In Memory of the Late, Great Hoosier Hysteria

Before I type a word of this, I realize that I am running the risk of sounding like a crotchety old curmudgeon shouting down young whipper-snappers to get out of my yard and, perhaps, that’s an accurate description of me but, here goes.

Once upon a time, there was this phenomenon known as Hoosier Hysteria. You had to be here and experience it to really understand. In my opinion, if you were born much after say, the early 80s, you never truly experienced it, not so you could remember it anyway.

Hoosier Hysteria died in the late 90s. Before I go any further, let me define Hoosier Hysteria the way I see it. When I say Hoosier Hysteria, I am not talking about a great product on the court. That can still be found today every bit as much as it ever could. Pound for pound, Indiana still produces the best quality high school basketball to be found anywhere in the country. Rosters of the nation’s top college programs and the NBA bear that fact out. The Hoosier state is still a hotbed for great basketball talent. To me, Hoosier Hysteria was found not on the court, but off it. It was in the lines at the ticket booth and in the lines of fan busses traveling snowy back roads packed with a healthy portion of small town populations going behind enemy lines to do battle with hated rivals. It was found in gyms, big and small, packed to the rafters every weekend. It was found in the statistic that 15 of the largest 16 high school gymnasiums in the world were found in the Hoosier state (as reported by the New York Times) in 1998, the same year Hoosier Hysteria died.

The argument for class basketball is, undoubtedly, a strong one. To pit schools with a few hundred students against mega-schools of 3-4,000 enrollment seems unfair, if not downright cruel. Perhaps it is, but they don’t make movies about a school of 3,000 beating a school of 4,000 for the state title.

I was fortunate to play for a legendary coach (Garth Cone) of a smallish high school program in Alexandria. When I played, our enrollment was somewhere in the area of 650-700. Alexandria, at that time, had a population of somewhere between 5,000 and 6,000. Our gym had a capacity of 3,400…think about that, our gym could hold over half of the fannies in our entire town. That wasn’t an anomaly, lots of small towns could say that in the Hoosier state. Why, you ask, did they built the gyms so large? Because they needed all those seats, and sometimes more! That was back when Hoosier Hysteria was still alive. When they build new schools now, the gyms are usually smaller.

Alexandria played in the Anderson basketball sectional. Anderson, in my day, was an industrial city of between 60-70,000. When I was in high school, Delco-Remy was in steep decline, but was still kicking, and Anderson still had three high schools, Anderson, Highland, and Madison Heights, all of which were normally basketball powerhouses. Anderson High School boasted the second largest high school gymnasium in the world, the famed Wigwam (capacity, 8996, but let’s go ahead and call it 9,000). The largest gym is in New Castle, Indiana, which holds a little over 9,000 (having been in both gyms, I can assure you that the Wigwam actually felt much larger.)

That picture at the top is of the Wigwam at sectional time.

Some of my first sports memories are of walking into the Wigwam for sectionals. It was a magical atmosphere, just magical.

Perhaps nothing illustrates the magnitude of Hoosier Hysteria more than this memory; in my day, season ticket holders at Alexandria (and probably other schools, too, I would guess) actually had to enter into a lottery for a chance to buy sectional tickets! After the last regular season home game, season ticket holders wanting a chance to go to the sectional waited around after the game and there was a drawing for the privilege of buying one of the allotment of tickets for our school…this for a gym that sat 9,000 people!

There were 8 teams in the Anderson Sectional (in my time, at least), the three Anderson schools, my Alexandria Tigers, Lapel, Pendleton Heights, Frankton, and Daleville. If you are thinking that one of the Anderson schools won every year, you’d almost be right…almost.

