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What Happened To The Cast Of Hoosiers?

Basketball is Indiana.

Indiana is basketball.

Need a visual answer to those two truisms? Look no further than one of the best sports films ever made, 1986's Hoosiers (the word simply means "someone from Indiana"). A David vs. Goliath tale of second chances, redemption, and dreaming and achieving the impossible not only describes the plot, but the history of the film's production as well. Novice director David Anspaugh and writer/producer Angelo Pizzo had a small budget and not much support, but took the true story of tiny town Milan's dance with destiny in the state's 1954 high school championship and turned it into their own fictionalized cinematic triumph.

Gene Hackman, Barbra Hershey and Dennis Hopper were the marquee names on the poster, but it was the little guys who played the Hickory High Huskers and their prideful, cheering townsfolk, all mostly first-time actors from Indiana, that got the teamwork to make the dream work.

Hoosiers cemented Indiana's place as the home and destination for American basketball for all the world to see. But whatever became of the cast after the buzzer sounded, the fans' cheers died down, and the gym's lights turned off?

Gene Hackman as Coach Norman Dale

Gene Hackman's roles are so well known you don't even need to name the film they belong to — Buck Barrow, Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle, Harry Caul, Lex Luthor, Little Bill Daggett, Royal Tenenbaum (okay, that one's a bit of a giveaway), and of course, perhaps his most winning performance of them all — tough-loving Coach Norman Dale (a role that originally had Jack Nicholson penciled in to play). Hackman has been nominated for five Academy Awards, winner of two (French Connection and Unforgiven), nominated for eight Golden Globes, and winner of four (including the Cecil B. DeMille Award).

Retired from acting since 2004, the star — now in his 90s — has not retired from living and working. Besides doing voiceover work for TV ads, narrating and appearing in documentaries, Hackman has penned five novels, and enjoys painting and his quieter life in Santa Fe, New Mexico (complete with an e-bike). His onscreen presence is certainly missed, but he handed in so many unforgettable performances in under half a century that he's certainly earned the time off.

Barbara Hershey as Myra Fleener

Barbara Hershey (née Herzstein, née Seagull) has been continuously working since the mid-1960s, collaborating with auteurs like Martin Scorsese (Boxcar Bertha, The Last Temptation of Christ), Woody Allen (Hannah and Her Sisters) and Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan), jerking tears with such heartbreakers as Beaches, and racking up the recognition of her peers with an Oscar nomination for 1996's The Portrait of a Lady. In Hoosiers, she's the toughest opponent Coach Dale has to face, but his game plan wins her heart in the end. As one of the few female members of the cast, she didn't seem to fully get into the team spirit, refused to do any publicity for the film, and has seldom spoken of it ever since. Luckily she has no need to hang onto the past — her more recent projects include the Blumhouse horror pic The Manor.

Dennis Hopper as Wilbur 'Shooter' Flatch

In a wild, storied and highly lauded career that lasted over five decades, Dennis Hopper was shockingly only nominated twice for an Academy Award — for writing Easy Rider and for his incredible supporting work as the redemptive town drunk with a beautiful basketball mind, Shooter Flatch in Hoosiers. That was the very same year he haunted cinema forever when he inhaled gas and exhaled insanity as Frank Booth in David Lynch's Blue Velvet. From Rebel Without a Cause to TV westerns to Apocalypse Now to Speed to playing King Koopa in the Super Mario Bros. movie, Hopper played every kind of baddie, scoundrel, weirdo, everything in between, and everything not in between. He also dabbled in art, photography, music (appearing on the Gorillaz album Demon Days), and a lot of drugs and alcohol, which helped to bring a sense of realism to the characters he played that also imbibed. He died in 2010, after a battle with prostate cancer, but there has been life after his death — the long-unfinished Orson Welles film The Other Side of the Wind was finally finished in 2018, allowing Dennis to light up screens (and streaming) one last time.

Sheb Wooley as Cletus Summers

Sheb Wooley's entertaining accomplishments and contributions to society's enjoyment will stand the test of time. Ever hear the novelty song about the one-eyed, one-horned, flying "Purple People Eater?" He took it to the top of the Billboard charts in June of 1958. What about the renowned Hollywood in-joke and good luck charm sound effect the Wilhelm scream, which has sounded off in the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises, Lord of the Rings, Disney cartoons and endless other flicks? While not 100% confirmed, it is strongly believed that he provided the infamous howl when recording additional background and audio sound effects for a movie he had an uncredited role in, 1951's Distant Drums. Sheb (short for "Shelby") was no one-hit wonder, as he had a steady career in both audio (18 albums and the theme for song for TV's Hee Haw) and visual mediums (Rawhide, High Noon, The Lone Ranger, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Silverado). His role as the second-chance-giving friend to Coach Dale in Hoosiers ended up being one of his last. Fittingly, so did his appearance in 1988's Purple People Eater, based on his hit song. Wooley was diagnosed with leukemia in 1996, performed music live until 1999, and passed away in 2003.

