It’s always the glory days of basketball in Indiana. For more than 100 years, the sport has played an outsize role in the culture and traditions of the state, as fans fill high school and college gymnasiums to cheer on local teams and reminisce about previous victories. The Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in New Castle celebrates this enthusiasm. The 14,000-square-foot museum honors the players and teams that have brought recognition to the community and to their schools.
In addition to displays of jerseys, trophies, photos and other memorabilia, the museum offers interactive exhibits where visitors can make the game-winning shot, test their trivia knowledge or become an announcer on “You Make the Call.” They can try to block the shot of Oscar Robertson, who played for Crispus Attucks High School in Indianapolis and later for the Cincinnati Royals and Milwaukee Bucks of the NBA; or Stephanie White, who played for Seeger High School in West Lebanon, Purdue University and the Indiana Fever of the WNBA. They can also visit Enshrinement Hall, where black-and-white portraits permanently honor the inductees. This year’s awards banquet for inductees took place in October.
“Basketball has a long, rich history in Indiana, and passion for the sport is ingrained in Hoosiers from an early age,” says Representative Tom Saunders (R), who represents House District 54, which includes the Hall of Fame. “The Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in New Castle—housed next to one of the largest high school gymnasiums in the country, no less—is a testament to Henry County’s love for the sport,” he says, referring to the county where New Castle is located.
Senator Jean Leising (R), whose District 42 also includes the hall, says basketball has been Indiana’s game since the days of the single-class system, when the Indiana High School Athletic Association had only one category of competition. That changed in 1998, but before that, small schools competed against large schools and sometimes won. “The perfect example is the Milan team that won the state championship in 1954,” Leising says.
The 1986 movie “Hoosiers” was based on the Milan victory over Muncie. The Knightstown Gym in Henry County, where the “Hoosiers” was filmed, is now known as the Hoosier Gym and is an attraction in its own right.
Leising, who went to high school in Sunman, 9 miles from Milan, has her own basketball memories. “I served as a cheerleader from 1962 to 1966, and we were quite confident that Sunman would also win the state finals,” she says. “The Sunman Tigers did win the sectional in 1966. The entire town, including business owners, traveled in a caravan from Sunman to Connersville for the regional.”
Jean Leising, nee Schoettelkotte, far right above, was a Sunman Tigers cheerleader from 1962 to 1966.
Leising has toured the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame, and she especially appreciated seeing a Sunman Tigers jersey there. She also appreciates the game itself. “I believe that basketball in Indiana brings students, families and community members together for many evenings of entertainment,” she says. “This kind of activity strengthens families at a time when the family unit has deteriorated.”
Saunders says the Hall of Fame is popular among local fans and is a draw for tourists. “That's especially the case during the annual Raymond James Classic, which gives New Castle businesses a welcome economic boost each December,” he says. “Henry County is fortunate to be home to the Hall of Fame, and I make sure to visit it often and enjoy all it has to offer.”
Nora Caley is a Denver-based freelancer.