Before there was March Madness, there was Hoosier Hysteria – the Indiana high school basketball single-class tournament.
It was late February, 1982 in Franklin, Indiana – the first round of the Johnson County sectional. The Greenwood Woodmen versus the Indian Creek Braves. Greenwood had travelled to Indian Creek just two weeks earlier and ended the Braves’ three-year undefeated home streak, but the Braves were perennial favorites, having beaten the Woodmen in two consecutive sectionals on controversial last-minute calls.
The team bus from Greenwood to Franklin was abuzz with eager anticipation. Following the bus was a fan caravan, complete with police escorts, resembling a New Orleans Mardi Gras parade. Directly behind the team bus was a pick up equipped with a toilet in the bed – a flannel-shirted logger dunking a long-haired, dark-skinned man, complete with sound effects and the sign “Woodmen – Flush the Braves”.
I was in a unique position, with ties to both schools. I had grown up in Nineveh (one of the towns within the Indian Creek district), but had moved to Greenwood in 7th grade. I knew all the players and many of the fans on both sides. But now I was firmly enmeshed in the green-and-gold and to the Indian Creek fans, those were the colors of a traitor.
As the bus pulled up to the entrance, a wall of police had to restrain on-rushing fans to make room for the bus. With many of the Greenwood fans following us, the crowd assembled was a sea of red-white-and-blue Braves. They began pointing and making gestures, screaming obscenities and calling us names as we exited the bus. It was a wall of sound, for which I was grateful. I couldn’t detect exactly what was being said, and I didn’t really want to know.
We were escorted to the locker room and quickly changed into our uniforms. Queen’s “We Are the Champions” and “We Will Rock You” had us jumping around, slapping high-fives and pounding the lockers.
Soon, it was time to gather around the coach for pre-game instructions. We were given our defensive assignments and some keys to remember. We were ready to storm out of the locker room and defeat the enemy.
Then, the coach’s voice became really soft. We quieted down to hear what he was saying.
“Guys, I want you to join me now for a prayer.”
We awkwardly huddled together and knelt down, our heads bowed.
“Almighty Father, we know you have already determined the outcome of this game. We just pray that you would help us do our best and accept your will. Amen.”
We raised our heads, and looked at each other. Was this it? A pre-determined outcome? Why bother playing the game? What about defeating the enemy? What about claiming the victory?
We went out that night and played perhaps the most lackluster ball we’d played all season. We were only going through the motions.
We made it close at the end, but we were beaten before it began.