Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Hoosiers fan gets his wish

I'm not one to bogart someone else's big moment, but on Thursday I did have a wonderful time sharing a great experience of friends who were visiting Indianapolis from Omaha, Neb.

Tom and Mary Adams, both college acquaintances from our years living in Wisconsin, are flat-out fun people, and even without the piece de resistance that lie ahead when we made our reacquaintance Thursday, I knew it would be a good time. 

Some quick background: Tom (left) has been a rabid basketball fan for years. He's loved to play the game (and has had his share of injuries as mementos) and loves to watch and follow it. Until the motion picture Hoosiers was released in 1986, Tom had not heard of the 1954 David-beats-Goliath story of the "Milan Miracle" -- the small-school Milan High School (enrollment 161) basketball team that captured the imagination of all of Indiana when it defeated big-school Muncie Central (enrollment 1,600), 32-30, in the finals of Indiana's then-single-class basketball tournament. The close score wasn't the only dramatic element to the game; Milan's Bobby Plump sank a jump shot with only seconds left on the clock to give his team the margin of difference to claim the championship.

Ever since the release of Hoosiers, a fictionalized account that loosely based its storyline on the Milan Miracle, Tom has been obsessed with all things Hoosiers, Milan and Bobby Plump. Indeed, until Thursday, Tom had just two things on his "Bucket List." One was descending one side of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and climbing up the other side, something he's planning to do in May 2012. The other was meeting Bobby Plump. I vaguely recalled Tom mentioning his "fascination" with Hoosiers, the Milan story and Plump in June 2008, when Tom, Mary and another two dozen people from our circle of college friends held a reunion near Columbus, Wis. I even remember him mentioning at that time that he aspired to meet Plump some day. 

Tom recently built up the nerve to call long-distance to ask Bobby if he would agree to meet Tom and Mary at Plump's Indianapolis restaurant, "Plump's Last Shot," if Tom and Mary came to town. Plump warmly agreed, so the Adamses set up a time and date -- 6 p.m. Oct. 6 -- to do just that. Mary dropped me a note on Monday, Oct. 3, letting me know they'd be in town on the 6th and asked me to meet them at the restaurant at 6 p.m. that evening. I've lived in Indianapolis for some time, so I was chagrined to admit that I'd never been to Plump's restaurant until that day. But the prospect of having a face-to-face meeting with Bobby Plump -- and one arranged by someone else -- was beyond belief, but it was very exciting. 

Tom was in hoops heaven the whole night. The excitement was readily apparent even as we waited for Bobby to arrive. The several quaffs of Stella Artois didn't hurt, of course. Bobby sipped on diet cola as he fielded each and every one of our questions -- stuff he undoubtedly had been asked so many times before -- as if it were being asked the first time. He answered with animation and detail, as if all of us were longtime cronies. He indulged us, in fact, for longer than we ever expected. He signed a copy of his book, "Bobby Plump: Last of the Small Town Heroes" (photo at the top), for Tom and even agreed to go to the basketball hoop that was set up behind the eatery to allow Mary and I to snap pitcures of Tom going "one on one" with Bobby. The 75-year-old Plump sank the first shot he took. We were astounded. Then he mentioned casually that he hadn't played any ball in a couple of years. Again, amazed. 

Given Tom's fascination with Hoosiers, I was surprised that he wasn't aware that the film's screenwriter, Angelo Pizzo, and director, David Anspaugh, and Maris Valainis, the movie's Plump-like character, Jimmy Chitwood, would be appearing this weekend in Nineveh for a reunion and celebration marking the film's 25th year anniversary. Alas, Tom and Mary had made other plans and would not be able to take a side trip to see any of the festivities. Nineveh's old school building was the structure that served as Hickory High School (the Milan-equivalent school) in the movie. It was razed shortly after vandals set fire to the building in 1994, but the Nineveh Heritage Committee is trying to buy up property around the site to create a small park and erect a marker commemorating its formidable role in Hoosier Hysteria lore.

Above: Tom and Mary, near the end of dream night at Plump's Last Stand.
Above: Tom getting his picture taken with Bobby Plump. 
Above: Bobby agreed to pose with me, and I wasn't going to miss the opportunity. It was a thrill for me.

Above: The first of several shots outside and behind the eatery, when Tom and Bobby briefly shot at a basket attached to the building's roof. While I really don't know what Tom and Bobby were discussing, I joked to them afterward that this shot struck me as Bobby doing a Babe-Ruth-like "calling his shot" thing.

Above: Bobby following through on his first shot, which got nuthin' but net.

Above: I'd asked Tom and Bobby to pose for this, and Tom -- without any direction -- put a hand in Bobby's face, much to the Hoosier legend's amusement.

Above: Taken moments after the shot immediately above this. Tom's faux hand-in-the-face notwithstanding, Bobby got off a shot.

Above and below: Just two wall mementos in Plump's Last Shot. Bobby said the wood flooring framed above was from the actual basketball court at Milan High School where Plump and the Indians played their home games in 1954. Plump didn't take the piece until after the gym closed and a new school was built. Below, a newspaper spread marking the Milan Miracle, which occurred on March 13, 1954.

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