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“Hoosiers” is our March Madness Bucket List Pick


Dennis Hopper (left) and Gene Hackman star in “Hoosiers.”

Hoosiers: 1986 PG

Since we are in “March Madness” and the NCAA tourney is on everybody’s mind I thought that the Bucket List Pick for this month should be the iconic David versus Goliath film “Hoosiers.”  It stars the iconic cast of two-time Oscar winner Gene Hackman, Oscar Nominated Barbara Hershey, and Oscar Nominated Dennis Hopper (who received a supporting Oscar nomination for his role as “Shooter” in this film). 


The film is loosely based on the Milan High School team that won the 1954 Indiana State Championship.  It is one of my all-time favorite movies and should be seen by anyone who roots for the underdog and believes in the impossible.

The film takes place in the small town of Hickory, Indiana during the 1951 high school basketball season.  Coach Norman Dale (Gene Hackman) has just landed the head high school basketball coach job at Hickory High School.  He was hired by his long-time friend principal Cletus Summers (Sheb Wooley) despite his checkered past.  The team has had a couple of losing seasons and their best player (Jimmy Chitwood) has decided not to play for the High School team after the death of the previous coach.  The townspeople are passionate about basketball.  The State Championship is always the season goal.  In the state of Indiana, all high schools big and small play against each other to ultimately decide the State Champion.

Coach Dale is greeted with animosity and suspicion as his experience and training methods do not gel with the “shoot often” Hickory Huskers basketball team.  He handles this chaotic situation with the “tearing them down to build them back up” approach.  He teaches his team about trust, teamwork, and togetherness.  He institutes a pass first offense and a hard defense focused strategy that was little used by teams of that era.  Little by little the team begins to believe in Coach Dale’s methods and they start to win.

Coach Dale hires “Shooter” Flatch (Dennis Hopper) as his assistant coach to help him with scouting future opponents.  “Shooter” is the town drunk and the father of one of Coach Dale’s star players Everett Flatch (David Neidorf).  Not many coaches would give a person like “Shooter” such an opportunity.  Coach Dale knows a little something about second chances, as he was previously fired from coaching for hitting one of his players before taking the job at Hickory.

Halfway through the season the town has decided to vote out Coach Dale despite his recent success with the team.  To his sister’s (Myra Fleener played by Barbara Hershey) chagrin, Jimmy Chitwood (Maris Valainis) decides to join the team only if Coach Dale is the coach.  Receiving this new information, the Hickory townspeople revote to keep Coach Dale on as coach.  Myra begins to fall for Coach Dale, and the two start a relationship.

With Myra, Jimmy Chitwood, “Shooter,” the Hickory townspeople, and the supporting cast of teammates behind him, Coach Norman Dale takes the Huskers all the way to the Indiana State Championship game.  The final is against last year’s State Champion South Bend Central Bears.  The Bears are bigger, faster, and stronger than the Huskers and will be a true David versus Goliath battle.  This final game’s dramatic conclusion will live in infamy and will exemplify the definition of the underdog spirit and the belief in the impossible.

“Hoosiers” is so much more than a High School basketball movie.  It is a movie about second-chances, redemption, teamwork, faith and discipline.  It teaches us the life lessons of no “I” in team, belief in one’s self, trust, and the competitive spirit.  I have personally used some of these lessons learned from this film in my own coaching strategies.  I dedicate this review to my four brothers who religiously watched this movie a thousand times with me, quoting every line and believing that anything is possible.  They have taught me the meaning of Team and have given me the belief that in life when faced with that impossible shot….(in true Jimmy Chitwood fashion)…. “I’ll make it.”

“Hoosiers” is recommended to all audiences and should be shown as motivation for any sports team facing long odds.  I give it an emphatic 4 out of 4 stars and a must see on the Bucket List of Great All-Time Films.

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