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On This Date in Sports March 20, 1954: The Real Hoosiers

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In a moment that would become instant folklore, Milan High School beats Muncie Central 32-30 to win the Indiana State Basketball Championship on a buzzer-beater shot by Bobby Plump. The Indiana State Basketball Tournament allows small schools like Milan to compete against the bigger schools, with the Final Four in Indianapolis. Milan's victory dubbed the "Milan Miracle" would be the inspiration for the 1986 Film "Hoosiers." 

The Indiana Boys High School Basketball Tournament was first held in 1910, less than two decades after James Naismith nailed up the first peach basket in Springfield. The tournament did not classify the schools by size, allowing even the smallest schools the chance to be the State Champions. 

Muncie Central High was the top school in Indiana, having won the State Championship in 1951 and 1952. Milan was among the smallest communities in Indiana. A rural town in Southeast Indiana, Milan High School, had just 161 students enrolled in 1954, one-tenth of Muncie Central. 

The movie Hoosiers took its share of dramatic licensing. The real Milan had a young coach named Marvin Wood, who was 24 and had recently graduated from Butler University. Wood was in his third season at Milan. He replaced the popular Herman "Snort" Grinstead, who was fired for buying the team new uniforms without permission from school administrators. Milan had made a run to the semifinals in 1953, losing to South Bend Central in the semifinals. 

Milan had another strong season in 1954, as they had the same nucleus from the 1953 team. They posted a 19-2 record as they scheduled games against bigger schools to prepare for the tournament, knowing they had a team that could make history. The move paid off, as Milan easily made it through the sectionals and regionals to reach the Semi-State Finals at Butler Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Milan continued to excel in the semi states, reaching the Final Four with a win over Crispus Attucks from Indianapolis. Crispus Attucks, featuring NBA Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson, then a sophomore would win the next two Indiana State Championships. 

After a win over Gerstmeyer Tech from Terra Haute, Milan found itself on center stage for the championship game against Muncie Central. Knowing that Muncie had the superior players, Coach Wood had Milan hold the ball for long stretches, leading to the game being low scoring as it was tied 26-26 at the end of three quarters. At one stretch of the fourth quarter, Milan held the ball for four minutes without a shot. The game was tied 30-30 in the final seconds when Milan made their move. Bobby Plump, who had struggled at 2-for-10 from the field, had the ball and made a 14-footer as time expired from the win. 

Indiana would change the tournament in 1997, ending the dreams that another Milan would shock the world. The Milan story served as a template for the fictional Hickory team that was the center of "Hoosiers." The tournament helped make Butler Fieldhouse a hallowed institution in Indiana, as both the NBA's Indiana Pacers and NFL's Indianapolis Colts designed stadiums to look like larger versions of it. This helps add some luster to the 2021 NCAA Tournament, which is being held in a bubble within the state of Indiana, capitalizing on the nostalgia that was sparked by the Milan Miracle.