Tour the Hoosier Gym, the Home Court of Basketball
by Mary Giorgio
If you put your effort and concentration into playing to your potential, to be the best that you can be, I don’t care what the scoreboard says at the end of the game, in my book we’re gonna be winners.
~Coach Dale (Gene Hackman). Hoosiers. 1986.
The 1986 film, Hoosiers, became an instant classic, stoking nostalgia for a simpler time The movie remains one of the greatest basketball films of all time, and the Hoosier Gym one of the greatest basketball pilgrimages of all-time.
Birth of Basket Ball [sic]
Just how Indiana became so enamored with basketball is the stuff of legends. Invented in 1891 by Massachusetts physical education teacher, James Naismith, basketball blossomed and developed into a popular competitive sport in the Hoosier state. In 1892, the Reverend Nicholas McKay learned of the game while searching for new activities for the Crawfordsville YMCA.
He soon incorporated the sport into gym activities. To McKay, basketball was the perfect outlet for physical education during the cold winter months. Word of the game soon spread to other Indiana communities. Teams popped up across the state. With them came innovations in equipment and rules.
In 1910, the first coordinated state high school basketball tournament was created. The final game of the season, played in 1911, saw Crawfordsville beat Lebanon 24-17. The 1920s saw Franklin High School dominate the sport, with three consecutive wins from 1920 to 1922.
One of the greatest legends in Indiana basketball, however, occurred years later in 1954. That year, the high school team from the small rural community of Milan, Indiana, defeated Muncie Central High School to win the coveted state basketball championship title. Their seemingly miraculous victory would leave an imprint on the memory of a state obsessed with basketball for decades to come. It would ultimately inspire the plot of the beloved film Hoosiers.
To preserve authenticity and lower production costs, a large portion of the film was shot in Indiana. State championship scenes were filmed at Butler’s Hinkle Fieldhouse. The fictional town of Hickory was portrayed by the town of New Richmond. An old school building in Ninevah was used for classroom footage. But the centerpiece of the film, the team gymnasium, took a little longer.
Searching for a Gymnasium
Constructed in 1921, the Knightstown building had once been a thriving gymnasium and community center. The gym was built as a result of true community spirit. Lacking a dedicated gymnasium, Knightstown’s high school basketball team had been playing their games in an assortment of makeshift venues, such as Bell’s Hall above the Jolly Drugstore and in the basement of the Presbyterian Church.
As in many other communities, the sport had taken hold of the hearts of Knightstown locals, and in February 1921, the community’s businessmen banded together to raise the funds to construct a gymnasium. They cobbled together $14,400 in donations and built their gymnasium by the year’s end. At 105 feet long and 80 feet wide, the large building could be used for basketball as well as community events.
To provide funds for maintenance and upkeep, locals generated revenue by hosting professional basketball games. In the ensuing years, they played host to the Michigan Rails and Baltimore Orioles basketball teams. The town also organized competitions among college basketball stars.
Over the years, the modest building grew. In 1936, the school board upgraded the building using funds from the Works Progress Administration. The building’s exterior received a facelift, while inside a new front entrance and lobby were added.
Dressing rooms were constructed in the building’s basement. An addition in 1952 added three classrooms to the building. The rooms were utilized as overflow space for art, music, and science classes. A kitchen and restrooms were also added.
As often happens with any old building, the Knightstown gym eventually became obsolete. In 1966, a new high school was constructed across town, complete with an onsite gymnasium. The Panthers of Knightstown played their last game at the old Knightstown gym in February 1966. The building closed to the public shortly thereafter.
twenty years would pass before anyone took an interest in the old building. That year, a film crew from Hollywood scoured Indiana looking for an appropriate site to serve as the home turf for the fictional Huskers high school basketball team in their upcoming film, Hoosiers. Untouched for almost 20 years, the gym had the historic tone and look the director sought.
Despite the movie’s stunning success, no immediate thought was put into preserving the now-famous gymnasium once filming wrapped up. Just a few years later, in 1988, the building faced demolition. A collaboration between Historic Landmarks of Indiana (now Indiana Landmarks) and Historic Knightstown spared the building its fate. The gym was restored and repurposed as a museum, community center, and event space. Today, the building is known as Hoosier Gym, named after the movie that made it famous.
Each year, high school basketball teams travel from across the Midwest for a chance to play in the famous gym. The site also hosts the famed Hoosiers Reunion All-star Classic tournament annually, featuring the state’s best high school athletes. When not hosting basketball games, the gym functions as a community center. Students play basketball in the gym after school. Locals use the space for lunch-hour walking.
Hoosier Gym has become a must-see stop for fans of Hoosiers and those interested in the history of basketball. The movie certainly has no shortage of devoted fans. Once nominated for two Oscars and voted by ESPN as the #1 Sports Film of All Time, thousands of visitors make the pilgrimage to Knightstown each year to pay homage to the iconic film.
Walking into the gym and basement locker room is like stepping onto the movie set – both have been preserved as they appeared in the beloved film.
The Hoosier Gym is open to visitors Sunday through Friday from 12 PM to 5 PM and Saturdays from 9 AM to 5 PM.