It’s been 58 years since Bobby Plump hit “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World” when tiny Milan High School won the Indiana high school boys basketball state championship.
His enthusiasm for the play and for the sport hasn’t diminished over the years. Plump shared his thoughts on the long-ago shot Monday morning in Elkhart.
As the clock was winding down in the 1954 state championship game the Milan Indians (enrollment 161 students) and the Muncie Central Bearcats (1,662 students) were tied 30-30. Plump had been holding the basketball since the :18 mark before making his move at :06.
In his 1997 book “Bobby Plump: Last Of The Small Town Heroes” he described the final shot.
“I faked left, then went right. He dropped back a pretty good distance. At the edge of the free-throw line, I found myself open.”
The shot — one he said he had hit thousands of times — went in and the Indians became part of Indiana basketball folklore and the inspiration for the 1986 movie “Hoosiers” staring Gene Hackman and Dennis Hopper.
“It was a very good movie, but the only part that was factually accurate was the final :18,” the 75-year-old Plump said.
The were some similarities. Two years before the state championship Milan had fired its popular head coach Herman “Snort” Grinstead and hired 24-year-old Marvin Wood to coach the team.
“We called him Woody instead of coach since he was so close in age to us,” Plump said. “He changed our style of play from a run-run one to a more controlled game. He closed practices to the public. People wanted Woody fired because of all the changes, but after we won four of five games you couldn’t find anyone that wanted him fired.”
Plump may have hit the game-winning shot, but according to him he wasn’t the reason Milan won the state championship.
“We would not have won the state title without Marvin Wood,” he said. “He is the reason we won.”
Wood died of cancer in October of 1999.
“Woody had no ego whatsoever,” Plump said. “At the time he was the oldest man in the nation to have a stem cell transplant. He had been turned down by hospitals all over the country before Methodist Hospital accepted him. He asked them why and the doctors told him it was his attitude. He always said ‘Cancer is a word not a sentence.’”
Plump was not only on the state championship team - he won the Arthur L. Trester Mental Attitude Award and was later named Mr. Basketball, an unprecedented triple. He was inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in 1981.
Plump’s passion for basketball showed when he was asked about the series of 11 meetings the IHSAA is having around the state to see if people would like to stay with the current four-class system that has been in place since the 1997-98 season or return to the single-class tournament that was in place previously, including when Milan won its championship.
“One problem with the meetings is I don’t think you will get a true feeling of everybody,” he said. “I would rather see a referendum whether it’s binding or non-binding. One thing I haven’t heard the state say is if the majority of people want a single-class tournament they would return to that format.
“When the state went to class basketball one of the reasons was to do something about the declining attendance. The attendance has not come back with the four classes, it has gone down faster. People don’t care about who wins the state title anymore. In my day we always knew what team won state.
“We never talked about winning state. The big thing for us was the county tourney and then the sectional. The county tournament was the most important because it meant you were the king of basketball in your county.”
It has been 15 years since the format change and Plump feels that is a factor why some are against going back to the prior system.
“People forget what it was like,” he said. “The kids that are playing today have never known anything else but the four-class tournament.”
Plump referred to a recent survey of principals in the state about the question.
“Only 12 said they wanted to return to a single-class tournament,” he said. “A lot of principals are from other states and they don’t know what we had here in Indiana. When CBS Sports came and talked to me about the change the first thing they said was Indiana had the best state tournament in the country why did they change it?
“Look at the success the NCAA is having with its tournament right now. The interest is getting bigger all the time. Did you know that as interest began increasing the NCAA came to the state to see if they had copyrights on the terms Sweet 16 or Final Four?”
Plump has what he feels would be a good solution to the problem.
“My idea is to have two classes, one for larger schools and one for small schools at the sectional level,” he said. “Play 64 sectionals and then put all the schools into one tournament and play two-game regionals, two-game semistates and two-game state finals just like we used to do.
“I think that would increase the interest at the sectional level because you could have all the local rivals play and at the state level there would be more interest with only one tourney. Having rivals play in the sectional is important to generate interest, Under the class system a lot of those local rivalries are being lost.
“You can still have a small school do well. Look at Butler in recent NCAA tourneys. Did they win? No, but they sure created a lot of interest.”
After graduating from Milan, Plump went on to play basketball at Butler, where he was a four-year letterwinner and the team’s most valuable player as a junior and senior.
Plump also expressed his opinion about whether private schools that have no school district should be in a separate class as some have suggested.
“Do you think recruiting is new?” He said.
“Don’t you think all the communities that had General Motors plants like Anderson, Kokomo or New Castle weren’t finding jobs for parents of players?
Plump was in Elkhart to speak at a fund-raiser at McCarthy’s On The Riverwalk for State Representative Tim Neese who is running for re-election in District 48.