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June 14, 2018 • Headline News
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Milan Water Tower to be dedicated

Wanda English Burnett
History comes to life when members of the Milan ’54 championship team come to town. It doesn’t matter if rain was threatening or that the humidity was high. The only thing on the minds of those gathered at the old Milan Water Tower on Saturday, June 9 was the dedication of the newly renovated water tower declaring 1954 Milan State Champs and reliving the glory days of the 1954 basketball state championship, that most refer to as the “Milan Miracle”.

A group of around 100 gathered on the site of what used to be the Milan Furniture Company to see some of their beloved members of the 1954 team: Rollin Cutter, Gene White, Glen Butte, Roger Schroder, Ray Craft, and who could forget Bobby Plump! Bobby was the one who made the final wild card shot that put their team forever on the basketball map and their town in the highlights to this day. But, in a speech Plump made sure to say he was not a star. He said the definition of a star was a hot ball of air!

The group credits their coach, the late Marvin Wood, or “Woody” as he was affectionately called to their success. According to Plump, “He had a different way of doing things!” Wood’s wife, Mary Lou, drove from Misawauka to be at the dedication on Saturday.

The event was like an actual breathe of air from the game as the players and others told stories and took you back in time, a wonderful time, when the players referred to “basketball” as “basketball”, not class basketball as it is today.

Standley Taylor, 80, from Versailles, was in the crowd, camera in hand. What would he have in common with the group since he lived in Washington, Indiana, at the time of the championship game? He had plenty to say about it. Taylor told The Versailles Republican he lived in Milan in the 50’s as his father was the pastor of the Milan Wesleyan Church. He went to school with some of the players and their siblings. He agreed that when out of school, there was a lot of barnyard basketball being played. His father had taken a different pastorate in 1954 that had the family moving to Washington, Indiana. But, Taylor didn’t forget his friends at Milan. He said people in Washington said, “Where in the world is Milan?” He went on to recall that Plump, who hailed from the little dot on the road called Pierceville, was known for an almost constant dribble of the ball. It paid off in the end.

Taylor told about the old Milan Furniture Company, where the water tower stood. The tower dates back to 1924 when the Thompson’s, who owned the furniture company, erected the tower just in case they would need it for their business, which was located next to the railroad tracks in town.

To show how close knit the town really is, Tom Kohlmeier, president of the Milan Museum, is the great grandson of Tommy Thompson who painted the tower in 1954 where it has stood as an icon for years. Recently, a group came together and decided the water tower was in need of a facelift, but how could they make that happen? They did. Just as they won the game, and pursued many other endeavors to keep the 1954 name alive. It was restored recently with help from a grant from the Rising Sun Regional Foundation. It even lights up at night! Jerry Smith, president of the Rising Sun Regional Foundation attended the ceremony on Saturday. It was easy for him to see that the money had gone to good use and will forever preserve a part of life Milan residents along with many others truly cherish. Movers and shakers in the town of Milan came to the event, some even decked out in attire clearly showing their love of sports in Milan, particularly basketball.

Kohlmeier, who emceed the dedication ceremony, presented copies of photos of the newly preserved tower to the 1954 basketball players, Noel Houze, as president of the Milan Town Council, and others who touched the world of basketball in the town of Milan.

An Indiana State Police Honor Guard presented the flags for the beginning of the ceremony with the Travel-Aires singing the National Anthem, just as they did before the State Final in the movie “Hoosiers” that is a reflection of the David vs. Goliath game between Milan and Muncie Central for the championship. A balloon launch ended the ceremony, but not the events planned for Saturday.

People enjoyed the museum, free hair cuts at the barber shop next door, the movie Hoosiers keeping the streets alive until the end of the event planned day. Another memory in the books for Milan. Another final score for generations to come to learn about and take pride in their forefathers. The day wouldn’t be complete without Roselyn McKittrick, who was mentioned from the stage at the ceremony for her undying love for the 1954 championship and people of Milan. She has been and is an unfailing cheerleader for the memory of all things Milan – but mostly the 1954 Milan boys basketball team and their victory.

Will Milan ever let this game rest? Never! It will live on as long as people get excited about something that brings happiness and a sense of pride that doesn’t get lost in today’s fast paced world.

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