It might seem a little harsh to call Scott Skiles a fat white kid, but that’s the story you hear from Gary Roosevelt Head Coach Ron Heflin when he answers the question he was most asked when he arrived back in Gary, Indiana after losing to Plymouth High School, led by that fat white kid whose name was Scott Skiles. As Heflin said to everybody that asked that question, “that fat kid could play”.
Indiana was full of talent in 1982, and the Plymouth Pilgrims topped them all. In a 28-1 season, Plymouth’s only loss came to South Bend LaSalle. That LaSalle team, coached by George Griffith, lost in the South Bend Holiday Tournament Championship by 16 points to Plymouth. Those were the days when Notre Dame’s Joyce Center would field huge crowds for high school basketball. Heck, back then, every arena and school gym was packed for almost every Indiana high school basketball game. In the regular season finale, the two teams met again–at Plymouth. There was neither a seat nor standing room space available at tipoff time. The gym and the atmosphere was in a heightened state of euphoria and anticipation for the game that was to come. This time Reggie Bird, Demetrius Buchanan and Company for LaSalle dumped the Pilgrims 64-62.
They may have been among the best two teams in the state, and their 1982 battles weren’t quite finished. Plymouth’s magical season almost ended early; the Pilgrims barely captured the Elkhart Regional Championship with a 3-point victory over Elkhart Memorial, a team it needed overtime to defeat by two early in the season. The Pilgrims roared into the semi-state. Their reward game one against state giant Marion. Plymouth beat those Giants 56-55 in overtime. That set up a classic Fort Wayne Semi-state Championship against Griffith’s LaSalle Lions, the rubber game of their incredible season series. LaSalle jumped out to an early lead, but Edison’s crew ultimately won 77-71 and earned its trip to Market Square.
A daunting task faced the Plymouth Pilgrims when they arrived at Market Square Arena in long-time powerhouses Indianapolis Cathedral and Gary Roosevelt. Skiles and teammates Phil Wendel, Todd Samuelson, Ron Sissel were considered underdogs by almost everybody outside of Plymouth headed into the 1982 IHSAA Final Four and with good reason, as Roosevelt and Cathedral were absolutely loaded with talent.
In Indiana basketball it helped to develop friendships—friendships kids such as Todd Samuelson, Ron Sissel, Phil Wendel, and Scott Skiles had, and that helped make them special. If they didn’t play in Centennial Park in Plymouth, they would play in friends’ driveways or in open gyms. Once they were old enough to drive, they sought out pick-up games in neighboring towns and cities. Plymouth was not a large city, and the kids there, like kids in other small Indiana towns, dreamed of someday doing what a small-town school like Milan had done in 1954. The 1954 Milan Indians team had grown up the same way, playing basketball together all over Milan with the dream of being able to do something special once they got to high school.
It is what made the IHSAA Basketball Tournament, so unique; no matter where you were from, you had a chance to be a part of something special. Sure, it didn’t happen very often but when it did, those kids that accomplished it became not just legends in the towns they were from; they would forever be legends in an entire state.
Head Coach Jack Edison, who was enshrined in the basketball Hall of Fame in 2005, prepared his players for every possible scenario that could happen at any time in any game. Maybe, more importantly, he was a coach that put his players first and he cared for them like they were his own.
Skiles scored 30 in the semifinal to lead Plymouth past heavily favored Indianapolis Cathedral 62-59. Next up came the task of beating Gary Roosevelt and Roosevelt was stacked! With the services of Renaldo Thomas, Anthony Stewart, Ronnie Bradley and Winston Garland, Roosevelt was the best team in the state in 1982.
The Panthers’ star power, however, didn’t translate to winning the state title as Plymouth (28-1) and its own standout, Scott Skiles, prevailed in a 75-74 double-overtime shootout at Market Square Arena. Skiles finished with 39 points, one point shy of the record for the highest-scoring total in a state championship game. Thomas scored a team-high 19 points, Stewart had 18, Bradley added 14, and Garland contributed 10.
A lot of people forget the one glaring stat from this game was Plymouth’s free throw advantage of 38-16, which looks a little shaky, to say the least. But on this night Scott Skiles was a man-child who would refuse to let his team lose. Hindsight is always 20/20, but looking back was it really that big of an upset? Sure Roosevelt had multiple division-one players but Skiles was hands down the best player on the court that night, and he would prove that later on when he starred at Michigan State and led the Spartans to the Sweet 16, losing controversially to Kansas in Kansas in 1986. Skiles then went on to an NBA career that would last a decade and then became a coach in the NBA.
Plymouth was a smaller school with around 800 students, and their win quieted critics, at least for a little while, the thought that Indiana should be like most other states and switch to class basketball. Plymouth showed that a smaller school could still win the Hoosier state’s greatest prize.
Like Milan in 1954, the 1982 Plymouth Pilgrims found cheering fans lining the streets as they caravaned home to Plymouth. I guarantee you that will never happen for the winners of a class basketball tournament. In 1982 Scott Skiles and Plymouth High School proved that size doesn’t matter when you have the will to succeed against all odds.
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