Time to reprise the list (besides, I’m on vacation): The top 25 must-see’s, must-do’s to be a true, bona fide, no-doubt-aboutit Indiana sports fan.
1. The Indianapolis 500. OK, it’s not quite what it used to be. But it still is the largest single-day sporting event in the world. And few moments in sport can match the flying start of the race.
2. A basketball game in Hinkle Fieldhouse, either high school or the Butler Bulldogs. Hinkle remains the mecca.
3. For the quintessential Hoosier doubleheader, a Butler game on a Saturday afternoon, and an Indiana Pacers game that night in Conseco Fieldhouse. Experiencing both fieldhouses in a few hours will really drive home the point that the past is present and the present is past.
4. A trip to the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in New Castle and, across the parking lot, a game at New Castle’s Chrysler Fieldhouse-at 9,358 seats, still the world’s largest high school gymnasium.
5. The Brickyard 400 (moving up my list, even though it’s been around just since 1994). It is the world’s secondlargest single-day sporting event, and the various and sundry members of the NASCAR Nation have to be seen-and heard-to be believed.
6. The Indianapolis Colts. They’ve been a fall fixture in Indy for more than 20 years. And it is the NFL, after all.
7. Notre Dame football. True, Notre Dame feels more like Chicago than Indiana, but the pregame atmosphere both in the parking lots and on campus is the quintessential big-time college football experience.
8. The Monon Bell Game. Wabash-DePauw. The “oldest continuous rivalry west of the Alleghenies.” The head knocking is unbelievable-and that’s in the stands. Some of the idiot shenanigans aside, it is small college football at its most intense.
9. A game at Victory Field. Pack a cooler and take the family. Sit on the grassy berm that surrounds the outfield fence and enjoy minor-league baseball in a major-league atmosphere.
10. The Old Oaken Bucket football game. It’s been forever since the game had serious national consequences, but those post-game moments in which one team puts its hands on the prized pail and the other knows it has to wait another year are genuinely emotional.
11. Indiana-Purdue basketball, either in Assembly Hall or Mackey Arena. If only an Old Oaken Bucket-type prize went to the winner.
12. The boys state high school basketball championships. Once upon a time, this was the toughest ticket in the state and this would have been no lower than second on the list. But divided by four, it fails to capture the collective fancy of Hoosiers anymore. It’s still worth seeing-but only if “your” team is playing.
13. The state high school football championships. I have to be honest, though: Those relatively small crowds in that big stadium don’t lend themselves to a championship-style atmosphere.
14. The Little 500 at IU. Cinder-fellas on bikes.
15. OK, even if it’s not the last Sunday in May or the first Sunday in August, a trip to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway-this time to visit the Hall of Fame Museum-is well worth the effort and price. Then journey on downtown to take in the NCAA’s Hall of Champions. Or travel upstate to South Bend and visit the College Football Hall of Fame.
16. The RCA Championships. Hint: Go early in the week and visit the practice courts. You’ll have a close-up and unhindered view of guys who have amazing skills with a tennis racket.
17. The girls state high school basketball championships. See boys championships, above.
18. The state high school wrestling championships. A great show and incredible passion.
19. The NHRA Nationals at Indianapolis Raceway Park. Bring your earplugs.
20. A soccer game at IU featuring the quintessential collegiate program.
21. An Anderson High School basketball game in the Wigwam. Reminder of a sport and a school system the way they used to be.
22. The Indiana Derby at Hoosier Park … or the Fox Stake at the Fairgrounds.
23. The sprint cars on the high banks of Winchester or Salem.
24. A high school football game at Ben Davis. Or Warren Central. Even better, Ben Davis vs. Warren Central. Better still: any Indiana high school football game on a rainy, 38-degree night in late October or early November. Are you a real fan?
25. Purdue or IU women’s basketball, or an Indiana Fever game. I’m telling you, these women can hoop!
Score yourself: If you’ve done all 25, you’re eligible for a sports Sagamore of the Wabash.
20-24: Call yourself a true Hoosier unless, of course, you’re a Boilermaker. 15-19: You’re a resident, but not yet a fan. 10-14: Unlikely you know who Bobby Plump is. 0-9: Eligible to apply for job as sports columnist for local newspaper.
For next year’s list (or the next time I’m on vacation, whichever comes first) I’ll gladly entertain your submissions for this ranking.
Benner, a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star, is now vice president of communications for the notfor-profit Indiana Sports Corp. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.