Maris Valainis as Jimmy Chitwood

Every kid dreams of hitting the big shot in the championship game. Jimmy Chitwood did just that — and became one of the greatest sports heroes in the annals of movies (he was a fictionalized version of Milan's Mr. Basketball, Bobby Plump). With a quiet reserved touch, Maris Valainis brought the perfect soul to the hole, as the reluctant and shy Chitwood (he has only four lines of dialogue in the entire film). Ironically, the screen legend tried out for his high school team three times and rimmed out on each try. Encouraged by Coach Hackman, Valainis gave acting a further go, starred in three TV movies, including one in which he played Liberace's lover, and ended his career on a high note, in the star-studded Casualties of War in 1989. He stayed out west as a golf course manager (a scratch golfer himself, he once played with Kobe Bryant) before embarking on his current profession — construction consultant. He now owns his own company, AKV Consulting, in Costa Mesa, California.

David Neidorf as Everett Flatch

The only Hoosier not actually from the state of Indiana, David Neidorf brought the sunshine from his native Los Angeles to his dark role as the embarrassed son of an alcoholic. Being in the shadow of Shooter (Dennis Hopper) was quite the burden, but David worked the role as Everett well into overtime. He launched a career afterwards, co-starring in such diverse and impressive films such as Platoon, Empire of the Sun, Bull Durham, and Born on the Fourth of July. He logged his last credit in 1995 and left Hollywood for good, then became a professional poker player. In 2008 he started his own property management company, Full House Consulting, Inc. He and his family live in their Bend, Oregon dream home, designed by his architect wife Pauline Lyders.

Brad Long as Buddy Walker

At 23 years old, Brad Long was the eldest team member in the cast. He had just graduated from Southwestern College when he scored the role of Buddy, the player who gets kicked off the team, only to magically reappear on the roster later in the story (the explanation ended up on the cutting room floor). Long recalled, "Buddy's character description was a leader, cocky and the best defensive player on the team. Defense wasn't my forte... and my teammates would tell you I wasn't one who would talk back to a coach or mouth off. So it was fun to get to play somebody that I wasn't... kind of the rebel type." Long is currently a sales rep for Jostens, and continues to enjoy reminiscing about the movie and his positive, faith-based outlook on life, as he has done as a motivational speaker for well over 300 captive audiences.

Fun fact — Long's father Gary was an actual Indiana Hoosier, who played for the University from 1958-1961.

Steve Hollar as Rade Butcher

Steve Hollar = baller. He helped lead his high school Warsaw Tigers team to the Indiana State Basketball championship in 1984, chipping in 12 points, and then rode the bench for two seasons at DePauw University. While attending college, he made the Hoosiers squad as the mouthy and punchy Rade Butcher. The role didn't pay much, but it violated NCAA rules by earning him money while playing in college, and so he and some other college players who appeared in the film were suspended for three games and ordered to return their pay. While Steve did rebound with two more film roles, he pivoted to a respected career in teeth management and owns his own dental practice in his hometown of Warsaw.  Dr. Hollar received the 2014 Indiana Ethics Achievement award and also was the recipient of the 2015 Sagamore of the Wabash award.

Brad Boyle as Whit Butcher

Brad Boyle and director David Anspaugh both played for the same high school basketball team in Decatur, Indiana. Boyle even led his team to the state regionals in 1984. He was a member of Indiana's National Guard when he auditioned for the film, and said that he looked the part because he "already had the butch haircut." His brother Dan also tried out for the film, but was left off the roster. Post-Hoosiers, he attended David Letterman's alma mater, Ball State and then studied medicine in the US Army. He continues to be a member of the 76th Brigade of the Indiana National Guard, even helping those in need in Afghanistan, and now resides and works back in Decatur as a Physician Assistant in Family Medicine.

Wade Schenck as Ollie McLellan

A farm boy hailing from a small Indiana town of only 800 people, Wade Schenck was tailor-made to play the aw-shucks benchwarmer Ollie. Unlike his onscreen persona, which includes his super-nervous underhanded free throw shots, Schenck was actually good at hooping, and had to tone down his game to fit the script. After shooting wrapped, he headed off to Indiana State University, where he graduated with a degree in Business Administration and Management. Today he's an Account Manager at Koehler Welding in Madison, Indiana.

Kent Poole as Merle Webb

Like Wade Schenck, Kent Poole was also a true Hoosier — a farmer and a cager. In 1982, he and his Western Boone High School squad went all the way to the state semifinals. That talent helped him land the role of Merle Webb, who uttered the key line of the film — "Let's win this game for all the small schools that never had a chance to get here." Poole booked his next gig two years later with a small part in director Anspaugh's next big screen adventure, 1988's Fresh Horses, co-starring Molly Ringwald, Andrew McCarthy, Ben Stiller and Viggo Mortensen. He never made the jump to Hollywood, and his life didn't have a Hollywood ending either, as he died by suicide at age 39 in 2003. Brad Long's son Landry made a short documentary film about Poole and his depression, aptly titled For the Small Schools.

