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Love 'Hoosiers'? What would you think of 'Hoosiers 2: East Chicago'?

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“Let’s win this one for all da region schools that never had a chance to get here.”

Indiana native Angelo Pizzo earned great acclaim for writing and producing “Hoosiers,” the story of an unlikely state basketball championship team that was deservedly declared by many to be the best sports movie of all time.

So how would you feel if Pizzo went back to the Indiana basketball well, this time riffing off of the undefeated 1969-70 state champions from East Chicago Roosevelt? From the Northwest Indiana Times:

Three years ago [former East Chicago Roosevelt High basketball player Napoleon] Brandford met with Angelo Pizzo, the Bloomington native who wrote and produced “Hoosiers.” … Pizzo is looking at reworking the screenplay about the Rough Riders, which already has been written.

“If I put my pen on paper, I will not be doing another version of ‘Hoosiers’,” Pizzo said. “Region basketball is not Indiana high school basketball. It’s much different. It’s a different culture. But it is a great story.”

Brandford wrote a book — “Hoosiers, too: The Road Warriors” — that chronicled the great E.C.R team. The investment banker has spoken with many about making this film. The first screenplay was written by Paul Quinn, brother of actor Aidan Quinn.

James D. Stern, an owner of the Chicago Bulls, has taken an interest in the project. …

Brandford said the movie about the Rough Riders will be made, but the economy has slowed the process. A year ago he had an option to make the movie with Endgame Entertainment. Some artistic liberties were taken initially with the story, so now it’s back to the drawing board, where Pizzo stepped in.

With all due respect to Pizzo’s moviemaking abilities, I don’t see why the 1969-70 East Chicago Roosevelt team would be so inherently fascinating. Yes, it didn’t have its own gym, and there are aspects of the racial tension of the time that might provide some drama. But it doesn’t seem to stand out to the level of supporting its own blockbuster story.

The team that Pizzo used for “Hoosiers” — the 1953-54 Milan Indians — worked because it was the ultimate underdog story, the ingrained symbol (at least in Indiana) for how anyone, with hard work and some pluck, could take on the mightiest foe. It wasn’t just the story of a basketball team; it was Indiana’s whole mythology, and partly explains why welfare benefits aren’t so generous there.

If there is another Indiana team to become fodder for a movie, it’s the one that succeeded Milan — the 1954-55 Indianapolis Crispus Attucks team, lead by Oscar Robertson. Talk about your black-white tension: while schools with black players were allowed in the Indiana state tournament, segregated, all-black schools such as Attucks (as well as parochial schools) weren’t allowed in until 1942. (That rule was put in place by Indiana’s Avery Brundage, a man named Arthur Trester. With no irony, the Indiana High School Athletic Association, which he once ran, hands out the Trester Award for Mental Attitude during the state tournament.)

Milan beat Robertson and Attucks during its 1954 title run, and “Hoosiers” gives that game a nod by casting the coach of that Attucks team, Ray Crowe, as South Bend Central’s coach in Hickory’s final game. In fact, “Hoosiers” sets up a “Hoosiers 2: Attucks” perfectly by its undercurrent of how Hickory was a last stand for rural Indiana, soon to be overtaken in importance by modern city life. The Attucks team isn’t interesting just because it was the first team from an all-black school to win the storied Indiana state basketball title. It’s also compelling because most of the players grew up together in the same housing complex, playing on a dirt court.

Interestingly enough, Robertson himself led an effort to make a movie made about his high school team. It was a documentary called “Something to Cheer About, and it was released in 2007. But a fictional version might spread the Attucks story more far and wide.

One problematic part: the ending. Attucks’ victory didn’t bring about instant racial reconciliation. It turned out the Indianapolis city fathers, either out of racism or a misguided feeling to let blacks enjoy “their” title, put the victory parade on Indiana Avenue near Attucks, then the center of the city’s black community, rather than around Monument Circle in the center of the city.

“Let’s win this one for all the small schools that never had a chance to get here”

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If you’re tearing up a little reading that headline, then you must be as big a fan of “Hoosiers” as I am. It’s not only the quintessential sports movie, but it’s also the quintessential youth sports movie, a look at how adults project their own hope and aspirations into their high school basketball team — and vice versa, as it turns out. Every inherent contradiction about youth sports glory is in this exchange, as Jimmy Chitwood’s guardian argues with Coach Norman Dale against Jimmy playing basketball:

Myra Fleener: You know, a basketball hero around here is treated like a god, er, uh, how can he ever find out what he can really do? I don’t want this to be the high point of his life. I’ve seen them, the real sad ones. They sit around the rest of their lives talking about the glory days when they were seventeen years old.

Coach Dale: You know, most people would kill… to be treated like a god, just for a few moments.

Part of the appeal of Hoosiers was its cast of basketball players. Except for David Niedorf, a professional actor, every one was a real life Hoosier, found through auditions. Interestingly enough, Maris Valainis, who played Jimmy Chitwood, was the only one who didn’t play high school basketball. But whatever happened to this guys?

I can tell you what happened as of 2004, when I wrote a story for Flak Magazine in which I caught up with as much of the cast as I could. I still get emails from people about the story, including one that popped up last night. I was inspired to write it after the suicide of Kent Poole, who played Merle Webb, the player who delivered the oft-quoted line that became the headline. It’s a where-are-they-now mixed with my own thoughts on the myths and realities of basketball in the state in which I grew up, and how those are reflected in the movie itself and the lives of the people who were in it.

I’ll link to the story here. Thanks for reading.

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