The game of basketball came to Indiana in 1892, and it arrived at the YMCA in Crawfordsville. It makes sense then that the first eight Indiana high school champions were schools within 30 miles of the Montgomery County seat, including the first title going to Crawfordsville High. Indiana is the true home of the game, and Montgomery County is the “Cradle of Basketball”. Here are stories and landmarks that make it an incredible place for hoops history.
Wingate (population 446 in 1910), in northern Montgomery County, didn’t have a gym. The “Gymless Wonders” team played games on the road. They practiced outdoors, and twice a week in nearby New Richmond’s gym. Wingate coach Jesse Wood, a former basketball player at Indiana State Normal School (now Indiana State) led the unknown Wingate team to the state title at Indiana University in 1913. They defeated South Bend 15-14 in five overtimes!
Wingate defeated Anderson 36-8 in the 1914 championship game – the first back-to-back state title win. Homer Stonebraker, a 1914 graduate, once scored 74 points in a single game. A livery stable was converted into a gym in 1925.
Montgomery County, between Indianapolis and Lafayette in west central Indiana, is the “Cradle of Basketball.” “The first 8 Indiana High School state championships were won by schools within 30 miles of Crawfordsville. Crawfordsville won the first in 1911,” according to Jared McMurry, sports writer for the Crawfordsville Journal Review.
Crawfordsville was the school to beat. “From 1915 to 1969 Crawfordsville won 32 sectional titles,” McMurry says. Along came Waynetown in 1970.
Kim “The Closer” Suitors and his Waynetown High School teammates continue to be honored by North Montgomery athletics. The 1970 team was the last county school to win sectionals. Suitors scored 17 points in the final quarter in the 74-69 surprise upset over Crawfordsville. Waynetown recently erected a memorial wall at the site of the school, which burned down years ago.
The Alamo gym south of Waynetown has fallen into disrepair. The beautiful murals on the 1941 façade are still visible. Charles Bowerman, who played for Alamo 1954-1957, is in the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame.
If you’re a fan of the movie “Hoosiers” you might recognize New Richmond, also known as the town of “Hickory.” The town has embraced the notoriety gained from its part in the film. Drive into town and it doesn’t take long to find the Hickory Cafe, across from the “Hickory” Post Office.
Kathy Brown at Crawfordsville’s Carnegie Museum shared that “Hoosiers” producers wanted to shoot the entire film in Waveland, several miles to the south. The town had just gotten approval to tear down the old gym and didn’t want to delay the demolition for a year.
The Indiana High School Boys Basketball Tournament is the oldest state high school basketball tournament in America. A marker at 103 W. Main Street in Crawfordsville highlights the beginnings of the game in Indiana.
The Basketball Heritage Project continues to promote area’s basketball stories. Check out the memorabilia in the Carnegie Museum, the Fusion 54 building (second floor) and various sites throughout Montgomery County.
The “Cradle of Basketball” has a rich and far-reaching history. Ward Lambert, the only Montgomery County player in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, played at Crawfordsville High School and Wabash College (a 1911 graduate). He went on to become a legendary coach at Purdue University.
Lambert coached another legend of the game, John Wooden (UCLA), at Purdue. Wooden played high school basketball at a small gym in Martinsville, went to college at Purdue and then coached at South Bend and Indiana State. Wooden built a basketball dynasty at UCLA.
“Wooden’s last game coaching was the Final Four championship game in 1975 in Indianapolis where he beat Kentucky” says former AP photographer Brian Horton. “So, his basketball career began and ended about 50 miles apart.” In Indiana.
The early days of “Hoosier Hysteria,” small schools going up against large “Goliaths,” no longer exists. With “March Madness” based here this year, Indiana hardwoods are once again the center of the basketball universe!