HOOSIER HYSTERIA DAYS

Boring. Indiana basketball was deadly boring. I wanted out. Away from the insular farm community. Far from the smelly gymnasiums.

I was young, female and ambitious. And in the '50s back home in Indiana, a career-minded female was a freak, an anomaly.

But there I was in the stands, trying to look interested in the relentless efforts of 10 sweaty teen-age boys to score points. It didn't occur to me they would continue their game into the business world. Or that they would always want me to be their fan instead of teammate. Or that they would resent me as a business competitor.

Why did I go to those Friday night games? Why did I follow the team bus to Sheridan for the section tournament, the first stage of the zillion-team playoffs to the state finals? There was no choice. Basketball was the only game in town. No other school activities existed, and academics came last.

Hoosier Hysteria distracted even the most dedicated teachers. I glimpsed the resignation in their eyes when the pep rally canceled sixth-period English or math. They filed into the gym with us and leaned against the concrete-block walls, watching us practice our yells. Occasionally they'd smile.

Afterward a group of us would go down to the drugstore on Main Street--it was a lot like the one in Westwood that John Wooden wanted to save. We'd drink cherry Cokes made at the soda fountain and plan car pools to the game.

So socially it was better to hide in the stands among the crowd than stand out by staying home. Besides, I had friends in the pep band. Secretly we shared the same dream of escaping from the programmed scoreboard of Indiana life. We didn't want our lives to be played out the same as the older women in the stands cheering their sons. That's all they had: Basketball. We wanted more. Much more.

I took my husband to see "Hoosiers." He's European and vaguely amused by American sports intensity. As each scene unfolded, I grabbed his arm and whispered hoarsely, "Yes, yes, that's the way it was!"

As we left the theater, he put his arm around me. "Hard to see you back there, honey." He shook his head, still mystified at how a ballgame could take precedence over everything else. The Greeks stressed a balance of body and mind, you know.

My high school was a small school then, like Milan, the team that won the state championship in real life. But in the past 30 years, the small town of Carmel grew into a large, prosperous suburb of Indianapolis. My high school has become a big school. A few years ago it won the state basketball championship.

At a business conference the other day, I ran into my old high school government teacher, who was also one of the coaches back then. He has been principal of the school for more than a decade. He was proud to tell me of all the activities now available to students there: drama, orchestra and journalism classes, instead of an after-school activity to put out the school paper, which I edited.

He remembered me and the way it was. While he still had that team spirit about him, he had led the school into broader opportunities for all students. Carmel High School is one of the top academic high schools in the state.

And on the plane home, I sat next to a young Hoosier. He was 6-foot-5, from a small town in southern Indiana. He had played basketball in high school, then went on to college. His brother plays on the high school team which made it to the state finals last year with all juniors playing. My seat mate told me he's going to fly back to Indiana to follow his brother's team to the sectionals.

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