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Franklin Wonder Five

In 1920, a high school basketball team from a small town called Franklin, Indiana, a suburb of Indianapolis in Central Indiana, captured the media limelight and made history as an organization called the Franklin Wonder Five. From 1920 through 1922, this high school basketball team won the Indiana State Basketball Championship three years in a row, cementing their place in Indianapolis basketball history as well.

This was during the period dubbed “Hoosier Hysteria,” when Indiana high school basketball worked the fans into a virtual froth of basketball passion. Indiana’s enormous affinity for the game is accurately displayed in the famous movie, Hoosiers, partly filmed in the great Conseco Fieldhouse in downtown Indianapolis. The film depicts the main underlying reason for Hoosier Hysteria, which is that in the game of basketball, even the underdog has a chance. The Franklin Wonder Five proved this theory every time they hit the court.

After the team’s unequaled high school successes, their coach, Griz Wagner, decided to move up to college basketball, and took most of the original Franklin Wonder Five members with him to Franklin College. This tiny school, comprised at the time of a student body of only 350, had an undefeated college season right out of the box during 1922-1923. The Wonder Five put fifty wins in a row over a period of two years, challenging and demolishing bigger, stronger teams.

Needless to say, the team’s notoriety continued to explode geometrically. The Franklin Wonder Five beat a professional basketball team out of Detroit, Michigan, the Omars, not once, but twice. The team was being hailed in the papers
¬†as the “best collegiate team in Hoosierdom, the basketball center of the world.” The Franklin Wonder Five took home the Indiana State Collegiate Champion trophy for 1923 and 1924, as well as the National Collegiate Championship award in 1923, during their undefeated season.

The Franklin Wonder Five team during their high school championship days was made up of now immortalized players Burl Friddle, Ralph Hicks, Paul White, Robert Vandiver, Sima Comer, Johnny Gant, Harold Borden, Pete Keeling and the team’s coach, Ernest “Griz” Wagner. The team adopted the nickname the “Grizzly Cubs” to permanently honor their wonder-coach, “Griz” Wagner, who brought them along to the universally accepted reputation as the greatest Indiana high school basketball team of all time.


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