I graduated high school in 1985. Every Alexandria kid my age could tell you that the last time the Tigers won the sectional was 1963. That was a legendary date etched in the brains of all young Tigers. We all dreamed of changing that date. Some got close. In 1982, Alexandria had one of their best teams. They were ranked 14th in the state (that’s way before class basketball, remember.) Hopes were high but measured because Anderson and Highland were both rated in the top 10. It is a shame that Tiger team came through in that particular year because they’d have won the sectional a lot of other years–but timing, as they say, is everything. That sectional turned out to be legendary. It came down to Highland and Madison Heights in the final. Hoosier Hysteria was at its peak before that game as the 9,000 seats of the Wigwam were not nearly enough for the amount of folks wanting to get in. Tickets were being scalped for ridiculous sums of money for a high school basketball game. Madison Heights ended up winning in a true classic as Stew Robinson (who went on to play at Indiana University) sank the winning free throw with no time left on the clock. I was a freshman and didn’t play on the varsity. I did get to play in the next three Anderson sectionals that followed it, though. I didn’t get to experience winning a sectional, but I got to play against the likes of Mr. Basketball (and future Purdue standout) Troy Lewis. My senior year, we drew Madison Heights in the first round. That game stands out as my most memorable Hoosier Hysteria experience as a player.

We got down early in the game. If memory serves, we trailed by as many as 16 or 17 points in the first half and just were not playing up to our potential. Then we started to turn the tables. Now, one of the coolest aspects of the brand of Hoosier Hysteria found in the Wigwam during sectional time was the way the crowd would take sides. You see, all schools’ fans turned out for every session, even if their team wasn’t playing. This created an electric atmosphere, especially if a small school was in a tight game with a city school. Often, one school’s fans, like Anderson, for instance, would start up a chant of SECTIONAL…SECTIONAL…and between their chant, all the oher schools would begin to chant NO WAY. Soon there would be a deafening cacophony of SECTIONAL…NO WAY…SECTIONAL…NO WAY…and so on. If I close my eyes, I can still hear it. Whenever a small school began to make a run at an Anderson school, all the other teams’ fanbases would swell with boisterous support of the underdog. It happened every year. I had sat in the stands many times and played a role in it. My senior year, I got to experience that on the court as a player. We began to play better and clawed away at the lead. By late in the game we had caught the Madison Heights Pirates, coming all the way back from a big deficit. The entire Wigwam crowd except, of course, the Pirates’ section, was raining thunderous support down upon us. Here is a picture of me during those moments that appeared in one of the local papers (note the sheer volume of people in the stands in the background–hard to find scenes like that anymore.)

My team ended up running out of steam after climbing all the way out of our hole that night and we lost a close one. Heartbreaking to be sure, but I wouldn’t trade that experience for a modern 2A sectional championship. That may sound crazy to you, but I mean it. In Alexandria, we were raised to want to beat Goliath. Guess what? David did beat Goliath in the Anderson sectional that very year as tiny Daleville shocked the world to take the championship.

Then, four years later, in 1989, I got to see my brother etch a new date into the minds of young Alex Tigers. Led by Derek Thurston, my brother, Chad, John Steele, and others, the 1989 Alexandria Tigers entered the Anderson Sectional as a bonafide contender, boasting one of their strongest squads in memory. I sat among the frenzied throng as the Tigers powered their way to the Sectional championship that year. I can’t remember a more euphoric sports moment that I have ever personally experienced (Colts’ Super Bowl championship, maybe…maybe.) A new date, 1989, could be added next to that fabled 1963 and a handful of other championship seasons before that.  Alexandria would add another sectional (as well as regional) championship to the trophy case before the end of single class basketball, in 1995, with a team led by two all-state players, Mickey Hoosier and Chris Hahn.

Class basketball came in 1998 and Hoosier Hysteria, as we knew it, died a quick death. The state basketball tournament attendance figures took an immediate hit and have never recovered. From its peak years when state-wide tournament attendance topped 1 million, the first year of class basketball saw those figures fall below half a million and they have never surpassed that mark since.

A lot more schools have a lot more trophies in the case in the years since 1998. I suppose that has its merits. In fact, Alexandria, perhaps fittingly, won the very first class 2A state championship in 1998. I was mighty happy to see that, and especially proud to see my old coach, Garth Cone, get to be crowned with a state championship. Everyone in Alexandria is quite proud of that accomplishment, as they should be, but…

During the heyday of Hoosier Hysteria, young Tigers were taught that we were supposed to beat the schools our size. We were trained to seek out Goliath.

