GUEST COMMENTARY: 1955 hoops game made history for U.S., Indiana

2014-01-07T00:00:00Z GUEST COMMENTARY: 1955 hoops game made history for U.S., IndianaBy Michael Phillips nwitimes.com
January 07, 2014 12:00 am  • 

The weekend of Nov. 29 was a watershed moment for celebrating great high school basketball in the Hoosier state.

The two teams that played for the 1955 state championship were in Gary. Most Hoosiers who love the game celebrate the 1954 state champion, Milan, and their upset of Muncie Central. The movie "Hoosiers" was written to celebrate this event, but until recently there had been no celebration or recognition for the game where an all African-American team won the first state championship in any sport in U.S. history.

The fact that two teams of African-Americans made it to the state championship game the same year Emmitt Til was murdered is even more remarkable. The accomplishment of Indianapolis Crispus Attucks and Gary Roosevelt is worthy of recognition.

The United States and Indiana were very different back then. There was no integration or equal treatment under the law for African-Americans. But the struggle to live the best life you could while fighting for justice continued.

It was against this backdrop that prepsters like Dr. Dick Barnett, Jake Eison and the great Oscar Robertson stood on history's stage, unaware of its significance, trying to win a basketball game.

I continue to be amazed at how ESPN blatantly ignores the contribution of these two teams to the history of Indiana prep basketball while praising the victory by little Milan High School only one year before.

How can you recognize Bobby Plump but ignore Dick Barnett and Oscar Robertson? These two men became giants in the game of basketball on the college and professional levels. The other members of the Crispus Attucks and Gary Roosevelt teams went on to become solid citizens and contributors to society with almost no recognition until this event in November.

Two major points need to be made about the importance of the 1955 Indiana state championship game. First, this game helped to end segregation in education in the state. Second, this game marked the beginning of a new era of basketball where athleticism became more of a factor and the performance of the African-American athlete became more dominant across the country.

Finally, Oscar Robertson was among several players who challenged the NBA owners for the players to have the right to bargain collectively and become free agents that led to the big money contracts players enjoy today.

Michael Phillips is a 1976 graduate of East Chicago Washington and a member of the 26-2 state finalists. The opinion is the writer's.

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