The opening scene of the popular “Hoosiers” film focuses on the rural countryside as the sun begins to rise in 1951 across small-town Indiana, where young boys shoot hoops in driveways and barnyards, dreaming of playing for a state basketball title.
It's the ultimate underdog sports film, but made so beautifully and with such strong performances that it has become a classic to be watched again and again by many who love the game of basketball.
When that film was shot in 1986, a young girl in another small town in Indiana also was practicing from dawn to dusk as she set out to chase that same dream for her high school team.
Friday night in Culver, Ind., school officials for the Culver Girls Academy honored that young player, Patricia Babcock McGraw, for her commitment to the game and her team, and the successful journey she led them during her high school years.
While Patricia Babcock McGraw is now a 15-year veteran sports writer and columnist for the Daily Herald, she remains Culver's all-time leading basketball scorer — girls and boys. She went on to earn the title of Indiana's Miss Basketball in 1990 when it was a one-class system, finishing 12th in the state in career scoring with 2,199 points. As a senior, she set a single-season scoring mark at Culver with 725 points for the 1989-1990 season, a record that ranked 19th in state history.
Friday night, the school hung a replica jersey of Babcock McGraw's Miss Indiana Basketball jersey in Fleet Gym and held a reception for her family after the varsity contest.
“Basketball is a way of life in Indiana — everyone has a hoop in the driveway,” said Babcock McGraw, who went on to earn a college scholarship and Second Team All-Big Ten honors at Northwestern University, and was a Big Ten All-Academic honoree. As a member of the Wildcats, she set the school rebounding record and scored more than 1,000 points at Northwestern, averaging a double-double as a senior.
Babcock McGraw's father taught math for more than 40 years at Culver, and all three children of John and Linda Babcock played college basketball. Younger brothers Mike (Wabash College) and Greg (Wisconsin-Green Bay) got their introduction to the game from their 6-foot-3 sister.
“It was a great experience for me,” Babcock McGraw said. “It's a great school and they teach all about doing things the right way. They talk about honor and respect as a student and an athlete.
“We lost the way we won — with dignity, and we could always hold our heads high. They taught us how to carry ourselves.”
Since 2007, Babcock McGraw has also worked as a television analyst for women's games on the Big Ten Network, Chicago Sky (WNBA) and the Illinois High School Association. This winter she will also broadcast games for DePaul's women's team.
With Friday's ceremony, Babcock McGraw joins a list of other notable alumni from Culver Military Academy and Culver Girls Academy prep schools: former film critic Gene Siskel, former New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, and Mitch Henderson, the men's basketball coach at Princeton University.
Her two children and husband Mike (Daily Herald Bulls beat writer) joined her at Culver Girls Academy for the occasion, and no doubt stopped by the family driveway where her basketball career began.
“My basketball coach, Gerry Thomas, said something to me that I've carried around my entire life. He was always big on working hard and telling you to look over your shoulder. 'When you're not practicing, someone else is,' he would say.
“I was really determined and I really wanted to play college basketball in the Big Ten.”
Cue the music and chalk up another big win for an underdog and small-town kid from Indiana.Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.