When I think about the greatest moments of Hoosier Hysteria I was privileged to witness, I think of those moments in 1985 when I experienced the thrill of potential victory followed the sting of ultimate defeat, 1989 when I watched my brother capture the prize, and 1995 when I watched the Tigers take it all the way to the Semi State in Hinkle Fieldhouse…the very same barn where the Milan Miracle happened in 1954. They made a movie about that.

I watched the 1998 2A state championship on television. I was extremely proud of my Tigers and my former coach. But that was the year after Hoosier Hysteria died. David beat David that year. They don’t make movies about that.


25 thoughts on “In Memory of the Late, Great Hoosier Hysteria

  1. Great story. I covered high school football for about five years early in my newspaper career. I thought there was some real hysteria in Virginia back in the ’70s, but it was nothing like this.


  2. Great article. Enjoyed it and remember this time period very well. I also, am working on a sports piece during this great time of Hoosier Hysteria. I have been filming and putting together a documentary on the late Highland High School coach, Bob Fuller. Reliving this time period has been a dream……… GP


    1. Check out the underlying story line of the undefeated (David) South Ripley Raiders vs (Goliath) Crispus Attacks in March 1970 at Hinkle Fieldhouse. The underlying drama for the 26-0 Raiders is really a truly human interest story. Lots written about it by the Cincinnati Enquirer, Cincinnati Post, and Indianapolis News/Star!


  3. Great article, Shane! I got excited reading the article a si was able relive those days for a moment. Great trip down memory lane. So proud of the 1989 Tigers victory. What a night that was! Since class basketball, it’s just not the same.


  4. I grew up in Marion & lived Hoosier Hysteria on the other side – rooting for the team that was winning 3 state championships in a row 😉 I was in middle school during those years.

    For those of us that got to experience it either as players or fans it truly was an amazing thing!


  5. Nice read, I did live in that area from 86 through the mid 90’s, but was not really into the local scene, and most of my Aunts and Uncles went through Anderson College, long before it became a University. Got to ask my older cousins aunts, and uncles if they ever experienced what you so visually captured.
    Delco-Remy… lol past through Anderson this last fall, nothing remains of that massive complex, Anderson seemed like a ghost town. Even the campus, with just a dog track at the edge.


  6. It was a very happy time every Friday night the gym was filled,we went when our 2 boys where babies, blankets on bleachers, slept through it all. Went to all games, then boys where playing on the team..When they shut down small schools & went to this thing called class things changed .


  7. Loved class basketball. My dad who just turned 83 was an Indiana All-Star and although he doesn’t talk about it much, I hear from other relatives how packed those gyms were back in the 50’s and how high school basketball players were treated like heroes. This was prior to the whole school consolidation and their were over 750 schools each with an eye on capturing their sectional championship. Going to the games was what you did on Friday nights. That was the magic of class basketball.


  8. I use to officiate at Alexandria every year (1967-1972). The Athletic Director was Shorty Burdsall and the band played on the floor at halftime – they were great. The two teams sit under the baskets, not on the sides. That meant the coaches could really get on an official if he happened to make a call the coach disagreed with. I remember one call I made against an Alex player and the coach (Dave ?) started to rip me apart. The player walked over to Dave and said, “Coach, I fouled him”, that didn’t often happen during my officiating days. Great story on Hoosier Hysteria and the Wigwam.


  9. What a great read and brought back alot of memories! I was at the other end of the spectrum watching my Indians lose to Daleville as a freshman! Here I am growing up watching Anderson go to State in 79,81,and 83 and I get to be in the student section and we lose to Daleville(Hats off to them). However it was short lived as we ended up at State the next year with a team that no one thought would be there! A team that started the season 2-8 and entered the Sectional at 11-9! Winning the championship game on Westerfield’s back of the iron up and back down and in against Pendleton was epic! Going on to win the Regional against number 2 Noblesville, and then beating another top five team in Gary Roosevelt in the Semi State! Follow that with a semi final overtime win against Shelbyville to get a chance to play one of your conference rivals and powerhouse Marion! Of course we came up short and Marion would go on to win the second of three! Who would ever think that the State runner up would be a 19-10 team! Amazing! Hoosier Hysteria at it’s finest!


