“Five pistons working together as one” That is how the fictitious coach Norman Dale described what he was after in the movie Hoosiers. When Dale took over the little high schools basketball team he walked in to a practice where his team was being coached voluntarily by a town volunteer. “Shoot the ball”, the volunteer bellowed as the players passed it around on the perimeter. “You can’t score if you don’t shoot”. That was all Coach Dale needed to see. He quickly sent the volunteer on his way in spite of his grumbling and threatening words as he left. That one observation of the volunteers philosophy showed Dale that this was a man who put the cart ahead of the horse. He said in the movie that “there is more to the game than shooting”. He saw the importance in a team effort in all fazes of the game. That is what he meant by “five pistons working together!”
As Dale was addressing the team for the first time two of the would be players were laughing and talking to each other and paying no attention. Dale called them out on it. He knew he needed complete unity and desire to make this team work. When he demanded unity or they could walk away the two decided to walk away and left their would be teammates behind. Coach Dale did not seem the least bit bothered by their defection. He knew from his experience that this was the weeding out process. If a player was not totally committed to the team and the concept of team work not only on the court but in practice and listening to instructions they were not of any good to the team effort. After a few days during a practice one of the defecting boys fathers brought his son to the coach. “My son has something he wants to say to you coach”. His son asked the coach if he could get back on the team. He told the coach that he was sorry and it wouldn’t happen again. It didn’t take the coach long to consider the request. He saw the remorse the kid was going through and the humility it took to ask for a second chance. “OK” he said, get dressed. The door was not closed to Dale’s team. All that was needed was the right attitude and desire to work together.
In the first game of the season the little school named Hickory for the tiny town where it was located had one player who ignored the coaches plan. Instead of passing the ball around for a good shot he took it upon himself to ignore the team game. He fired up ill advised shots and even though he made a couple of them he found himself on the bench. The kid that went into the game was far less talented but it was a teaching moment for the coach. The player knew why he was on the bench but the fans had given him a loud round of applause as he left the floor. Suddenly a deciding moment in Dale’s coaching took place. One of the five players on the floor had just folded out. The benched player and the only possible substitute jumped up and hurried to the scorers table. Coach Dale looked at him and commanded him to “Sit Down”. When the referee told Dale they needed a fifth player Dale said “My team is on the floor.” After the game Dale commended the four players that were left in the game til the end. Then he made his point loud and clear. “As far as this team what I say goes”, he stated. “If you can’t live with that you need to take some time and decide if you want to be on this team.”
Recently I let my friend Kevin borrow my Hoosiers movie. Kevin didn’t grow up loving sports like I did. Still I thought he would enjoy the movie and he did. He could totally relate to the team effort because he had lived it in his time in the Navy. In the Navy team discipline is the main thing they teach. It is vital that everyone works together and they are taught to cross-train on many of the jobs required. Kevin likes to bring up the fire fighting job on the ships. Everyone needs training in this area because as he so aptly puts it “What are you going to do out there at sea? Call the fire department?” The Navy put your skills together with a job that would fit your strengths. He mentioned that they had a little short guy in their group. Kevin refers to him as Radar who was the character in Mash. “He was put in charge of the post office, Kevin remembered. Kevin saw the total surrender to discipline and leadership that the Hoosiers movie portrayed. It was just like the Navy in that if you were told what to do you better do it in high time! If you didn’t consequences would come That is how the Navy worked. There was no bending or breaking of the rules and no looking away if someone disobeyed. There was a long term goal in mind. It wasn’t just a call for discipline for no cause, it was a call for discipline with a great cause. The cause was far greater than each individuals desire. It made them do what they may not have wanted to do for the good of the team. When I asked Kevin about the about face of the enlistees to the team goal Kevin said it was startling. It was amazing to see the beginnings of each of the individuals in boot camp and the transformation they experienced in both attitude and desire. When they were at the end of their transformation they would have been willing to risk their lives for the safety of their teammates. It was an astounding reconstructed attitude that affected him even to this day over 40 years later
