Later this year, David Anspaugh’s classic film Hoosiers will mark its 30th anniversary. As we near this year’s IHSAA state basketball tournament, native Hoosier Rob Cleveland shares the impact the film has had on his life.
As a kid, I never had a special blanket. I never had a favorite stuffed animal nor a dream that I would play in the NFL. Therefore, I didn’t have a lot of experience of having to give things up. So, when the day came that I had to part with my VHS copy of the movie Hoosiers, I had a difficult time.
I’ve watched Hoosiers several hundred times. That VHS tape traveled with me to college, lasted longer than any girlfriend, and saw me through many Saturday nights between girlfriends.
The truth is, I held onto that VHS tape for several months after I received the DVD copy. You know, just in case the DVD was scratched, and just in case I happened to own the last copy of Hoosiers that existed on planet Earth. I simply couldn’t let go. We’d been through so much together.
I first watched Hoosiers at a theater in Florida during Spring Break. That’s what Hoosiers do – drive to Florida to sit inside a building and watch a movie about basketball. At least that’s what we used to do, prior to the IHSAA destroying the system.
Hoosiers debuted 30 years ago yet is more relevant and inspiring now than the day it was released. Like all truly unique tales, we all can relate to one of the various complicated story lines. You may know a person like Everett, whose father is an alcoholic, yet Everett finds a way to make it to school each day and excel despite the trying circumstances.
Or you know Strap – the Preacher’s kid that you hope to God your daughter chooses to bring home. And, we all know Rade Butcher, the wise-cracking, know-it-all who manages to be the coach’s favorite because he will run through a wall in order to win.
The film reaches Indiana natives on such a personal level. A unique aspect of the film is the way it tells a story that none of us are able to effectively relay to other people. Have you ever tried to explain the Indianapolis 500 to someone who has never attended or shared the concept of a breaded pork tenderloin to a non-Hoosier? The experience is impossible to demonstrate properly. Few things can explain being an Indiana native more precisely than the film Hoosiers.
Yet the film is dynamic in ways that go beyond Indiana “folk.” The heart of the Hoosiers message – the turning point in the film – is when Coach Dale visits Jimmy at his home, on Jimmy’s court and delivers those simple words, “I don’t care if you play on the team or not.”
This moment causes such a seismic shift for Jimmy (notice it is the only shot he misses in the scene) and is the one, undeniable part of the film we all have experienced. Whether it be in our own family, at work, at school or at play, none of us is bigger than the team. As Coach Dale says, “Five players on the floor functioning as one single unit: team, team, team. No one more important than the other.”
While you may think the movie is strictly for an older generation, I’d argue that you are sincerely wrong. With relative ease, you can search the internet and find an expert pontificating about the Millennial generation and its socialist views and sense of entitlement. The fact is, many in the Millennial generation are no different than Coach Dale. Millennials don’t need the most gifted or smartest teammate. Millennials don’t need the prettiest belle at the ball. Their way will do just fine. And Jimmy? He will get with the program or get lost.
Hoosiers is about adversity, redemption, perseverance and personal accountability. Yes, Hickory won a State Championship. David slung a stone that struck the Philistine. And, you’ll find those exact same measurements at your home gym. But it goes so much further.
What Hoosiers teaches us all is that life isn’t about being a superstar. Life is about being a super teammate.
Like many Hoosiers, I’ve met Bobby Plump and Ray Craft and know the true story of The Milan Miracle. I’ve shared the movie, and the true story, with my young children. While they’ll never truly understand the pre-class impact of Indiana high school basketball, I’m determined for them to understand the film’s true value. I’ve found, however, that getting my kids to watch Hoosiers has been a challenge.
“Dad, I don’t want to watch a sports movie,” they say.
“Great,” I tell them, “because Hoosiers is a movie about life.”
About Rob Cleveland
Cleveland grew up in Leesburg, Indiana and graduated from Warsaw Community High School and Ball State University. Currently the president and CEO of Benton Harbor, Michigan’s Cornerstone Alliance, Cleveland also worked as a video coordinator for the Indiana Pacers and Fever and worked in communications for Andretti Autosport.