KNIGHTSTOWN — The basketball goals hung prominently inside the Historic Hoosier Gym on Tuesday, but few paid them much attention — not on this night.
Instead, all eyes fixated on the hardwood, covered in a single black wresting mat where host Knightstown and Eastern Hancock stood on either side of the circle, ready for their closeups.
Made famous for being the home of the fabled Hickory Huskers in the 1986 classic film “Hoosiers,” the Hoosier Gym has played host to many basketball showcases, team practices, youth events and countless pick-up games.
For the first time, however, wrestling seized the spotlight inside the venue, and fittingly the inaugural dual pitted the visiting Royals against their arch-rival.
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“You always think about this place, Hoosier Gym, and it’s about basketball,” Eastern Hancock head coach Keith Oliver remarked on the dual-meet setting. “Then you bring a wrestling mat into an atmosphere like this and everyone quickly forgets about the goals. It was an intense rivalry.”
With a total of 12 pins combined in the dual, neither team held anything back with bragging rights on the line. Separated by only six miles, the schools and it’s athletes often have family ties, which was no different as Knightstown survived to narrowly win 45-33.
“It was pretty cool for me because both of my parents went to Knightstown,” Eastern Hancock senior Colby Hunt said. “My parents were also in the movie. They grew up here. My dad grew up right down the road.”
Tuesday’s event wasn’t the first time Hunt has been center court inside the landmark building. He played Optimist basketball league games at the gym when he was in kindergarten and grade school. His father, Chris, a 1986 Knightstown graduate, and mother, Shawna, a 1989 graduate, were extras in the film, though their scenes were cut.
They also played elementary hoops there as kids and have always had a connection to the town. Those loyalties were non-existent, however, once Colby and the Royals stepped on the mat.
Colby scored one of Eastern Hancock’s five pins, needing only 3 minutes and 31 seconds to win at 195 pounds. He made his final appearance at the gym count, cutting the Panthers’ lead to 39-27 with two matches remaining as the Royals’ crowd showed their appreciation.
“It was really different having the crowd so close,” Hunt said referring to the gym’s intimate seating. “But having them that close kind of amped it up and made everything more intense.”
The pins kept the decibel level high through.
Knightstown won four of the first five matches by fall with the fastest going to Thomas Sollars in 50 seconds at 113 pounds. Eastern Hancock trailed 24-6 before charging back to within three points after Garrett Frieson won by fall in 1:31 at 152 pounds.
“It was close, but we gave up some pins early that we definitely should not have given up,” Oliver said. “When you do that, it costs you. We started down 24-6. I think that was the difference maker.
“That’s what we talked to them about yesterday. We need to quit worrying about the pins and worry about the points first. Some of them did well in it and some of them didn’t, so we have some work to do.”
Jack Smith, a junior, halted the Panthers from sweeping the first five matches, with a pin at 120 in 3:29. Three straight Eastern Hancock wins put them in position to strike, down 24-21.
Senior Gabe Blake won his match at 138 by fall in 1:31, which was the quickest for the Royals, while junior Jordyn Wills battled for a 6-0 decision at 145.
“They were pretty aggressive, wanting to get that win and prove that they were the best,” Blake said. “We tried to stop them.”
The Panthers responded with an 15-point swing behind a pair of pins and a come-from-behind decision at 182. Jon Simmons fall at 170 pounds was the fastest pin of the night in 20 seconds.
Senior heavyweight Josh Robinson followed up Hunt’s late heroics with a fall in 1:54, but another Knightstown pin at 220 put the match away, marking the fourth straight win for the Panthers against the Royals.
“The rivalry was intense tonight, that’s for sure,” Oliver said. “I felt pretty good about it coming in today, but it’s one of those things I think we will build on.”
The same can be said of the chosen setting. Discussed last year as a possibility, the two schools pursued the gym, set the date and plan to make it an annual tradition. In the first year, the meeting netted almost $800 with 160 tickets sold and 245 people in attendance.
“It became one of those things were we wanted to make it work and we did,” Oliver said. “I think it will only get bigger and bigger every year.”
“This is the biggest crowd I’ve seen at a match, even more than our invitational,” Blake added with a laugh. “I loved it.”
Knightstown 45, Eastern Hancock 33
106: David Peck (K) def. Chase Sweet (EH) by fall 3:24
113: Thomas Sollars (K) def. Ethan Boyer (EH) by fall 0:50
120: Jack Smith (EH) def. Nic Walsh (K) by fall 3:29
126: Jacob Hanna (K) def. Austin Henderson (EH) by fall 3:25
132: Bruce Nichols (K) def. Caleb Giddings (EH) by fall 2:50
138: Gabe Blake (EH) def. Adam Ott (K) by fall 1:31
145: Jordyn Wills (EH) def. Michael Weiland (K) by dec. 6-0
152: Garrett Frieson (EH) def. Evan Nolen (K) by fall 1:46
160: Alex Brading (K) def. Riley Settergren (EH) by fall 0:22
170: Jon Simmons (K) def. Brandon Francis (EH) by fall 0:20
182: Zach Clark (K) def. Clayton Cochard (EH) by dec. 5-3
195: Colby Hunt (EH) def. Aiden Orcutt (K) by fall 3:31
220: Garrett Thomas (K) def. Alexander Burton (EH) by fall 2:48
285: Josh Robinson (EH) def. Burias Wisner (K) by fall 1:54