a museum across the street.
“This was voted the number one sports story in Indiana for the century by the Sports Writers of Indiana,” says McKittrick. “Sports Illustrated voted it No. 12 for the century.”
McKittrick’s tribute to the legendary team sits in an obvious corner of her store. She has built lockers that house jerseys, trophies and old basketball shoes donated by the players themselves. Old newspaper clippings of the era line the surrounding tables. A blackboard to the right showcases a strategic drawing of Plump’s winning shot. A poster of “Hoosiers” rests right across the room.
Not far away is an autographed basketball by NBA legend Oscar Robertson, who played against Milan when at Crispus Attacks High School in Indianapolis.
The appeal of this landmark event has been strong enough to impact McKittrick, even though she is not a Milan native and did not attend the historic game. She was living in Washington, D.C., at the time.
“These men accomplished something known worldwide,” she says. “I just love the story. Most of them were farm boys. They walked three to four miles from home but wouldn’t think anything about it because they just wanted to play basketball.”
The appeal is contagious, too. Many still recall the Cinderella story of Milan defeating Muncie Central.
“I have had people come from all over the world,” she added. “People just see the name Milan and are drawn to it just because they remember the story. Someone once said the whole state of Indiana was rooting for the (Milan) Indians, except for Muncie.”
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime deal,” said Ken Wendelman, a Versailles resident who played forward on the 1954 team. “We beat supposedly the best in the state. Nobody was supposed to beat Muncie Central.”
North Vernon resident Don Voss, who attended the game, still remembers the thrill in the air that evening.
“It was awesome, unbelievable,” said Voss of Milan’s victory. “The fieldhouse was going berserk. The players were fantastic and always will be.”
“You can still hear everybody yelling for Milan,” said Eleanor Nichols, who was also at the game. “You couldn’t believe that sound. They couldn’t believe this little school.”
McKittrick has been assisted in organizing the museum by the Ripley County Tourism Bureau.
“When the movie ‘Hoosiers’ was on TV, my phone rang off the hook for the next week,” said Lydia Woodward, director of the Ripley County Tourism Bureau. “We are in the process of buying the building and getting a permanent structure up by 2004.”
The year 2004 will mark the 50th anniversary of the state championship.
Meanwhile, the precious antiques of Milan basketball found in McKittrick’s store continue to keep their luster.

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