In Indiana, small schools, farming communities and Hoosiers who love basketball are forever linked to high school basketball. One of the state’s greatest stories is the triumph of Milan, a tiny town in southeastern Indiana whose high school basketball team beat all comers to win the 1954 Indiana State High School Basketball Championship. Over 30 years later, the story inspired the fictional movie “Hoosiers.” It was filmed in Indiana’s small towns and farming communities and is a legend itself. It’s now been longer since “Hoosiers” was released than the time span between the movie and the miracle it celebrates.

Thinking of high school basketball brings back memories. My parents took us and traveled to gyms around the state, from Morgantown to Edinburgh to Hope. I’ve even watched games at Hinkle Fieldhouse when the state tournament was a real tournament, with everyone having a chance to win.

The Indiana State Fair’s theme, Growing the Game, is about Indiana’s tie to basketball. It helps fair visitors relive their memories, and maybe moments they’ve only heard about. The Pacers Sports and Entertainment Corp. is largely promoting the NBA All-Star Game, coming to Indianapolis in 2024. But to me, the real tie is in helping relive the glory days of the high school game, played in cracker-box gyms everywhere, bringing farm folks in droves to support their team.

Parked in an appropriate place near Pioneer Village at the Indiana State Fair, you will find the Hickory Huskers team bus, used in “Hoosiers.” It’s decked out in bright red and decorated with streamers, just like in the movie. If the movie has become iconic for you, seeing the bus will recharge your engines.

Darryl Baker, who owns the bus, explains that the 1939 Chevrolet was originally used as a school bus in Indianapolis and Lebanon. It features an 85-hp, 215-cubic-inch, stovebolt six-cylinder engine. Lebanon schools retired it in 1949, and Darryl’s grandfather, Jack Baker, a mechanic, bought it to convert it to a camper. That was its life for the next 30-plus years.

“We went all over the country in this thing when I was a kid,” Darryl recalls fondly.

man sitting inside an old school bus

Jack converted it back into a school bus with a Wayne body for the movie. Then he sold it. Through a long chain of events, Darryl got the bus back and restored it to its present condition.

Basketball and the Indiana State Fair may not seem like an obvious match. After you spend time inspecting the old Chevy school bus painted Hickory Husker red, you might change your mind.

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