When Norman Dale (Gene Hackman) is offered a position coaching an undisciplined group of basketball players in a small Indiana high school, he can't say no. Considering his spotty past, he'd be a fool to turn down the opportunity.
However, Norman faces a certain amount of suspicion when he arrives for his first day of class. Fellow teacher Myra Fleener (Barbara Hershey) can't understand why a man with his experience coaching basketball in New York would willingly settle down in the tiny community.
The players' parents and team boosters are none too excited about the man either. For them basketball is more than a game. It's the glue that holds the town together on a Friday and Saturday night. Watching the boys play, discussing last year's stats and rehashing the refereeing back at the barbershop are all integral parts of community life that feel threatened by the vocal and hardnosed new trainer.
Demanding discipline and insisting on repetitive drills, his style also doesn't sit well with the boys. They are even less impressed when he invites the town drunk (Dennis Hopper) to sit on the sidelines with him. Regardless of Shooter's superior knowledge of the sport, his drinking habit has sullied his reputation with the town folk. It doesn't improve any when he fails to heed the coach's provisos and shows up at one game totally inebriated. Norman is upset, but Shooter's son is mortified by his estranged father's antics on the foul line.
Still if there is one thing this coach knows, it's that a second chance doesn't come along too often. And when it does, you better be ready to share it. Rather than allowing people to wallow in their comfy pigeonholes, he pushes them to be better. By enlisting Shooter's, he allows a father and son to repair their relationship. As well he challenges a grieving student who has lost a mentor to face his reality and move on with developing his talents.
Based on the true story of the 1954 Indiana State championship game between the Milan Indians and the Muncie Central Bearcats, Hoosiers may explain why basketball continues to be a mainstay of Indiana culture, and why the state has become a breeding ground of NBA greats like Larry Bird, Oscar Robertson, John Wooden and Steve Alford.
For sports enthusiasts, the movie offers plenty of close games and crucial shots. But there is more to this script than scoreboards and lay-ups. Learning to look past other's mistakes and let them change for the better is a point all of us could aim for -- on or off of the court.