Besides the kid who walked away from the team there was another e4xample of redemption that the coach demonstrated. One of his players father was an expert on basketball. Besides being a fine player in his youth he was also a student of the game that he called the greatest game ever invented. Coach Dale was impressed with his basketball knowledge but he also knew about his major flaw. The man nicknamed “Shooter” was the town drunk. Coach Dale’s assistant coach who was also the principal of the school suffered a heart attack. Dale decided to make “Shooter” his assistant coach. On his walk up to Shooters house he found himself getting shot at. Apparently the nickname Shooter was given for more than his old reputation on the basketball court. Nevertheless he identified himself and Shooters gun quickly stopped. He offered the job to Shooter under the condition that he quit drinking. Shooter sent him on his way apparently convinced that his addiction was too great to be conquered. However to his credit Shooter quit drinking and made his way to the bench during a game. Coach Dale told the team that Shooter would be helping him out. Shooter was not feeling that good and offered no help that first game. In a later game Coach Dale got thrown out of a game on purpose leaving the team with Shooter. It seemed a lost cause until with the game really close Shooter called the winning play! For a moment the towns people looked at Shooter the way the coach did. He was a useful citizen that had a problem like we all do.
When the team was losing the little town tried to vote the coach out of his position. He had made changes and did things that were against their way of thinking. The star player from last years team Jimmy Chitwood had sat out. He was very close to the former coach and wasn’t sure he wanted to play for Coach Dale. When Coach Dale told Jimmy that he didn’t care if he played on the team or not it made an impression. Everyone in the town apparently always told Jimmy how great he was and now this new coach was indifferent. Jimmy saw that Coach Dale’s only focus was on the team and not individual players, unless they were willing to work for the team goal. When the towns people voted to get rid of Coach Dale Jimmy took the podium. In a short speech he said he thought it was about time he played ball again under one condition. If Coach goes I go, If Coach stays I stay. After keeping the coach the team went on a winning streak. They won many close games and won their way to the finals against a school with probably 2,000 students. Little Hickory had a school of 161 students . As you would expect from watching the movie the end was predictable. Jimmy hit the winning shot and the Giant was slain just like the Bible verses and prayer the team heard before the game mentioning David slaying Goliath.
Incredibly this story was based on a real life team from the 1954 Milan High School in Indiana. Although Hollywood enhanced the story, MIlan was a little school that went on to win the state title. They had an outstanding player named Bobby Plump who the character of Jimmy was based on. The story is a reminder of many Bible stories where a small group faced a giant enemy. The small group continued to win because God was with them. Of course there was David and Goliath, but another story comes to mind about the 12 spies. While 10 of them looked at their opposition and stated that they were like grasshoppers next to them 2 of the spies believed God that in spite of the giants the land was theirs to take. That is my message to you today and through this story. “No matter how big and powerful the enemy is God is on your side.” It is stated that “if God is for us who can be against us?” Romans 8:31. Don’t ever give up or back down. God is on your side! Keep up the good fight and always lean on God for the wisdom you need!
We see so many examples of a team in our every day lives. The family is a team, the company we work for is a team, our friends make up a team, and so on. It is imperative that we all work as one. There needs to be a common goal and a common purpose. Our faith is individual but we work as a team. Each Hickory basketball player had certain skills that they contributed to the team and each member of God’s team has certain skills as well.
There is one more thought to the whole Hoosiers philosophy. We are not alone in this world. First of all God is with us and he sent us his Holy Spirit for all wisdom. Then there are millions of fellow Christians that are walking the same path that we are. Work as a team and learn from your fellow teammates. Display that unity of the five pistons working together. God wants us to be a mighty team in his name and he has a promise that is found in James !:12….
12 Happy are those who remain faithful under trials, because when they succeed in passing such a test, they will receive as their reward the life which God has promised to those who love him.