‘A Touch of Glory’ will showcase Crispus Attucks High School’s historic basketball win

A collage of black and white photos of basketball players with gold stars and newspaper print at the top that reads "Robertson Cracks All-Time Point Mark."
Artwork installations such as this one will welcome visitors who come to Crispus Attucks High School to see "A Touch of Glory" this weekend. (Amelia Pak-Harvey / Chalkbeat)

Sign up for Chalkbeat Indiana’s free daily newsletter to keep up with Indianapolis Public Schools, Marion County’s township districts, and statewide education news.

Last week, Asher Young didn’t know much about Oscar Robertson — the student and later NBA star who led the Crispus Attucks High School basketball team to victory in its historic 1955 state championship win.

Then, just days before a throng of visitors descend upon downtown Indianapolis for the NBA All-Star Weekend, the Arsenal Technical High School senior was asked to portray another member of the school’s famed basketball team in a new play about the Tigers’ historic victory.

Though his role is small — one with few lines but a lot of facial expressions, Young said — he has still learned a lot about the Black community in Indianapolis during the 1950s and Robertson himself.

“This is a way for me to pay respect to [Robertson],” Young said. “And to other people that have also fought for civil rights.”

The play — “A Touch of Glory” — will run at Crispus Attucks High School this weekend, coinciding with a weekend celebrating all things basketball that also occurs during Black History Month.

The play recounts the win that made the Tigers the first Indianapolis team — and the first all-Black team — to win the Indiana High School Athletic Association basketball tournament. The Tigers were also the first all-Black team to win a state championship in any sport in the country.

But the win symbolized much more than a state title — it marked an achievement by the city’s Black students, who persevered despite the school system’s segregation at the time.

Crispus Attucks High School opened as the city’s only high school exclusively for Black students in 1927, during a decade when the Ku Klux Klan held a powerful sway in local politics. Despite a 1949 state law outlawing segregation, the school remained segregated until a federal court mandated the school district desegregate in the 1970s.

Deborah Asante, the play’s director, plans to create a curriculum available free to schools that will help contextualize the basketball team’s story in the fight for civil rights nationwide occurring at the time. The team won the championship the same year white men lynched Emmett Till, a 14-year-old Black boy, and the same year as the Montgomery bus boycott.

“These were breakthrough moments where the world kind of pushed forward,” Asante said. “This is our way of keeping that fight out there to remind people that people have made sacrifices already and we will continue to do so. That’s why it’s important to put it in front of people because a man like Oscar Robertson was smacked down when he was a young man — disappointed and disillusioned. And he continued to push past that to make amends for not only himself but for all players.”

Even after winning the title, the team was denied a traditional parade through downtown Indianapolis — another fact that Young learned as an actor in the play.

Now, he and other actors will perform on the same stage the basketball team used to practice on. (At the time, the school’s gym was too small to host basketball games, Robertson recalled.)

The play, written by Laura Town and held in partnership with the local creative agency GANGGANG and the National Crispus Attucks Alumni Association, will have showings on Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 4 p.m. at Crispus Attucks High School, 1140 Doctor M.L.K. Jr. St. Tickets are $20 in advance and $30 at the door.

A free matinee showing on Saturday is open to the public, with a welcome and introductions at 1 p.m. A community conversation will occur after the showing, which starts at 2 p.m.

Amelia Pak-Harvey covers Indianapolis and Lawrence Township schools for Chalkbeat Indiana. Contact Amelia at apak-harvey@chalkbeat.org.

The Latest

In addition to bolstering literacy, the district says the instructional strategies will promote other IPS goals like advancing racial equity.

The city enlisted Accenture to help analyze supply and demand for preschool seats. Their initial findings, obtained through a public records request, don’t shed much light on the topic.

Longtime activist cites his own health issues, and the recent death of his sister.

The leadership change at the city’s largest network of charter high schools comes as Chicago’s Board of Education has increased scrutiny on charters and school choice.

The federal Office of Civil Rights’ investigation found students didn’t get the support the law guaranteed them. The Michigan Department of Education wants the case thrown out.

Across all high schools in the city, 1 of every 5 students are mandated to receive special education support under an IEP. At specialized high schools, that number is only 1 of 50.