Monday, April 5, 2021

Hoosiers: A Tale of Inspiration and Second Chances

Gene Hackman as Coach Norman.
Second chances, the popularity of small town sports, and teamwork are the themes that underlie Hoosiers, a surprise 1986 boxoffice hit.

Gene Hackman stars as Dale Norman, a formerly disgraced college basketball coach hired at Hickory High School. The team has only seven players...and that includes the equipment manager who plays in practice only. Jimmy Chitwood, the town's best player, left the team following the death of the former coach, a father figure to the lad.

Coach Norman clashes with the townsfolk almost immediately, starting with a teacher (Barbara Hershey) who questions his education qualifications. The players' parents don't condone his pass-first basketball approach (four passes before a shot!) and his closed practices. It's not long with there's a petition to remove Norman from his job--although there are those who come to admire his emphasis on teamwork and discipline.

Barbara Hershey.
Hoosiers is a sports movie and a very good one. Set in the 1950s, it captures the importance of basketball in a small town devoid of other forms of entertainment. Heck, the school is too small to field a football or a baseball team, so basketball is everything. As Hershey's teacher says: "You know, a basketball hero around here is treated like a god...I've seen them, the real sad ones. They sit around the rest of their lives talking about the glory days when they were seventeen years old."

Dale Norman loves the game of basketball and recognizes a great player when he sees one. But for him, there are no individual heroes, only teams where the players work together to achieve the victory. I think this is what make Hoosiers a favorite among many real-life basketball players. When the 2002 Indiana University Hoosiers made an unlikely run to the NCAA championship game (ultimately losing to Maryland), the players watched Hoosiers before each tournament game.

Dennis Hopper as Shooter.
Yet, Hoosiers is also a movie about giving second chances and making the most of those opportunities. Coach Norman gets his chance to coach again because the high school principal, an old friend, believes in him. Norman pays it forward by taking on Shooter (Dennis Hopper), an alcoholic former high school star who happens to be the father of one of Norman's players. In one of the film's most amusing scenes, Norman gets intentionally thrown out of a game so that Shooter has to step up and coach the team. Hopper isn't in much of Hoosiers, but he brings out his character's love of the game and his desire to fight the demons that separated him from his family. It's a performance that earned Hopper a Best Supporting Actor nomination (though his best performance of 1986 was in David Lynch's riveting Blue Velvet).

During the filming of Hoosiers, Gene Hackman clashed almost daily with rookie director David Anspaugh and was convinced the film would flop. But after seeing the rough cut, Hackman knew that Hoosiers was special. The story is inspirational and the acting good, but it's the little touches that make it memorable: the autumn colors, the wind blowing through the fields, Jerry Goldsmith's Oscar-nominated score.

The plot of Hoosiers was inspired by the 1954 Milan high school basketball team. Milan, Indiana, boasted a population of just over a 1,000 residents. And yet its high school basketball team played toe-to-toe with the biggest and best Indiana schools for two years. They almost won the state championship in 1953 and then accomplished the feat in 1954 in what has been dubbed The Milan Miracle.


  1. I recall being pleasantly surprised and moved by Hoosiers way back in 1986. I don't recall watching it since then so I suppose there will be no objections from hubby if I suggest it.

  2. I love 'Hoosiers" for the positive message it gives and how much it affected me when I watch it everytime.

  3. Setting aside that "Hoosiers" was based on a true story, I always thought an interesting place to end the movie would have been as the team was in the locker room getting ready for the championship game. The coaches and players take stock of how far they've come to get to this point, and how much each of them has changed. Ultimately, it doesn't matter whether they win or lose the game; they've already won in a much bigger way. They break out laughing, with the stress melting away, and head out to the court for the start of the game. The End.

    Of course, I also realize that I've probably described the art house version of "Hoosiers," and that a lot of people wouldn't have liked the ending. You have to admit, though, that this puts a different spin on it!

    1. An "arthouse" ending is an apt description...but it would have been interesting.

  4. Great sports movie. Always feel it should be rated higher at IMDB (kids these days). I think I heard somewhere or other that Barbara Hershey thought she was going to be the central character, hard to see how that could happen when it's about a basketball team.

    BTW, the movie is now out there on YouTube. They now have a movie channel (is that new? I think it is) with some movies available for free, some to rent. Hoosiers is a freebie.

    1. Patrick, thanks for letting people know it's currently on YT for free!

  5. I'm not a basketball fan, so I had very low expectations of this film going in...and was pleasantly surprised. It's an inspiring, memorable film, and one I ought to revisit.

    I love the idea of an "art house" ending as proposed by a previous commenter. Brilliant!