In 1980, Butler University, the then-even-smaller liberal arts school (enrollment of about 2,000 students), hired a student
as its sports information director (that student was Chuck Weisenbach, now principal at Roncalli High School).
This nearly pre-dates the Indianapolis “amateur sports capitol” initiative that changed the city forever. Market Square Arena hosted the “NCAA ‘80” (as is printed on the event poster), and the Butler men’s basketball team finished 12-15 for the 1979-’80 season.
Mediocrity in the athletic department was tolerated by the administration, winning wasn’t a priority and Tony Hinkle’s five principles—humility, passion, unity, servanthood and thankfulness—had not been adopted as “The Butler Way.”
Fast forward to 2010 and Butler University (enrollment 4,700) will co-host the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship (now globally branded as the “Final Four”), and play in it, too!
Yes, for the first time in school history and first time since 1972, a participating team will play the Final Four in their hometown. Butler will travel south on Meridian Street to Lucas Oil Stadium for the right to become the smallest school to win the coveted title.
This achievement is remarkable, historical and inspiring. Who—other than fans Duke, Michigan State or West Virginia—can help but cheer for the Bulldogs?
While some claim to have predicted after last season that Butler would do what they ultimately did by advancing to Indianapolis for the Final Four, far more people across the country had never heard of the school, let alone star Gordon Hayward.
Needless to say, that’s all changed.
Something special is going on at 49th Street and Boulevard Place:
—Starting sophomore point guard Ronald Norad (freshman class president) using the word “love” last week when describing the relationship with his teammates;
—His class and backcourt mate Shelvin Mack was captain of the gold medal 2009 under 19 FIBA Championship team;
—Sophomore Hayward (also on the U:19 team) and senior center Matt Howard were named to the 2010 ESPN The Magazine Academic All-American Team. (Note: Butler is the only school to have two players on the honor squad);
—And, Butler fans will forever remember senior Willie Veasley’s “good bounce” of all “good bounces” on a 3-pointer and the later tip-in to score five of his 13 points in the closing minutes of Butler’s win over No. 1 seeded Syracuse.
That’s this year’s starting five. Their predecessors laid the foundation, established the standards and mentored the incoming classes, Despite three coaches since 2000, Butler reached the Sweet 16 for the third time in eight years, as they say, “one possession at a time.”
Some describe this year’s success as “the college version of ‘Hoosiers’” and others may hang the “Miracle on 49th Street” tag. The players themselves are the least surprised by their success; however, they don’t have the “we deserve this” mindset. They’re all business until the horn sounds.
And, did you see the chest bump by Coach Stevens after the win over Kansas State?
Many right here in our own city have forgotten that Indianapolis hosted the 1980 NCAA men’s basketball championship. But few fans will ever forget the character, teamwork, unselfishness, and poise that Coach Stevens and the Dawgs have demonstrated this season and even more so during the last two weeks under the national spotlight.
Will Monday, April 5, 2010 be remembered as even more amazing?
David Morton is a principal with Sunrise Sports Group LLC, an Indianapolis-based sports marketing firm, co-president of the Butler University Central Alumni Chapter and an adjunct professor at Butler University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.