Scott Summers as Strap Purl

Scott Summers is the alter ego of X-Men's Cyclops, but it was a different Scott Summers who played the pious basketball super hero Strap for the Huskers. (This Summers should also not be confused with another Scott Summers, a Houstonian who co-produced Daddy Yankee's hit song "Con Calma.") Hoosiers' Scott Summers brought a knowing, soulful smile that always seemed to be able to chip away at Coach Dale's tough and gruff exterior. After high school, he studied business at Taylor University, and has since receded from the limelight, outside of attending one cast reunion in 2017 that included all living team members. These days, the father of two lives in Zionsville, Indiana and is rumored to be a contractor, and may or may not have a mustache.

Fern Persons as Opal Fleener

It's rare to appear in one of the greatest sports movies of all time, but how about two of them? Fern Persons did just that when she co-starred as Kevin Costner's mother-in-law in the baseball classic Field of Dreams. 75 years old at the time of filming, Persons had led a full life before Hoosiers and after, working well into her late 90s. She had hosted a local Chicago kitchen and home television show in the 1950s, but didn't really jump back into acting until after her husband died in 1971. In 1983 she went back to "school" and appeared as a lab teacher in Risky Business and a headmistress in Class. For Hoosiers, she signed on for less money in exchange for a higher placement in the film's credits. Retired for only two years, she passed away in 2012 at the age of 101.

Chelcie Ross as George Walker

With a face you cannot soon forget, Chelcie Ross has been quite the animated performer in live-action work since the early '80s. His most iconic role was that of (c)rusty old pitcher Eddie Harris in 1989's Major League, where he famously quipped "up yours, Jobu." He's also stuck his head out in Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, Basic Instinct, Richie Rich, A Simple Plan, and other sports films like Trouble with the Curve, and even re-teamed with the Hoosiers director/writing team for their follow-up, Rudy, as Notre Dame head coach Dan Divine. Rudy is considered another Indiana film institution in its own right. His six-episode stay on Mad Men and recent role on Showtime's Billions has shown that Ross is still boss.

Robert Swan as Rollin

Robert "Bob" Swan's Rollin was one of the few townsfolk to give an early chance to and believe in Coach Dale, but you won't believe how multi-talented the man himself is — actor, poet, real estate entrepreneur, and opera singer. As an actor, he made memorable appearances that scream "that guy," as a mountie in The Untouchables, Ruth's dad in The Babe, a bloodied deputy in Natural Born Killers, a detective in Who's That Girl, a bartender in Backdraft, and joined Chelcie Ross as a priest in Rudy. Sidelined by a serious car accident and other ailments over the past decade, he has stayed in the spotlight working with the Acorn Theater of Three Oaks Michigan, and founded and performed with his own opera company, Robert Swan's Harbor County Opera.

Michael O'Guinne as Rooster

Like Chelcie Ross, Michael O'Guinne just has one of those faces you cannot shake from your mind. His sharp tongue, piercing eyes, and sharp haircut as barber Rooster in Hoosiers made the most of his handful of minutes in the movie. He has done the same in several TV shows and movies before and since then, like Hill Street Blues, Remington Steele, and Life as a House. His last credited role came in 2002 as a DEA agent in the British show Auf Wiedersehen, Pet.

Wil DeWitt as Reverend Vernon Doty

Wil DeWitt's appearance as Husker town and team chaplain Reverend Vernon Doty was his one big-screen credit, but according to his 2003 obituary, he acted in commercials and plays, as well as working in other areas of the media — he was a radio and television news announcer, producer, and director. He also owned the home repair company Master Jack.

Fun fact: his relatives owned the house in Bloomington, Indiana that was used as the Stohler homestead for filming in another classic Indiana-set sports movie, 1979's Breaking Away.

Michael Sassone as Preacher Purl

A man of great faith on and off the court, Michael Sassone brought a warm smile to his debut film role as a preacher, bus driver and father to Husker Strap. Mainly a stage actor who has performed plays with the famed Steppenwolf Theatre as well as in regional theater near Chicago, Sassone has also appeared in other Hollywood period pieces such as Road to Perdition and Public Enemies, and like Chelcie Ross and Bob Swan, he also landed a role in Rudy. His last known screen credit came in the 2015 film Uncle John.

The Hoosier Gym as the Hickory Huskers' Gym

One of the unsung stars of the film is the home court of the Hickory Huskers. It's where the impossible dream begins and the film ends, zooming in on a team photo hung high and proud in the gym. The Knightstown, Indiana facility was built in 1921 and served the community for 45 years as a place for kids to play basketball as well as a spot for civic events. It had little use when a new high school gym was built nearby, and closed in 1966. That all changed in the fall of 1985, when the gym served as the home court set the filmmakers used for Hoosiers. The film's success and long-lasting appeal saved the gym from the wrecking ball, and the Hoosier Gym now serves as a museum of the movie and all things Indiana basketball, as well as a site hosting over 80 games a year. The pandemic has cut down on the 60,000 visitors who descend to Knightstown annually to live out their own hoop dreams, but they have been surviving thanks to volunteers, donations and merchandise sales.

Go Huskers!