Ripley County was well represented at the 2013 Annual Awards Dinner of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame where Gene Demaree, New Marion Panther, was among the 52nd class inductees.
The Milan Indians took their rightful place at the impressive ceremony held at the Primo Banquet Hall in Indianapolis, on March 20 as filmmakers - David L. Anspaugh (director) and Angelo Pizzo (screenwriter and producer) - of the famous movie "Hoosiers" were announced as 2013 St. Vincent Health Silver Medal winners.
Those who know their basketball history know the Milan story of David vs. Goliath where the smaller school (Milan) took on Muncie Central, with the basket that put them over the top for the state championship coming from Bobby Plump, who was also in attendance, along with others from the team.
The New Marion Panthers might have been one of the smallest schools at the time with an enrollment of 64 students, but the team of 1961 knew how to mark their time on the hardwood.
Being inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame is the highest honor for a player, besides bringing home the big trophy during their high school careers! This honor is not attained easily, but through hard work, dedication, and a lifetime of excellence.
Demaree took the podium with this acceptance speech:
"I would like to thank the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame Board of Directors and Selection Committee for this very humbling honor and for a dream come true.
"As a very young boy growing up on a farm in Ripley County, I fell in love with basketball. Ripley County is the home of Milan and the 1954 Indiana State Champions and later the movie "Hoosiers".
"My school, New Marion, was very small having 64 students in high school and 15 in my senior class. You were either a basketball player, a cheerleader, or a student manager. We were so small that Milan did not play us during the regular season, but, we did play them on their court in the county tournament and the sectional tournament, and we beat them both times.
"Our coach was Dale McNeely, a very strict disciplinarian and a great teacher of fundamentals. The last day of school my freshman, sophomore and junior years, Coach McNeely gave me a new basketball with one request - bring it back at the start of the next school year worn out - he would be very proud today.
"I would not be here tonight to accept this honor if it were not for my teammates - Charles Baurley, David Hamilton, Bill Eckstein, and Bert Samples. Charles and Dave were always happy when I missed a shot, so they could rebound and score. They are all here tonight to support and share in this honor.
"It's funny how a little round ball can change your life, but I have to say basketball did, including getting a basketball scholarship to Indiana University and the University of Tulsa. After a brief coaching career, with the encouragement of many fans and the insistence of the school board, I decided to leave the coaching profession.
"The carry over from my basketball days has been instrumental in any business success I have enjoyed. The winning, the losing, the hard work, the goal setting, and the discipline are the same in business and in life. Don't let the highs get too high and the lows get too low.
" In conclusion, I would like to thank my parents, Esther and Charles, for their values, work ethic, and the love they gave to me. Also, I'd like to thank my many friends who have joined me tonight. Thanks to my lovely wife, Jo, of 47 years, our daughters, Dara and husband, Kris, and Brandy and husband, Brian, and grandchildren, Talon and Demaree. Also, thanks to Cliff Giltner and Ray Craft.
"This is the top of the mountain in Indiana Basketball. Thank you very much."
The top of the mountain was evident as Demaree, along with others reflected on how basketball had truly changed their lives and brought them to this pivotal and proud moment.
Demaree was a member of the 1986 Silver Anniversary Team and now joins longtime basketball coach, the late Gus Moorhead, in the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. Moorhead's son, Rob, was in attendance to honor Demaree's accomplishments and remembered his father as he wore the ring he was given for his induction in 1980.
Twenty-three full-page ads placed in the program book for the evening in Demaree's honor were evidence of the feelings of Ripley County residents, family and friends of Demaree, who congratulated him. There were also several tables of guests attending the dinner who were there in support of his receiving this "once in a lifetime" honor.
"Hoosiers" filmmakers, Anspaugh and Pizzo, had similar comments about Indiana basketball being one of the best things that has ever happened to them. After all, their movie was selected for preservation by the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" to American culture.
The film, produced in 1986, has been rated as the number one sports movie of all time by multiple outlets. It is widely regarded as one of the top movies of any genre by critics, which includes USA Today and ESPN.
Members of the Milan Museum Board of Directors were present at the event along with some of the original basketball players of the '54 team. The museum is a place set aside to physically remember the 1954 team forever in Milan.
Ripley County is proud of its basketball heritage and rightly so.