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When I recently wrote about 1954 "Milan Miracle" hero Bobby Plump and class basketball (One Size Fits All For Plump), the angry tweets and emails were like battery acid on linen.

To set the record straight, I was not devaluing the hard work and commitment of small-school coaches, bless them all. My target was a watered-down system and its effect on "Hoosier Hysteria" and slumping tournament attendance by adults.

Plump visited the Region on Friday for guest appearances at Webb Ford in Highland and Bridges' Scoreboard Restaurant in Griffith, both seemingly drawing mostly old-timers who still mourn the demise of open class basketball in the 1997-98 school year.

Bob Bradtke was among the first to give Plump a firm handshake at the Griffith appearance.

"We're two living members of history," Bradtke said.

The Hammond Sports Hall of Famer had a quality career at Bishop Noll, where he played nearly every position in baseball and was an all-state guard in basketball, playing with Oscar Robertson in the 1956 Indiana-Kentucky All-Star Game.

Upon graduating from Notre Dame, Bradtke returned to Hammond and coached Noll to sectional and regional basketball titles in 1973 and a state baseball championship in 1968.

"With only one class," he noted, "my goal was to win state in both sports."

Bradtke later coached basketball for two years at Whiting and five years at Gavit, where his Gladiators were a sectional champion in '78.

"When I was at Whiting, I was getting (survey) stuff in the mail in '75 and I signed 'Yes' I want to go to class (basketball)," Bradtke said. "I might've signed one when I was at Gavit, too.

"But I was with a small school and I could see things changing, basketball-wise, at different schools."

It didn't stop tiny Milan from ambushing powerful Muncie Central in the 1954 title game. Loogootee played in the 1970 and '75 state semifinals. Argos won 76 straight regular-season games (1978 to 81) and met perennial powerhouse Anderson in the '79 state semis. Plymouth shocked a loaded Roosevelt squad in '82.

That might have been "Hoosier Hysteria" at its best.

Bradtke was asked if he misses the open-class system.

"I cannot make a statement on that because I'm not really involved enough," he replied. "Back in '75, I said 'yes' (to class) because I was at Whiting and I didn't like the idea of getting killed by East Chicago Washington — but times have changed now in basketball.

"With the 3-point era and the AAU era, I could see where one class would be OK."

Improvised backboards and rims nailed into the side of a barn and the movie "Hoosiers" gave Indiana its long-standing basketball reputation nationally.

But it has since faded, like a pair of old jeans.

"It's hard talking about 'Hoosier Hysteria' today and its history without talking about the class system, but I'm not going to belabor the point because everybody knows how I feel about it," said Plump, adding he's still proud of the multi-class champions.

"The kids had nothing to do with it. 'Hoosier Hysteria' was made because everybody played against everybody else."

Those days are gone, I know, but the memories and sense of history must be kept alive — like when Bobby Plump and some buddies first nailed a backboard to the smokehouse in his hometown of Pierceville.

According to Plump, they played ball on a gravel lot, making it difficult to dribble, and their badge of honor were the scars from every bloody tumble.

"There was also a manure pile,” Plump recalled. “If you drove to the left-hand side, you often ended up in the manure pile. That was a good thing.

"They didn’t guard you too closely after you were in that manure pile.”

Such inspiring stories once made us unique.

But no more. Norman Rockwell has quit smiling.

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

 

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