NEW CASTLE, Ind. — Ron Newlin stood on a rise in this rolling hill country, 35 miles east of Indianapolis, gazing in wonder at the nearly completed building, then shot a roll of film, getting progress photos of the construction project.
"It should be finished (soon)," he said. "It will take seven or eight months after that to set all the exhibits in place. We hope to be open in time for the state tournament next March."
Newlin, 30, is executive director of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame, soon to be located here in New Castle in its first permanent home, a $2.5-million shrine to the favorite game of Hoosiers.
"There's the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., dedicated to the game played all over the United States, but no other state has anything like this," he said.
"The Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame represents the spirit, the values, the tradition of being a Hoosier. This museum will salute the schools, the players, the coaches, the communities that have made Indiana the nation's basketball leader."
Basketball was invented by James Naismith in Springfield, Mass., in 1891 and was first played in Indiana in 1894 at the Crawfordsville YMCA. Since then, more than 250,000 Hoosiers, boys and girls, have played the game on the high school varsity level and worn the colors of 1,200 different schools.
"Indiana has been absolutely nuts about basketball since the first state championship tournament in 1911," Newlin said.
"It is by far the most important sport in the state, outdistancing football and baseball in popularity. Hoosier hysteria over basketball is part of our culture, part of what Indiana is all about. On a per-capita basis, Indiana has produced more professional basketball players than any other state."
He rattled off the names of such Hoosier hoop luminaries as John Wooden, Oscar Robertson and Larry Bird. He told how the state tournament each year draws more than a million fans. He mentioned that Indiana has eight high school basketball gyms that seat more than 7,000 spectators.
"No other state can say that," he boasted.
The Hall of Fame crowns a hill next to New Castle's Chrysler High School, which has the biggest prep basketball gym in the world, seating 9,350.
The Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame has captured the imagination and pride of people all over the state, from Aberdeen to Zipp and Zulu, in Indianapolis, Evansville, Terre Haute, Lafayette, Gary, Elkhart, South Bend, Anderson, Muncie, Marion and Bloomington, in Young America, Windfall, Wawpecong, Mongo and Old Tip Town.
Henry County, in which New Castle is located, passed a 1% restaurant and beverage tax to raise $1 million toward the Hall of Fame's cost, and last month, donations from individuals and groups had exceeded $1 million. Marsh, an Indiana supermarket chain, gave $200,000. Two well-heeled Hoosiers each kicked in $25,000. There are Hall of Fame committees in every one of the state's 92 counties.
A half-million dollars has been raised in the "sale" of bricks--2,500 that went for $100 each and 500 more that sold for $500 each. In the center of the Hall of Fame's courtyard, a 70 x 36-foot map of Indiana will be made up of the $100 bricks, containing donors' names, and the $500 bricks will be inscribed with names of teams and coaches.
Botany Prof. Robert Hoshaw, 67, teaching at the University of Arizona in Tucson for the last 39 years, is typical of how many former Hoosiers have reacted to the hall.He said that he and the five other surviving members of the 1939 seven-man Monticello High School basketball team each purchased a $100 brick.
"Our school had less than 200 students," he said. "We had a great team 50 years ago. We wound up in the regional final, one of the top 32 schools in the state. Four of us went into teaching, one into insurance, one became a judge in the Chicago area, and one of the fellows died.
"As part of Hoosier Hysteria, we figured it was only right we do our part in contributing to the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. Twenty of us from Monticello High each also chipped in $25 to buy a brick in memory of our outstanding basketball coach, the late Alva Staggs."
Sam Alford, 46, basketball coach at Chrysler High the last 14 years, is the father of Steve Alford, 24, former All-American at Indiana University, now with the Golden State Warriors. The Alford family bought a brick, since five Alfords played basketball in Indiana--Sam's father, Sam and his brother, and Sam's two sons.
"The five of us scored 8,000 points playing basketball in Indiana in high school and college," Alford said.
Megaphones, trophies, uniforms, letter jackets, game balls, cheerleader sweaters, yearbooks, scrapbooks, class rings, mascots and other basketball memorabilia is pouring into the hall's temporary office in what was an old school building in downtown Indianapolis, at 520 Virginia Ave.