Monday, September 27, 2010

The Franklin Wonder Five

by Ben Small

Most folks know that the state of Indiana is associated with basketball, but nobody knows when Hoosier Hysteria began. But it's there, part of every Hoosier's proud heritage.

As a kid, I remember crowding in front of the radio to listen to Crispus Attucks' rampage through the state. Crispus Attucks, the first all black school permitted to play white teams. And play them Crispus Attucks did, as the Robertson brothers, Bailey and Oscar and their team, coached by now legendary Ray Crowe, took everybody down hard, blistering the nets, pounding up numbers few could believe. Oscar, the Big O. To this day, the only player to ever average the rare triple double  for his entire NBA career.

My father told me about the Milan Miracle, spoke of it often, and then lo' and behold, Milan's legendary coach, Marvin Wood -- portrayed badly in Hoosiers -- came to my high school, became my coach, teacher and friend.

Ah, the stories...

Outsiders associate Hoosier Hysteria with college basketball, most recently Butler, but thoughts of Indiana Universities' five national championships and 1976 undefeated season dominate, There's often the reminder that Bob Knight's 1975 team, spoiled when Scott May broke his arm late in the 1975 season, was actually the better team.

Yes, the fever for college basketball -- even the NBA -- runs hot in the Hoosier state. Fall, even with its blustery cold winds, cold wet leaves and the birth of cold-and-flu miseries, is a welcome season,

Fall means basketball.

Contrary to what some sports commentators seem to think, Hoosier Hysteria is rooted in high school basketball; always has been, may always be so. As the state of Indiana developed and communities -- particularly schools -- merged through the years, there was often more talk among town councils school boards about team lineups and schedules, more worrying about the potential for lost team traditions, than about budget, headcount or moola-matters.

Well, maybe...

Ask any native Hoosier about the Vans, Glenn Robinson, Jimmy Rayl, Rick Mount, George McGinnis or Steve Downing. Ask them about Tony Hinkle or Butler Fieldhouse. You're likely to get a lengthy response.

Ask them about Fuzzy Vandivier...


Fuzzy Vandivier, the guy who legendary coach John Wooden, a Hoosier himself, said was the best basketball player he'd ever seen. My father took me to meet Fuzzy once, but I don't remember much about the meeting; I was too young. But there was the sense my father gushed all over poor Fuzzy, regaling him with stories my grandfather told him.

See, Fuzzy played in the early Twenties. That's why you don't know him.

You know about the so-called "Fab Five" Michigan hired some years ago. Memories of that excitement are tarnished forever by the Chris-Webber-being-paid scandal.

But what about the Franklin Wonder Five? Betcha never heard of them.

Some Hoosier Hysterics know the name: "Fuzzy's team," they'll say. "Make that "teams.'"

The Franklin Wonder Five were local kids who grew up together playing basketball on outside dirt courts around tiny Franklin, Indiana, when they weren't beating every high school, college and pro team they played, winning state and national championships alike.  

In modern street terms, when it came to basketball in the early Twenties, Franklin College (student pop. 350) "ruled."  A team so cool, the mighty New York Celtics, the best pro team in the land, begged to play them. Sadly, both the Wonder Five and Franklin College said no. 

Grades, you know. Gotta study. 

There were no big shoe contracts, no enormous salaries; no media spots, rap songs, flashy chains, tattooes or ear-rings. No internet; hence, no Facebook, Twitter, TMZ...whatever. Just a love of basketball, shared by five small town neighborhood buddies who were endowed with championship spirit and the drive, discipline and determnination to achieve their goals. What were those goals? Simple: To have fun and play basketball.  

Part of Hoosier Hysteria. The stuff discussed around Hoosier barber shops, water coolers, curbs and card tables back in the day. The stuff our fathers told us and that we passed on to our children, enhanced a bit perhaps by ripening memories.  

Maybe sometimes we look too far forward for our heroes and fail to consider worthy candidates from the past, Perhaps someone close by, someone in our roots, our heritages, our traditions.   

Well, look... If you're short on heroic achievements to pass onto your Hoosier kinfolk, read up on Fuzzy and his pals. The Franklin Wonder Five may give you inspiration.

For references to the Franklin Wonder Five, see Philip Ellet's book HERE, or check out Wikipedia HERE.

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