Sun. Jan 17th, 2021
From inside The Hoosier Gym came a book on what the movie

Dana Hunsinger Benbow
 
| Indianapolis Star

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KNIGHTSTOWN — Robert Garner’s work these days — 50-some years after he last stepped foot in The Hoosier Gym as a high school senior —  is what you might call an inside job. 

After decades in the medical field, Garner now is the events coordinator of The Hoosier Gym. He spends days inside the iconic Knightstown relic where the sports movie classic “Hoosiers” was filmed in 1985. Where tour groups from across America show up to catch a glimpse of the place fictional basketball magic took place.

In the silence on the days the gym is empty, as the light pours through the square-paned windows and the hardwood glistens, Garner can re-live scenes from the movie.

On the days when the gym is bustling, filled with chatter as tour groups pass through, Garner talks. He talks about “Hoosiers,” the script, the characters, the story. How the movie was filmed in this gym where they stand.  

And the more he talked — Garner took the job in 2015 — the more his talk became less about sports. The more he talked, the less it became about basketball and winning and losing and coaching.

The more it became about life.

He listened over and over again as visitors told him of the impact the movie had on their lives. What it taught them.  

One day, Garner picked up a pen and from his inside job at The Hoosier Gym wrote a book on what the movie “Hoosiers” is really about.

Second chances and redemption

Garner first saw “Hoosiers” when the world first saw it, November 1986. He sat inside Castle Theatre, a now shuttered relic of the bustling Chrysler town of New Castle, the month the movie was released.

Garner was in his late 30s. He had graduated from Knightstown High in 1966, the final year the Panthers played in The Hoosier Gym. He watched in awe on the big screen as Hollywood took over the tiny court where he and his classmates had played.

He will never forget seeing Peg Mayhill, who was like a second mother to him, sitting in the bleachers as an extra.

“Hoosiers” was, no doubt, a mesmerizing movie. Sports and victory and perseverance at their best.

But Garner has uncovered something deeper in the movie: 11 very definite life lessons. The book, “Hoosiers: Eleven Life Lessons,” is short and sweet — 65 pages and 12 chapters.

The format: Replay scenes, characters and lines from the movie then detail the life lesson. Among them: trust, forgiveness, second chances and redemption.

Since the book published six months ago, “Sales have exceeded my wildest expectations,” said Garner. He isn’t, after all, a writer by trade.

Garner was still in high school when he got his start crafting words. It was 1965 and the late Tom Mayhill, longtime owner and publisher of the Knightstown Banner, let Garner cover a high school basketball game. 

“In spite of that first disaster, that he destroyed with red ink, he continued to give me opportunities,” Garner writes in the book.

After a year of working with Mayhill and soaking in his wisdom and advice, Garner was told by Mayhill he should be a writer. This book, 55 years later, is his first attempt.

Garner said he hopes those who read the book and adopt the lessons “have the foundation for a life of value.”

“The 11 life lessons I discern might be different from yours,” he said. Which is why the 12th chapter of Garner’s book is titled, “You’re the Author,” an encouragement to readers to watch the movie and consider what they’ve learned.

“What lessons have I missed?” Garner writes. “It is time for you to put them in writing.”

What they’re saying about the book

Sam Chase, an Indiana Basketball Hall of Famer and real life “Hoosiers” star, led Knightstown to its first sectional title at just 14 years old.

After reading Garner’s book, Chase said it reminded him of the “values I followed to help me succeed not only as a basketball player but in life.” 

“It also brought back memories of all the hours I spent practicing and playing in what is now the famous Hoosier Gym. I encourage you to read and take the lessons to heart.”

Brad Long, who played the character of basketball team captain “Buddy” Walker in “Hoosiers” said: “Bob has captured the essence of the lessons taught throughout the fabric of this movie. He is a true Hoosier.”

And from Mervin Kilmer, a 25-year Hoosier Gym volunteer whom Garner said “has been a consistent source of knowledge and was relentless in pushing me to write this book.” 

“Life, yours and mine, from birth to death is impacted by a variety of people, thoughts and experiences. Some result in changing our lives. The movie “Hoosiers” and this book can (and) may change your life.”

Learn more about “Hoosiers: Eleven Life Lessons” or purchase the book.

Follow IndyStar sports reporter Dana Benbow on Twitter: @DanaBenbow. Reach her via email: dbenbow@indystar.com.

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