  10. Great story that accurately explains what it was like back in the hey-day of Indiana high school basketball. I went to Madison Heights in the late 60’s and there was nothing like going to the Wigwam for the sectional. I try to explain it to my kids but they just can’t believe that it was that big back then. I think that we should have a class basketball tourney at the beginning of the year and then a one class tourney at the end of the year.


  11. Great story! Graduated from Lafayette Jefferson in 1963. It was truely “march madness” back then. Having lived out of the state for the last 45 years, i can’t imagine how boring the tourney is now.😓


  12. Beautiful, beautiful article, Mr. Phipps. I am a 1983 grad of Madison Heights. Although life has taken me elsewhere, I still treasure Indiana basketball (which I have often described to non-Hoosiers as the “national religion” of Indiana). I was, however, only a spectator – what makes your piece more immediate is that you were a participant at one of the true palaces of Indiana high school basketball. My question: what would stop Indiana from returning to the previous system? Maybe the games would once again become the place to be on Friday nights, and some home courts could begin, in time, to become classic basketball venues, on the order of the Wigwam (RIP) or Richmond’s notorious “Snake Pit”. I sense real passion in your essay, and I urge you not to give up on this cause. As you well note, basketball was more than a game; it was a sport that bound entire towns together. This seems like something worth trying to save.


  13. As a basketball player for the Marion Giants (mid-1960’s), we had a great respect for the Anderson area teams. We loved that gym floor. It had a spring to it that was made for jumping and running. It made you feel like you were on a trampoline. Anderson beat us in the regional that year, 1966.

    I’ve been away from Indiana for many decades. I get the sense that many do not like the class system for the playoffs. I can see the understanding of it, but admit I think it mostly exists for to make more money not determine the overall champion.


    1. I remember som great battles with the Boles Brothers. I graduated the same year a Sterling and Mike was a Sophomore then, I believe. Mike Boles was one of the few players that both Chad and myself played against.


  14. Great article, I graduated from Pendleton in ’85. Living in Kentucky now and trying to explain to the idiot Cat Heads what real high school basketball is.


  15. I understand the “good old days” were good. But I have a hard time understanding why fans are lacking in some of these communities. I see in many cases, fans will not follow unless you have a winning record. Class Basketball is not a good excuse for low fan enthusiasm. I understand that increased travel and playing unfamiliar teams in some cases have a negative impact. But what else? It’s a good debate with no winners in my mind. I just believe that people should support their communities when possible and not sure there are good reasons today why that is not occurring in some places.


  16. Love reading this, much respect for Garth and Alex program growing up. I was a Frankton High School grad class of 81, beat by Anderson in the first round, but we made it interesting! We had a great coach, Calvin Baily, who changed Frankton basketball forever. I loved the game, I loved having one class and I wanted nothing more than to win the Anderson sectional! I live in Illinois now, my kids play for a high school in a 4A system. I get the “fairness” part of it, but would rather see it the other way, the “right way”!


  17. Great article. The last game I ever saw in the Wigwam before single class basketball ended was the one mentioned earlier in the article when Stew Robinson sank the free throws to beat Highland for the sectional title. We sat in section XX that night. We move out of state a few months later, never to live in Indiana again.

    I finally came back to see a game in the Wigwam in 2009. But multi-class basketball was in place by then. The Indians had moved out to the Madison Heights building but still played games in the Wigwam. The Indians lost that night to New Albany, who I believed was ranked #1 in the state, coached by former Indian Jim Shannon.


  18. Loved the article! It also took me back to a time like no other. I went to “Alex” HS. My brother played for Summitville, so I was a gym rat from early on. My husband went to Madison Heights, both of us in the 60s We are still rivals lol


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