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Carson: Small schools, big stages, bigger dreams

| Thursday, March 5, 2015

Growing up, most kids dream of something big.

Many dream of being the president or an astronaut. Others have illusions of grandeur about playing in the NFL or performing on Broadway.

But for me?

Stepping on the court during our basketball state tournament was plenty enough to dream for.

Where I come from, we have a saying:

“In 49 states, it’s just basketball. But this is Indiana.”

Tuesday marked the start of this year’s edition of the world’s greatest basketball tournament; thousands will flock to games on the path to Indianapolis and a state championship.

Ever seen “Hoosiers?” It’s pretty much a reality.

When small Milan High School won our all-comers tournament in 1954, it was huge news. Tens of thousands of fans lined the road back to the southeastern Indiana town, cheering on a team that in many cases wasn’t even theirs.

Basketball is everything in this state. Take a drive around the country roads every once in a while; you’ll find baskets on the side of worn-down barns; maybe a ball lying in the snow after another day of shoot around in the driveway. It’s quintessential Indiana, but in many ways, it’s also true.

Our state has a love affair with this sport, rivaled only by Texas’s passion for their Friday night football. Indiana has a vast majority of the world’s largest high school gyms — New Castle Fieldhouse seats more than 9,000 — and when tournament time or marquee matchups come along, they’re often filled to the rafters.

And while the state moved to basketball divided into classes by school size a little while ago, it hasn’t taken away the passion and fury of our state’s basketball fans.

When I was a senior, my high school made a run to semi-state, the state semifinal game. Our school had an enrollment between 250 and 300 students, and the team we were playing a similar number. Yet some of my best friends took the court in front of more than 7,000 spectators in John Mellencamp’s home town of Seymour.

Is there anything more Indiana than that?

And in case the enthusiasm wasn’t enough, there are moments of magic. I watched Mike Conley and Greg Oden team up at Lawrence North in Indianapolis, forming one of the best high school tandems you’ll ever see. I got the opportunity to see the Zeller kids play for Washington, whose Hatchet House is one of the coolest high school gyms you’ll find. And then there were the small-town teams I fell in love with every year, making runs deep in the tournament that saw an entire community rally behind a team.

Back to “Hoosiers.” It’s one of my favorite movies and this week, every year, I budget a couple hours in my day to sit down and watch it; to take in a classic film honoring our state’s greatest tradition. I get chills when Jimmy Chitwood says “I’ll make it” and listen to Jerry Goldsmith’s score non-stop.

Tuesday marked the start of sectionals week — and this year’s state tournament — and when I get done with classes tomorrow, I’m headed straight to a gym. It’s home and exactly where I always want to be when March rolls around.

When Milan pulled off one of our world’s greatest Cinderella stories 62 years ago, the goal was Hinkle Fieldhouse, the world’s greatest gym. Today the goal for thousands of high school players is Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the home of the Indiana Pacers.

Yet though the venue and format have changed, two things have remained constant. One of those is Indiana’s passion for this beautiful game. The other is the basket still measures 10 feet tall.

Just like our gym back in Hickory.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.


About Alex Carson

Alex Carson graduated from Notre Dame in 2017 after majoring in Applied and Computational Mathematics and Statistics and living in O’Neill Hall. Hailing from the Indianapolis area, but born in Youngstown, Ohio, Carson is a Cleveland sports fan convinced that he’s already lived the “best day of his life.” At The Observer, Carson was first a Sports Writer, then served as an Associate Sports Editor (2015/16) and an Assistant Managing Editor (2016/17), before finishing his tenure as a Senior Sports Writer. A man of strong convictions, he ardently believes that Carly Rae Jepsen's 2015 release E•MO•TION is the greatest album of his generation, and wakes up early on Saturday mornings to listen, or occasionally watch, his favorite least-favorite sports team, Aston Villa. When he isn’t writing, Carson spends his time counting down the days to the next running of the Indianapolis 500 and reminding people that the Victory March starts with the lyric, “Rally sons of Notre Dame,” not “Cheer, cheer for Old Notre Dame.”

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