One of the most popular movies of the past 25 years was “Hoosiers,” which was inspired by the true story of tiny Milan High School defeating mighty Muncie Central High for the Indiana State Basketball title.
The movie, loosely based on this actual game which took place in 1954, captured the imagination and hearts of millions of movie-goers around the country. Kansas has its own version of the story.
On Jan. 16, 1964, the Mullinville Tigers squared off against the Shawnee Mission North Indians at the Dodge City Tournament of Champions. Talk about David and Goliath: Mullinville boasted an enrollment of just 73 students while North’s enrollment topped 2,100.
The TOC, started in 1944, was already considered the preeminent tournament in Kansas and had built a deserving reputation as one of the most innovative basketball tournaments around. From its beginning, it had a long history of scheduling small schools against much larger ones.
It was these very contests, along with other imaginative ideas, that helped draw thousands of fans to Dodge City each year. The results of these games were quite predictable.
That is, predictable until this day.
In the early going, it appeared the game might go the way of so many others. Mighty North opened an early lead and held a 30-24 advantage at the half.
In the second half, Mullinville switched to a zone press and began to force a faster pace. North began to stumble and not only took some questionable shots but also committed numerous turnovers.
With momentum now in the favor of the Tigers, the lead was trimmed until Mullinville grabbed its first lead with 3:08 left in the contest. Timely free throws down the stretch kept North at bay as the Tigers claimed the upset, 48-46. With the win, they grabbed plenty of newspaper headlines around the state.
Both teams finished the season quite well. North finished second in the Class AA State Tournament, losing to Lucius Allen and the Wyandotte Bulldogs. Meanwhile, Mullinville claimed the Class BB State Title.
And the Tournament of Champions: It remains today the most compelling and interesting tourney in the Sunflower State. The Tournament of Champions is just another remarkable story from the basketball courts of Kansas Hoopla.
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