Butch Jordan was a 5-year-old sitting on the south end of the bleachers on the night of Dec. 10, 1949, cheering on the Hope Red Devils. A jam-packed gym watched the home team take on Crispus Attucks, the all-Black school from Indianapolis that struggled to find opponents, often playing in small Indiana towns far from home.
Jordan’s uncle, Dale Perry, led Hope that night with 13 points. Attucks won, 58-33. The following December, led by Hallie Bryant, undefeated Attucks made a return trip to Bartholomew County community. Final score: Attucks 75, Hope 23.
“Not many schools would play Black schools in those days, but Hope’s coach was Joe Foust and he knew (Attucks coach) Ray Crowe,” Jordan said. “After Hope got clobbered by Attucks, Ray told Joe he was looking to upgrade the schedule.”
Attucks, famously, soon went on to become one of the most dominant basketball programs in the state, winning state championships in 1955, ’56, and ’59. But an important piece of the story happened before those state titles, in little gyms like the one in Hope.
“It’s a staple of the community,” said Larry Wheeler, a Hope resident.
The gym, which had sat quiet and mostly unused for the past decade, caught fire Wednesday night. Firefighters from Hope and neighboring Bartholomew County fire departments fought the blaze into Thursday morning. Adam Mathis, the Hope deputy marshal, said the cause of the fire remains unknown, though the damage to the gym was substantial and may result in a total loss. Firefighters were forced to retreat from the building as the fire spread to the roof, which collapsed on the north end.
“The state fire marshal went through (Thursday) evening and most of the damage was on the north side,” Mathis said. “It’s hard to tell at this point (if it can be salvaged). The fire appeared to start in the stage area on the north side. That gym area could be fixed, but the stage area would have to be taken out and redone completely.”
The gym has been part of Hope, a community of 2,100 that bills itself as a “Surprising Little Town,” on a sign along Indiana State Road 9, for more than 80 years. It was the home of the Hope Red Devils, then the Hauser Jets for several years after the consolidation of Hope and tiny Clifford in 1957.
“There are a lot of memories there,” said Jerry McKinney, a member of the last graduating class at Hope in 1957. “Memories that disappear in a few minutes when it catches fire. Basketball was the major sport in Hope and all the class activities took place in the gym. Naturally, the senior prom was held in the gym. It was a central location where everything took place around the school and the community. Even after Hauser was built, it was still used for community activities like volleyball and basketball.”
Construction on the gym began in 1937. It was Works Projects Administration (WPA) project, providing jobs for several locals, and officially dedicated in December of 1938. There was officially a capacity of 1,000 fans for games, though Jordan, who lived in Hope until age 8 before moving to nearby Columbus, believes the actual capacity was probably closer to 800.
“I read something that said it had a capacity of 1,200,” said Jordan, who coached Hauser’s boys basketball team from 1972-79 and the girls team from 2000-2005 during his 40-year teaching and coaching career at Hauser. “There’s no way. It was a good gym, though. It was like what you see in the movie ‘Hoosiers.’ That’s what it was.”
In fact, Hope had its “Hoosiers” moment not long after it opened the gym. The 1944-45 team was led by Indiana Basketball Hall of Famer Bill Shepherd, an Indiana All-Star who would go on to coach his sons, Billy and Dave, who both would earn IndyStar Mr. Basketball honors at Carmel (Billy in 1968 and Dave in 1970).
Hope had never won a sectional until that season. The Red Devils defeated host Shelbyville, 24-19, then knocked off Morristown 29-21 in the championship. Shepherd outshined Morristown’s Marvin Wood, would go on nine years later to lead Milan to the 1954 state championship that inspired the movie “Hoosiers.”
“People talked about that (1945) team for years after,” said Tom Hull, who played on the last Hope team in 1956-57 and the first Hauser team in 1957-58. “My older brother is 92 and he knew those kids on that team. It was always a big deal around here.”
The 1945 team stunned the state the next week, too, defeating Greensburg and Franklin in the regional at Shelbyville. Led by first-year coach Lloyd Brougher, Hope was finally upended the following week in the semistate against Broad Ripple at Hinkle (then Butler) Fieldhouse.
“I thought there would never be another time like it,” Shepherd told the Columbus Herald in 1970. “After we won the regional our fans were so delirious with joy they tried to burn down the bandstand on the town square.”
The volunteer fire firefighters arrived in time to save the bandstand, Shepherd said.
The memories of that legendary team carried on for years, even generations, though Hope never achieved that level of success again.
“I was only 6 years old so I don’t remember the activity around that 1945 team other than hearsay and knowing several people who played on that team,” McKinney said. “But I know the community was really involved in it. That team lived in people’s memories for years. Then in 2006, Hauser won state and that felt like the same thing. I know that 1945 team, those kids were country kids. Going to Indianapolis to play was like going to outer space for them.”
Tom Beeker, who graduated from Hauser in 1961, said games in the Hope gym were “simple fun.”
“It will be missed,” Beeker said. “Back then, it was the center of the community. Now there are so many sports and parents go to other games. Basketball was about the only thing going on in a small community like Hope.”
Hauser played its games at the old Hope gym until it opened its new gym south of town in 1966. The old gym continued to be used for community events for years. In recent years, though, the gym had fallen into disrepair. In 2017, a fundraising effort for the gym fell short and the gym continued to sit without use.
News of the fire spread quickly in Hope, though the end of the gym was probably inevitable – with or without the fire.
“It’s sad because a lot of people have great memories of it,” Jordan said. “Hope is a very proud place with a lot of school pride. It’s like one huge family here. But I don’t know what was going to happen to it. It’s sad, but at the same time it’s part of life.”
Call Star reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649.