It’s Labor Day and my wife is watching Hoosiers. It’s that classic blockbuster movie about Indiana High School Basketball. My eyes start gushing every time it comes on. Let me tell you why.
It’s 1971. Me and my brother and best friends are in Gregory Gym in Austin, Texas. We cannot hear what each other is saying because everyone is yelling and the music is so loud. Points are being made down on the court like a pinball machine, and OUR Guys are making them. OUR basketball team, Cypress Fairbanks High School, is playing for the STATE CHAMPIONSHIP. We are still in the game against WHEATLEY, the undisputed owner of Texas High School basketball. Our classmates down on the basketball court have grown two inches overnight, are dribbling like the Globetrotters and are shooting like Wyatt Earp. The sound inside the Gymnasium is deafening, as students on both sides stomp the bleachers, screaming at the top of their lungs, and then it was over.
Cy-Fair had won. It was a miracle!
Cy- Fair, the half white, half black team from the Houston Suburbs, had beaten the all-black inner city Wheatley basketball dynasty, in its first year as a 4A school. The place became a madhouse and we ran for the buses. Rocks, asphalt chunks, hubcaps, all kinds of congratulations came flying at us and our buses as we screamed for the bus driver to PLEASE get us out of here! But it was fun. We won. We never completely came down from that day.
That was the second year in a row we had been to the State finals. The previous year we had gone all the way to the finals, as a 3A team. Our best players like Jerry Mercer and the Dunlap Twins would return the next year to give us a season to remember. And of course, there was Coach Truitt.
Coach Ronnie Truitt. Nice big tall guy, never said more than he had to. Must have been a good coach. I had him for P.E., and he was a very decent man. Once I got such a ferocious case of athlete’s foot from wading in those nasty school showers, and I had doctor’s orders to not participate in P.E., and I actually came to school for a week in my socks! He never teased me or berated me. He even gave me the name of a cure. Burned the bedeezers off of me!
The next year, I was commissioned by the Student Council to sculpt a nine foot tall Cy-Fair bobcat to drag to all the football games… and it was built on the energy of that same winning spirit. I will always cherish his look of approval when I rolled that monster up on the stage during a school pep-rally.
Soon Coach Truitt would be moved on up the District ladder and we would never hear much more about him…
Then in 1986, Hoosiers, the movie came out. Hoosiers was about a small Indiana school that had a good team and went all the way to win the 1954 State Championship, against impossible odds… The boys are ordinary boys about to do an extraordinary thing. They have a special coach, played by Gene Hackman. Dennis Hopper plays the dead-man-walking-alcoholic father of one of the players, who helps train them into winners. The movie was graciously not too historically correct, and this served to protect the player with the alcoholic father, who had a sad ending. But everyone agreed it captured the spirit of the moment. Why am I going on and on about a somewhat fictional story, when I have a real one?
Because the player in the story, whose name was changed to protect his and his father’s privacy, was Cy- Fair’s Coach Ronnie Truitt. Even more ironic, few of us ever knew about his personal victories in basketball, or his celebrity status in Indiana, the basketball center of America, until long after the glory days were gone and the movie was being shown on late night TV. When Ronnie Truitt took us to the State Championship, he knew a lot more about it than we ever dreamed. He was reliving a boyhood dream. One that they would make a movie about. And then the quiet Indiana man of basketball passed away, fairly young, of cancer.
We walked among greatness and never even knew. We thought it was the players… and it was, and how Coach Truitt brought out the winner in them. Although I can't imagine that District administrators neglected to honor him in some special way, we as students, who enjoyed that incredible ride as only youth can, we never adequately appreciated or said thank you to him. I’ve never known such quiet greatness and humility combined in one person.