Strange But True: Giant-Killers

Indiana has always been a basketball-crazy state. Hundreds of Hoosier teams play the game, in schools, church leagues and in the local Y’s. Many of the teams come from small places, and some have overcome great odds to do well at the game. But perhaps no team ever overcame greater odds than the one from Wingate.

In November 1913, Wingate High School decided to field a basketball team, and nobody thought much of that one way or another. Very few people in Indiana knew there was such a community as Wingate. It was hardly a dot on the map. If anyone asked where Wingate was, they were told it was near Crawfordsville, a town that was at least a little bigger.

What made Wingate’s decision to play basketball so incredible was that the school had only seven students, all boys. All of them would be on the team. The new “team” had no coach and no home court. In order to practice, the boys had to use a tiny “crackerbox” gym at New Richmond, six miles away. They had to walk both ways.

From the very beginning, the Wingate boys stressed conditioning. They learned a few set plays and practiced them constantly. Then they put together a schedule of games. They were always the visiting team and had practically no rooters. Also, they had to get used to playing on courts that were far bigger than the one at New Richmond. All the odds were stacked against them.

But when they played, they won! They learned to play cautiously for fear of fouling out, and they paced themselves to keep from getting too tired. The seven players were rotated so that the team always had at least one “fresh” player in the game.

The Wingate community was elated when the boys won the sectional championship. They could play in the state tournament if they chose to, but there were problems. They didn’t have the money to travel to games elsewhere, and they couldn’t offer a court of their own to play on. But the boys were determined to go all the way. They voted to compete in the state tournament. And they raised the money by themselves, asking their family, friends and neighbors for the precious dollars.

Many other teams had 15 or 20 players on their squads. Some people were saying that Wingate “had holes in their sneakers and bigger holes in their heads.” But the seven boys of Wingate battled on, knocking other teams out of the tournament. And finally they beat South Bend for the state championship!

Was it just a fluke? Did they get lucky? No indeed! Because the following year those same boys, playing under the same conditions, came back to win the Indiana state championship again!

From The Giant Book of Strange But True Sports Stories by Howard Liss. Illustrations by Joe Mathieu.

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When you can walk its length, and leave no trace, you will have learned.

8 Comments

  1. Once again, the article I found on the interwebs differs in some key points from the version in the book. In particular, Wingate may have been a small school, but it had 67 students total and 22 boys from which 7 were chosen for the team. Also, the team had three coaches. Pretty much everything else lines up, but considering when the book was written I think we can cut Liss a little slack because he didn’t have the world’s largest database at his disposal.

    Also interesting is that those two tournaments that Wingate won were actually the very first two Indiana state championships ever.

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