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Hoosiers Gym

Conner TenHove jumps for the opening tip in Valparaiso's January 2016 game against Zionsville at Knightstown, the home gym for the Hickory Huskers in the movie "Hoosiers." Wheeler will host a tournament there Dec. 29-30 that will include Hobart and Lake Station. 

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For 30 bucks, I could cruise down to Knightstown and shoot around for an hour on the same court as Jimmy, Strap, Buddy and Ollie.

The gym used as Hickory's home floor in the movie "Hoosiers" is available for rent, at said rate, whether for a high school game or a group of old ballers wanting to make their own memories.

On Dec. 29-30, it will play host to its first tournament, the Wheeler North-South Classic. The idea was hatched by a parent in the Bearcats' Point Guard Club and coach Tom Johnson, a big hoops history buff, ran with it from there.

"I grew up in a family where Indiana high school basketball is sacred. It's one of the strongest bonds I have with my parents," Johnson said. "I've been really lucky in the places I've gotten to coach, Hinkel, Mackey, the Hoosier Dome, Bankers Life. Coaching at that gym was by far the best experience I've ever had. There were times when the game's going on and I have to refocus, thinking how many times I'd seen this gym in the movie."

Wheeler played in Knightstown in January of 2016.

"We were doing the tour and I almost ran into (Wheeler athletic director) Randy (Stelter)," Johnson said. "He's like, what's wrong? I go, 'that's the locker room.' I could almost see Gene Hackman sitting there with his head in his hands, thinking he was going to get fired. I enjoyed it so much."

The Bearcats were part of a holiday tourney in Lawrenceburg last year. As part of the trip, the team visited the Milan museum and the Indiana High School Basketball Hall of Fame in New Castle.

"It was a fun trip," he said. "I'm ecstatic to have a group of kids with an understanding of how the game came to be. I'm proud of the fact they appreciate the history. That used to be the rule. Now it's the exception."

Johnson initially raised the idea of Lawrenceburg hosting the event at Knightstown, but they declined, so Johnson set out to organize it in February.

"My biggest concern is running a tournament three hours from home," he said. "I've run a lot of events, but hosting in your own place, there are a lot of logistics you don't have to worry about. It's quite expensive to pull off, renting the gym, paying for officials, hotel rooms, and a lot of leg work as well. Without our parents, there was no way. There wouldn't even have been a conversation about it."

Johnson chose to cap the field at six teams for starters, three each from the north and south, and aimed to make it for public schools of a similar talent level. He posted the announcement on a variety of sites and received inquiries from as far as away as Mississippi and Wisconsin. A Tennessee team was ranked 11th nationally in USA Today at the end of last season, which was too rich for Johnson's blood.

"One good thing about coaching all over the northern half of the state is I know a lot of people," he said. "That networking helped. We had a lot of action from Ohio teams. If they could play two games in a day, we'd have 16 (teams) easy. They're trying to work something out with their commissioner where if it works well and we do it again, they'll play. I'm hoping it's successful and if people like it, we'd like to make it an annual thing."

Hobart, then coached by Mike Black, was the first to contact Johnson. Black, who since stepped down to become assistant AD, loved the idea. Part of his plan was to have the team watch "Hoosiers" in the school auditorium before leaving. Black shot around with his daughters in the gym last spring and still intends to go and watch with his family.

"I'm really excited about the opportunity to play there," Brickies coach Mike Brown said. "We are going to talk to our kids about the historical significance of that gym and the movie "Hoosiers" and how much that movie and run by Milan impacted basketball in this state. Getting the chance to play in a tournament-type atmosphere in such a historic setting is something you can't take for granted."

Lake Station, Morristown, Union City and Cambridge City Lincoln round out the field.

"My last few years of coaching, I really wanted to do something every year that was memorable to the kids as players and as kids. That was the impetus," Johnson said. "The happiest part for me is how excited the kids, our basketball family, are excited about it."

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at james.peters@nwi.com.

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Sports reporter

Jim was keeping standings on his chalkboard from the time he could print and keeping kickball stats in grade school at St. Bridget's. He covers all manner of prep sports for The Times and is a long-suffering Chicago Cubs fan.