Gene White & Roger Schroder

Franklin College ’58

Phi Delt Hoosier Legends – Franklin College Phis, Gene White #33 and Roger Schroder #22, depicted in the film Hoosiers.

“A basketball hero around here is treated like a God.”– Hickory High School teacher Myra Fleener in Hoosiers.

For many, Hoosiers is one of the most cherished sports film of all time. As Phis, there is a special connection to the movie of which many people may not be aware. Brothers Gene White and Roger Schroder, who both spent their undergraduate days at Franklin College, played on the Milan Indians (Hickory High in Hoosiers) team that sparked a nationwide passion for the true underdog story. White was the starting center on the team.

In the movie, Gene Hackman coaches a 1950’s Indiana high school team in what could be his last shot at a title. This story is loosely based on a real event in 1954, when a team from a tiny high school in the farmlands of Indiana rose against all odds to win the state basketball championship.
In 1954, Milan was a quiet rural town in the southeastern part of Indiana, with a high school of 161 total students, 75 being boys. But it became the scene of one of the greatest basketball stories in history. Their championship season, immortalized in the 1986 film, had plenty of real-life drama, but a great deal of fictionalization was necessary for the Hollywood feature “because their lives were not dramatic enough. The guys were too nice, the team had no real conflict.” So changes were made.

Tiny Milan, with future Indiana Delta Phis, White and Schroder, dominated much larger schools on their way to a 28-2 record and the Indiana state finals. Among their victims was Oscar Robertson’s high school team (Crispus Attucks High School in Indianapolis). In the finals, they shocked everyone when they squeaked past powerhouse Muncie Central for the Indiana state crown on Bobby Plump’s last-second shot. It was considered one of the greatest basketball games ever played, and has attained a legendary status. In September 1999, Sports Illustrated named this team one of the top 20 teams of the century. The sports writers of Indiana named the “Milan Miracle” the #1 sports story in Indiana history.

It is a story that bears repeating. Milan’s 32-30 victory over heavily-favored Muncie Central has since been a rallying cry for every small school in the state. But the real story actually begins a year before that championship season. In the 1952-1953 season, their new coach, Marvin Wood, brought a “continuity basketball” program to one of the state’s smallest high schools and also taught his young charges a full-court trapping defense and a four-corners offense he called “the cat and mouse.” At first Wood was not very popular in the community — he was replacing a very popular coach, and closed the team’s practice sessions to the public while changing the offensive and defensive schemes. This caused quite a bit of controversy. But under his leadership, the Indians advanced to the final four of the state, bowing out in the semi-finals to South Bend Central (the school the fictional Hickory Hucksters defeated for the state title in Hoosiers). The nucleus of that team returned to form the ’54 championship team.

The Indians began their rise to the top of the 751 teams entered in that year’s tournament, with a record of 19-2. The mighty men of Milan then cruised through the state tournament relatively untested, until the final game against the Muncie Central Bearcats. Wood knew that his players would be intimidated in the spotlight of a state championship. So, in a scene recreated in the film, he measured the height of the basketball goal in the monstrous Hinkle Fieldhouse as the team took the floor for a practice, to illustrate that it was exactly the same height as the goal in the tiny gym at the team’s hometown school. That act, Rev. Daniel Motto later told the South Bend Tribune, was meant to reassure the team that, despite the enormous size of the field house where the state finals were being played, the team should “cast out their fear.” Motto said when he watched “Hoosiers” for the first time, he sat on the edge of his seat, waiting to make sure that scene was in it. When it was, Motto said, he knew the movie was truly inspired by Wood.

The final game was a bruising, low-scoring affair. The Indians were paced in scoring by senior Ray Craft. However, Coach Wood’s delay tactic game plan would place the ball in the trusty hands of another senior, Bobby Plump. With the score tied at 30-30 in the final quarter, Plump held the ball at the top of the key for four minutes before firing a shot that missed its target. The Indians kept Muncie Central from scoring on its next possession, setting the stage for Plump to redeem himself. The senior guard would not disappoint, draining a shot at the top of the key with barely any time left to win the state championship 32-30.

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