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Basketball-Loving Hoosiers Await Women's Championship

March 31, 2001

Associated Press Writer

MACY, Ind. (AP) – The Rev. George McCarty said it’s easy to explain why basketball is so important to Indiana.

“Little towns like this have more basketball hoops than they have people,” said McCarty, pointing to a hoop at the end of a dead-end street near the center of town.

The hoop is about a block away from the house where All-American center Ruth Riley of Notre Dame grew up. Riley honed her skills playing against neighborhood boys.

“She’d go down there and whip them all,” said Ethel Cattin, whose grandson is married to Riley’s sister.

On Sunday, Riley and her Notre Dame teammates will face Purdue in the women’s NCAA title game at St. Louis, the first time two teams from the same state will meet for the women’s championship. It’s happened twice in the men’s championship, when Cincinnati beat Ohio in 1961 and 1962.

“I think it’s great,” William Durks said of the women’s championship. “I’ve got mixed emotions about who to cheer for. But I think I’ll cheer for Notre Dame. Purdue won it two years ago.”

Macy is in the Hoosier heartland, about 55 miles away from both the West Lafayette home of Purdue and the South Bend home of Notre Dame. Basketball comes naturally in such towns, said Bev Cattin, Ethel Cattin’s daughter-in-law.

“In towns like this, there’s not a lot to do, especially for the girls, and basketball is always there,” Bev Cattin said.

Indiana takes its basketball seriously. The state has a hall of fame dedicated primarily to high school basketball. Indiana has produced perhaps the game’s greatest coach in John Wooden, and many of its best players, including Oscar Robertson and Larry Bird.

“I guess it’s innate with people who grow up here,” Riley said about the love for basketball.

Though Macy wasn’t draped in signs showing devotion to Riley and the Fighting Irish, the excitement was evident.

Along the sidewalks of this town of 248, talk of Friday night’s semifinal victories could be heard through open windows. A sport utility vehicle rumbling down the main drag carried a Notre Dame flag. The driver honked at three boys on the steps of the post office, enthusiastically pointing a finger at the flag.

But this isn’t generally Irish territory. Most people cheer for either Indiana or Purdue, the two state schools.

“I don’t think as many people cheer for Notre Dame, because we’re country folk and most people here can’t afford to send their kids to Notre Dame,” Bev Cattin said.

McCarty and two friends biking through town Saturday said that they’re firmly behind the Boilermakers.

“We’re cheering for Purdue, that’s the state school,” said David Zell, a maintenance worker from nearby Peru.

The three men said they were not surprised that two teams from Indiana were in the title game.

“We invented basketball in Indiana,” said McCarty, pastor at the Peru First Christian Church.

Reminded that basketball was invented by James Naismith at Springfield, Mass., McCarty said, “I think Indiana disputes that.”