Commentary

Real-life 'Hoosiers' and gym (continued)

Updated: June 1, 2010, 11:59 AM ET
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

Hoosier GymMike Fender "The gym represents a time in history that is being lost and forgotten," said the gym's Merv Kilmer.
• Photo gallery: Hoosier Gym | Video: Hoosier Gym Video and Butler Fieldhouse Video

The gym fit the bill of a 1950s-era gym so well that the only changes needed for the movie setting were re-painting the key to the old dimensions and replacing the glass backboards with wood.

What really caught the eyes of the film crew, however, were the bleachers, which are separated from the court by distinctive wainscoting that make fans seem as if they are sitting in a jury box. Which is fitting given how judiciously the townsfolk review their new coach in "Hoosiers."

The gym helped make "Hoosiers," and, it turn, "Hoosiers" saved the gym. Shortly after the movie's release, the city planned to tear down the old school and gym, citing high maintenance costs. Fortunately, citizens stepped up to save and preserve the gym; after all, how could they tear down a gym now so beloved worldwide it could make women from Japan and men from Oklahoma cry?

A history of Hoosiers

To get a better appreciation of where the whole "Hoosiers" phenomenon began, click here for images of Hoosier Gym in Knightstown, Ind.

Meanwhile, Jim Caple offers up a couple of video segments about how basketball in Indiana helped shape the formation of the movie "Hoosiers" and its settings:
Video Hoosier Gym
Video Butler Fieldhouse

If the lesson of "Field of Dreams" was, "Build it and they will come," the moral of the Hoosier Gym must be, "Leave the damn thing alone and they also will come."

And Hoosier Gym isn't exclusively old school, either. It's hip, too. Check out the Hometown Gym court option in EA Sports' "NBA Street Homecourt" video game. Look familiar? Yep, that's Melo going off in Hoosier Gym.

Kilmer said that because many of the local residents grew up with the gym -- and played in it -- they don't quite understand all the fuss about it. But he does. Like the best of the sports movie sites, it is not only a film location, it is a time and space machine that can transport us somewhere normally accessible only while sitting in a darkened theater with a sticky floor and the sound of people noisily munching popcorn.

"The gym represents a time in history that is being lost and forgotten," Kilmer said. "So many visitors who come here, particularly if they are middle age or older, they walk in and you can tell the wheels are turning because the next statement they make is, 'This reminds me of the gym I played in,' whether they come from Texas or Oklahoma or California or Florida, as well as Indiana and the surrounding states. It takes them back to an important time in their lives, that is being lost but that is very important to them and to our history."

Even Myra Fleener could understand that sentiment.

The rest of the top-five sports movie sites to tour

2. "Field of Dreams" (Field of Dreams, Dyersville, Iowa)

Yes, Roy. People will most definitely come. The day I visited the "Field of Dreams" site outside Dyersville and 20 miles west of the Mississippi (see Caple story), someone from Australia and two guys from Luxembourg were there, as well. And the thing is, neither of the guys from Luxembourg had even seen the movie. The field has such an effect on visitors that Debbie Lansing, who lived in the old farm house in the movie, says she once saw a man down on all fours in the field sobbing uncontrollably. The best time to visit is when the corn is high enough for you to emerge like a ghost of the 1919 White Sox. But squeeze in a visit whenever possible because the field is for sale (the asking price is $5.4 million) and who knows what will become of it.

3. "Bull Durham" (Durham Athletic Park, Durham, N.C.)

The groundskeeper at the old Durham Athletic Park told me during a visit a couple of years ago (see Caple story) that every day someone wants to go inside Crash Davis' former ballpark and take photos. And no wonder. Walk onto the mound and you can almost hear the players discussing what to get Millie and Jimmy for a wedding present. The Bulls moved out when Kevin Costner still had his real hair. But the old park is back in use again, and a visit will make you want to light candles or run around the base paths without your socks.

4. "Breaking Away" (Bloomington, Ind.)

No matter when you visit Bloomington and Indiana University, you can walk through the campus where Paul Dooley tells Dennis Christopher that, "You're not a cutter, I'm a cutter." Or sit by the stadium where Dennis Quaid laments that every year there is going to be a new hotshot kid on the football team and every year, "It's not going to be me." Or drop by the student union building where the fight broke out with the frat. Or hike out to the quarry and dive into the water. But to really appreciate where they made "Breaking Away," visit in late spring when they hold what inspired the movie: the annual Little 500 bike race. IU describes Little 500 Weekend as the greatest weekend in college, and it just might be right.

5. "Rocky" (Philadelphia Museum of Art)

Yeah, it's cheesy. Yeah, everyone does it. But so what? At least once you have to run up the steps to the Philadelphia Art Museum with "Gonna Fly Now" pounding on your iPod and raise your fists in triumph just like Sylvester Stallone. It's not quite Hoosier Gym or "Field of Dreams," but on the other hand, those sites don't also house one of the world's finest collections of Impressionist paintings.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your comments and travel questions to Jim,
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