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"The other purpose served...is the more tangible one of bolstering the crucial getting-a-living activity by which the city lives and prospers." For a present-day example one might cite pages of advertisements at tournament time in which merchants congratulate the local team and urge them on to victory. Or elaborate displays in downtown shop windows. Or big civic dinners for the boys when they come home, winners or losers.
Where adult personal life is concerned, high school basketball can sometimes get in the way. But basketball always comes first. Witness the case of a Muncie lawyer's wife who wanted to attend the state tournament at Indianapolis but who, unfortunately, was expecting a baby about that time.
"The doctor told me I could go," she said, "but I mustn't allow myself to get excited. So I sat real still and didn't yell at all, and everything went fine."
Dale Burgess, of the Associated Press, Indianapolis, tells about a family crisis at Anderson during sectional play leading to the Hoosier finals. A farm family had tickets for the game. One of their sows, however, died (perhaps of excitement) the day before the local tournament was to start. Worse, she had just birthed a litter of fine pigs needing attention. The Indiana farm family solved that problem by putting the piglets in a basket and taking them to the tourney, giving them their bottle between halves.
Burgess, incidentally, believes high school basketball goes over bigger in Indiana mainly because of the tremendous radio and newspaper publicity given to games throughout the season. It's Page One news, with streamers, especially during the finals. Moreover, Burgess says, Indiana uses the one-class tourney system, with all teams eligible regardless of size. Other states, like Ohio and Texas, break up their tournament into classes, according to school enrollment, and the excitement isn't the same.
"The thriller is the crossroads team beating the big-city school," Burgess reports. "It doesn't happen often, but just often enough. Thus, when one of the small-town teams reaches the semifinals in Indianapolis, police and firemen of neighboring towns move in and protect the village while everyone is away."
In a city the size of Muncie, which is a manufacturing center of some 65,000 population, attendance at games during the season is, perforce, largely via TV and post-mortem conferences on street corners. But when tournament time comes and the Bearcats are in Indianapolis, a strange miasma of joy and fear pervades the town. Radios blast out scores inside the normally hushed Merchants National Bank, and on many a store front is hung the hastily scribbled sign: "Gone to Indianapolis—Yea Bearcats!"
Last March Muncie's beloved Bearcats played Crispus Attucks, an Indianapolis Negro high school team, in the crucial quarter-final game. Both teams were rated tops by sportswriters, and the whole state talked of little else. (It is not unusual for wayfaring Hoosiers to call Indiana newspapers and radio stations from California or Texas at such times.) Muncie police estimated that 8,000 local fans drove to Indianapolis, 60 miles away, for the game. Those who couldn't get inside Butler field house could engage in parades, singing, hotel celebrations and the like.
That March afternoon, a Saturday, I sat around a local clubroom listening to a radio broadcast of the game between Muncie and Rushville, the winner of which would meet Crispus Attucks that night. Next to me was one of Muncie's leading lawyers. An elderly insurance man sat on the sofa, crossing and uncrossing his legs, as Muncie scored, then Rushville, then Muncie again. When a player would shoot or pass, the TV viewers would make motions with their arms, helping or guarding him, and shout with each success or failure. Or, during lulls, corporation VPs would argue learnedly over what ought to be done next by our boys in Indianapolis.