We all know the story of the 1954 Milan Indians. It’s so well known they made a movie about it (Hoosiers). But let’s put the film aside today and look at a story that may have been even more amazing. In 1954, Montezuma High School entered the IHSAA basketball tournament with a senior class of just 14 students. It was comprised of 7 boys and seven girls. What was amazing about this team? Well, they made a miracle run to the Sweet 16 in 1954, where they were defeated by none other than Milan High School 43-33 at Butler’s Hinkle Fieldhouse. Today we are going to look at that team and their amazing journey.
Many people forget or don’t realize that the 1953 Milan Indians had made it all the way to the Final Four before coming up short. Many people expected Milan to make a deep run in the tourney; nobody expected that from tiny Montezuma.
Montezuma’s basketball team was known as the Gymless Wonders, and they shared their practice area—60 feet by 27 feet—in the school basement with the band and a home economics class and couldn’t put much air under their shots because of the low ceiling.
Make no mistake about it, though, Montezuma could play basketball, and in 1954 they compiled a record of 23-5 going into that semi-state match-up with Milan. “They were the only team on which we didn’t have a great scouting report,” said former Milan Player Gene White. “I understood from another source that in the regional, they weren’t expected to win but they did, so our scout may not have scouted the correct team.”
Milan had beaten an Aurora team led by junior star Bob Fehrman, one of the top big men in the entire state of Indiana by eight points, avenging a regular-season loss. Almost every Milan player said they were worried about playing Aurora because of the big men they had and that Aurora may have been the best team they had to play during that entire championship run. With that being said, maybe there was a little bit of a letdown after such a big win, and then suddenly you are facing a team that is one of the smallest schools in the state.
Ronnie Baumann was one of the stars of the Montezuma team, and he recalled that day in March when little Montezuma invaded Indianapolis. According to Baumann there was “awe that struck the Aztecs when they first walked into Butler Fieldhouse.”
His wife Linda added, “If they had taken the whole town, we couldn’t have filled up the section for Montezuma.” She also added that “The whole town did go. The only one left here, they always said, was the town cop.”
Baumann had a rough game that day, hitting just 2 of his 13 shots, and Montezuma fell way behind early on. But they stormed back and cut the Milan lead to just two points heading into the fourth quarter, with momentum on Montezuma’s side. That is until Milan started playing their famous cat-and-mouse stall game.
Milan was almost impossible to beat once they had the lead and reverted to playing stall ball, and this game was no different. Montezuma made the unfortunate mistake of sitting back and not trying to attack Milan as they held onto the ball. In the end, Milan pulled away for a 43-33 win. But even today, the former players know just how close they came to losing to little Montezuma.
The sad thing is that many people who lived through this amazing piece of Hoosier Hysteria are long gone, as the school was a victim of consolidation. The story of Montezuma’s magical 1954 ride to the Sweet Sixteen should never be forgotten, but let’s face it, in the world we live in, a lot of history is forgotten, but for one March in Indiana in 1954, the little town of Montezuma mattered.
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