Sixty years is a long time to wait to
Maybe, just maybe, the Indianapolis basketball community will get its chance.
Let’s just hope it takes it.
It was six decades ago next March — 1955 — that Crispus Attucks began a dominating run as state high school champion behind the coaching leadership of Whiteland’s Ray Crowe and the basketball skills of Oscar Robertson.
It was, as they say, a defining moment.
It was the first state basketball title by a team from an all-black school. Not just in Indiana, but anywhere. It was also the first state basketball title for an Indianapolis school — in retrospect, an historic cause
Indianapolis failed to embrace that moment in terms that are now stunning to recall.
Attucks’ title came on the heels of Milan’s now legendary 1954 championship.
Where the Indians’ title was cause for celebration, the civic reaction to Attucks’ crown was something that serves as an embarrassment to this day.
Milan was everything that Attucks was not: rural, small school and white.
The Indians’ title brought a fire truck escort into town.
Attucks’ trophy came with a police caravan out of Indianapolis.
That’s right. Local officials were so concerned that they insisted that the Tigers conduct any celebration outside Indianapolis.
The players were driven outside of town to have their party because, Robertson said years later in an Indianapolis newspaper, “They said the blacks are gonna tear up downtown.”
Shameful. There is no other way to put it. Yes, it is part of a bygone era.
Two generations removed, the chance to make it right should not be forgotten.
That is what makes the resurgence
of Attucks basketball this season so especially intriguing.
The Class 2A No. 10 Tigers knocked off then-No. 1 Scecina on Friday 64-58.
That makes Attucks (3-0) a legitimate contender to cut the nets at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in March.
And if they do, by some combination of talent, luck and fortitude, let’s hope that the ensuing celebration does justice to the 60 years of injustice.
Of course, much has changed in that time. The racial ignorance that bred irrational fear in 1955 has subsided (although, sadly, it is never far away).
The segregation of Indianapolis Public Schools ended in 1967, as Attucks admitted its first white students.
But this is not Robertson’s Attucks.
Sure, the building is the same. The school, however, is much different.
A one-time victim of declining enrollments, Attucks dropped from a high school to a middle school in 1986.
It wasn’t until 2006 that IPS made it a medical magnet high school, adding a grade at a time for students focused on a career in the medical sciences in the shadow of the nearby IU Medical Center.
Basketball returned in 2008 with the expected growing pains of a young program.
Things turned around last season,
when coach Phil Washington’s 13-10 team captured its first sectional championship since the rebirth.
Now, with a solid returning nucleus and an up-tempo system in place, there is the chance for this season to be something special. The Scecina win served notice.
Circle upcoming home games against
Class 4A North Central (Dec. 20) and East Chicago Central (Dec. 23) as tests of how far the program has come. (The Tigers host Greenwood Christian on Jan. 9).
But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.
Those Attucks teams of 1955-56 won two state titles, the second in culmination of an undefeated season.
No one is expecting that of this current group of young men.
What is expected, though, is that those who run the city will see a chance to right a long-festering wrong.
Robertson, now 76, and his Attucks teammates have never been given their due.
There is no better time than this season, as Attucks celebrates the renaissance of a great Indiana basketball tradition.
Attucks basketball is back.
With it, there is a unique chance to right a 60-year wrong.
Bob Johnson is a correspondent for the Daily Journal in Johnson County, a sister paper of The Tribune. Send comments to email@example.com.