Bill May was there when Bobby Plump hit the famous last-second shot to give underdog Milan the 1954 state championship. He didn’t have a seat. Technically he did, but it was one of the undesirable obstructed view seats in Hinkle Fieldhouse. So May was standing with a group on the south end in the balcony, on the opposite end from where Plump hit the shot.
“I still remember exactly where I was when that ball went through,” May said.
It is one of many memories the Richmond native has of the high school basketball state finals. May, 81, will attend his 68th consecutive state finals on Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, a streak he kept intact despite moving from Indiana to Raleigh, N.C., in 2006.
“There will come a time when I’ll have to break the streak,” May said. “But I tell people I still feel like I’m 31. It’s just something I enjoy doing.”
May’s streak started in 1948. Marion Crawley’s Lafayette Jeff team knocked off Evansville Central for the title, 54-42, at Hinkle Fieldhouse. His streak could be 70 this year; however, May missed the 1947 finals when Bill Garrett-led Shelbyville defeated Terre Haute Garfield.
“I’m still kicking myself for that one,” he said.
May actually worked the state finals as a referee in 1972, ’73 and ’74, the three years the finals were played at Assembly Hall in Bloomington. He worked the afternoon games all three years.
“After that, the finals moved to Market Square Arena,” he said. “I retired (as a referee) after the ’74 season. I was only 40, but I was ready to quit.”
The 1990 IHSAA basketball finals moved to the then-Hoosier Dome. A national-record high school crowd of 41,046 was in attendance. The final game was Bedford North Lawrence (Damon Bailey) vs. Concord.
May started out officiating junior high and freshman games before getting his first sectional assignment in 1955. During that time, two officials would work three sectional games in one night. He worked in several small schools around Richmond, places like Milton, Greens Fork and Fountain City, where the basketball court was on a stage and the fans sat in auditorium-style seating in the audience.
“Most of these places didn’t have (public address) systems,” he said. “So they’d give us a megaphone and I’d have to announce that there would be a chili supper in the cafeteria after the game.”
Among May’s favorite state finals memories:
• Jasper’s 1949 win over Madison. Jasper won 62-61 despite Madison’s Dee Monroe scoring 36 points. “It was significant Jasper lost nine games in the regular season but got hot at the right time,” he said. “I actually thought Auburn was the best team but couldn’t hold off Jasper in the afternoon.”
• Milan in ’54. “That will always be a favorite,” he said. “People talk about a shot clock in high school basketball but Milan holding the ball down by two points, you think that wasn’t exciting? The crowd was breathless. You couldn’t imagine what was going to happen next.”
• Crispus Attucks in ’55. “Oscar Robertson, who could forget him,” May said. “We didn’t realize what he was accomplishing because he was so darn smooth. He made it look easy.”
• The 1960 finals, when East Chicago Washington upset unbeaten Muncie Central. “That was one of the big upsets of all-time,” he said.
• The 1990 finals when Damon Bailey and Bedford North Lawrence won in front of more than 41,000 fans at the Hoosier Dome. “They were a team of destiny,” he said. “Damon took over in the last two or three minutes.”
• The 1992 finals, when Richmond won the title with overtime wins over Jeffersonville and Lafayette Jeff. “Most of us thought we’d never live long enough to see Richmond win a state title,” he said.
May intends to continue attending the state finals as long as he’s able.
“My family is in North Carolina now so there’s nothing keeping us coming to Indiana except basketball,” he said.
Call Star reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649.