Huntingburg, Indiana is a small town with big ideas.
In 1952, they built the Huntingburg Memorial Gym.
“It was built by the community, not by the school corporation and when it was built, it held a capacity of 6,000 people. The town’s population at that time was 3,000,” said Mayor Denny Spinner. “They built it so they could host the tournament, that’s how big basketball was in Indiana. When they opened the gym, everybody said, ‘Oh, it’s way too big.’ And we sold it out for 30 consecutive years.”
If you build it, they will come. That was the idea when the city of Indianapolis built the Hoosier Dome before it had a football team.
“I was sharing the Colts’ story with a young intern we have here in town that’s new to Indiana and I said, '40 years ago, you didn’t want to go into Downtown Indianapolis. And then the Colts came and it changed everything,’” Spinner said.
Just like Memorial Gym, the Hoosier Dome – which became the RCA Dome and now Lucas Oil Stadium – has been an anchor in the community.
“What Indianapolis does and how the state of Indiana rallies around sports – that goes to every level. The same is true here in Huntingburg,” said Spinner. “When you have great athletics and great sports and great community success, everybody comes together and it’s a great feeling.”
On Wednesday night, the Colts came together with the people of Huntingburg to host a fan fest right next to Memorial Gym.
“We know that we have fans that stretch far beyond Indianapolis and Central Indiana. We know we have a large number of fans in Southwest Indiana,” said Colts Events Coordinator Chelsea Durham. “We’ve been down to this corner of the state before and every time we’re down here, we hear more and more from our fans just how excited they are for us to be here.”
It’s that excitement that brought the fan fest to Huntingburg in the first place.
Earlier this year, fans were asked to nominate their city and bring the Colts to their town.
“‘A city like no other’ is their slogan and a lot of their nominations referenced that,” Durham said. “What makes this city so special?”
She quickly found out.
“They all kind of band together for their community and they did the same for the Colts Fan Fest. I think they really do embody a city like no other. They have a small town feel and a pride and they go all out with it and they’re very proud of their city.”
And they demonstrated that once again.
As fans gathered at the gym, a helicopter flew overhead and landed at Southridge High School, home of the 2017 Class 2A State Championship football team. Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and safety Malik Hooker emerged and were greeted on the field by the Raiders.
“Raider Field is kind of a sacred entity for us. To have them fly in and have exclusive access for about 10 minutes with T.Y. Hilton and Malik Hooker, guys that are extremely familiar to our guys, who we watch all the time and we see on TV and we root for – usually, we have to make quite a trip to be involved in professional sports,” said Coach Scott Buening. “To have them come to our town is amazing.”
“That made us feel special because that was the first thing we were told when we got here,” Hooker said. “For them to welcome us the way they did, that’s a blessing.”
“They were ready. They had their rings on. It was special and it was an honor. I congratulated them all and told them it meant a lot,” said Hilton.
They boarded the team bus and on the way to the gym, they were given a hero’s welcome as they passed through Downtown Huntingburg.
“They went out and they decorated the main street of their town and decorated the storefronts and had a parade for the players,” Durham said. “It was really obvious that the Colts fandom runs deep around Huntingburg and Southwest Indiana.”
“When we turned the corner on the bus, Malik looked at T.Y. and said, ‘Look over there,’” Spinner said.
“The whole city is out here!” Hilton said.
“That was one of the reasons we had to get down here,” Hooker said. “Because we wanted to show the fans the same support that they show us.”
As the players and cheerleaders signed autographs, Blue mingled with the crowd and kids ran through the Play 60 Zone and bounced on the inflatables. With live music, food trucks, and a mobile Colts Pro Shop, it had a fall tailgating feel on an early Indiana summer night.
But if you think the Colts coming to town is the biggest thing to happen there, you’d be wrong. Because Huntingburg has another nickname – the Hollywood of the Midwest. A few movies have been shot there, most notably ‘A League Of Their Own.’
“We’ve had a few exciting events in Huntingburg,” Spinner said. “A League of Their Own, the football team winning the state championship, and the Colts kind of topped it off.”
So, the Colts coming would be the third most exciting thing?
“Three or four,” Spinner laughed. “It’s in the top five.”
A community that rallies around its teams, on Wednesday, they rallied around the Colts.
“This is really a once in a lifetime opportunity. The year that we’ve had with the football season and all the other sports and all the things that go with it – it’s great,” Buening said. “It will be a hard one to top.”
And so will their city.
A place like no other, Huntingburg hosted a fan fest like no other.
And they put themselves on the map for Colts Nation.