Bobby Plump and the 1954 Milan, Indiana, basketball were having an amazing year. But would they win the coveted prize – the state championship?
The fourth quarter of the game is said to be the most famous eight minutes of schoolboy basketball in history. Muncie was ahead. Then Milan. Then Muncie. Then a tie.
Bobby had the ball with just 18 seconds remaining. The crowd was on its feet screaming as Bobby dribbled the ball down court. He glanced at the clock. Six seconds left. Time to make his move. Faking left, then right, Bobby edged up to the free throw line, jumped and shot. Fans who saw it said the large orange orb seemed to arch up and drop in slow motion
“I knew when I released it, it was going in,” Bobby says. “I wasn’t really thinking too hard about it. My reactions just took over. If I had thought too much, I’d have probably missed it.”
The ball whooshed through the net with three seconds remaining. Milan was the new state champs. Pandemonium erupted. Mobbed by well wishers and media, Bobby and the players needed almost two hours to get back to the locker room.
Just as he had promised, Indianapolis motorcycle policeman Pat Stark closed off Monument Circle and escorted the newly crowned champions boys in a celebratory drive backwards to their Pennsylvania Hotel rooms around Indiana’s best-known landmark.
The next morning, the squad did what it usually did at home. Since it was Sunday, they went to church. Afterwards, they ate at the Apex Grill and headed back to Milan in three courtesy Cadillacs, with Pat Stark as an escort again.
In those days, there was no fast Interstate 74 linking Indianapolis and Cincinnati. The new champs traveled south on US421, with the blaring siren of Stark’s motorcycle leading the way. The parade quickly began to build. Police cars and fire engines joined in, their sirens wailing in celebration. It took the Indians 35 minutes to travel the 18 miles between Batesville and Sunman where the high school band turned out to greet them.
As the caravan got closer to Milan, the team began to see hastily-erected congratulatory signs. Thousands of cars were now lined bumper to bumper for at least 13 miles along cornfields to Milan. Both sides of the road were crowded with jubilant people waiting for their champs.
Coach Wood’s car stopped as the caravan entered Milan. Players Ray Craft and Ken Wendelman got out and rode the rest of the way on the Cadillac hood, holding the state championship trophy between them to share with the crowd. Near the school, even more people were waiting. Estimates placed the huge turnout at about 40,000 people – almost 40 times the population of Milan.
Making their way to the flatbed truck stage in front of the school, each player took a turn at the microphone thanking their parents, their coaches, and their community for their support. Said Coach Wood, “Boys like these make my life a dream.”
The coach’s wife, Mary Lou Wood, added her compliment that “it’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.”
And still it wasn’t over.