Basketball crazy in Swayzee 60 years ago

“In 49 other states it’s just basketball…” is a quote that has slowly become more prominent as the years pass, used by Hoosiers to help get the point across as to how important basketball is here. 

One of the great stories from the Hoosier Hysteria files is about the little town of Swayzee, Indiana, which battled another small school, Liberty Center, for nine overtimes before winning a Regional afternoon game. You read right. Nine overtimes!

Located in the middle of nowhere, between much larger towns like Kokomo and Marion sits Swayzee.. With a population under 1,000, it would not be surprising for anyone to have never heard of the place. 

In the early days of Indiana high school basketball, practically every town had a high school and a team. No matter how big or small the town was, there was a school. Over time, schools began consolidating — hundreds of them. In 1966, Swayzee consolidated with another nearby school, Oak Hill, and Oak Hill retained the name. All records and accolades for Swayzee High School end with 1965. 

Until the 1995 season, Indiana was a “one class” basketball state. High school teams all played for one championship, no matter how big or small the schools were. A one class system is the reason why Indiana has multiple inspiring and heroic “underdog” stories about small teams that won it all — or at least pulled mighty upsets. There’s the 1954 Milan team that inspired one of the greatest sports movies of all time, “Hoosiers.” There’s the 1982 Plymouth Pilgrims (my own town!) that defied the odds and took down bigger “powerhouse” schools such as South Bend LaSalle, Indianapolis Cathedral and Gary Roosevelt on the way to their first ever state championship. 

In 1964, under that one class system, tiny Swayzee High School met up with equally tiny Liberty Center, in the first game of that day’s Marion Regional matchup. The winner would move on to play either Huntington or Portland in the Regional final.

Little did Huntington and Portland know at the time that their game would have to wait…and wait…and wait…because Swayzee vs. Liberty Center went nine overtimes before finally ending! 

Just to help put that in perspective, a regulation game on its own is four quarters — 32 minutes. By playing nine overtimes of three minutes each, they played almost two full regulation games. 

And Swayzee wasn’t even supposed to be in the game. 

During the regular season, the Swayzee Speedkings (spelled as one word, which makes the name even dumber) racked up a record of 9-10, and nobody expected them to stand a chance in the postseason, especially since they were in the Marion Sectional and were to play the much bigger and more accomplished host Giants.

Despite that tough draw, Swayzee shocked the world (that being the small basketball world of Indiana) by upsetting perennial power Marion in the opening game. They also upset Mississinewa in their semi-final matchup. Then, completing the Trifecta of Unlikely Outcomes, Swayzee also upset Oak Hill (their eventual namesake) in the Sectional Championship…a game that went three overtimes itself! 

The win was Swayzee’s first ever Sectional title, and the town celebrated like never before. Word of not one, not two, but three major upsets spread quickly, with a columnist for the nearby Marion Chronicle-Tribune even dubbing Swayzee the next “Cinderella.” 

The Speedkings would be playing Liberty Center, a team that had just won its first Sectional Championship in 20 years. The winner of their game would go on to play the winner of Huntington vs. Portland in the Regional Championship game that night. 

Despite being ready, Huntington and Portland would just have to wait. 

The game was initially nothing to write home about, until there were only a few minutes left to go. That is when things got interesting — and stayed that way. Down 7 with three and a half minutes left, Swayzee started chipping away in an effort to keep their season alive.. 

Down 3 points with under a minute left, Swayzee caught a major break: Liberty Center’s star player received his 5th foul of the game, sending him to the bench for the remainder of the contest. Swayzee hit a free throw, then tied the game at 52-all with only 33 seconds left. Both teams battled for the final possession and final shot, but the buzzer sounded with the score still tied. 

Overtime #1.

Both teams kicked off the first overtime period with another battle. Focused solely on defense in the hopes of sinking the last shot, both teams exhausted themselves by running around the floor trying to get the ball, barely able to get off any shots. 

Overtime #1 came and went. So did #2. And #3. And #4. And #5. 

Each of the first five overtimes were scoreless, with both teams combining to go 0-for-11 from the field. With the score still locked at 52, and overtime #6 getting ready to start, it was time to change game plans and get more offensive. 

Meanwhile, Huntington and Portland continued to wait in their respective locker rooms. 

Still, neither team could put the game away. By the time the 8th overtime began, the score was locked at  57. In that 8th overtime, Liberty Center sank two free throws to make it 59-57 with 42 seconds left, but Swayzee answered right back to tie the game at 59-all with only 21 seconds left. 

Tough defense by both teams continued, and the 8th overtime ended with the game still tied at 59. 

Finally, in the unprecedented and unbelievable 9th overtime, Swayzee managed to put the game away. Sinking two free throws with 17 seconds left, Swayzee hung tough as the final buzzer mercifully sounded. 

Final score after nine overtimes: Swayzee 65, Liberty Center 61. 

It was a game for the ages, but couldn’t fully be enjoyed at the time because Swayzee had another game to play that night. Despite playing the equivalent of almost two full games, Swayzee had to wait while Huntington and Portland battled to see who would play Swayzee in the Regional Championship. 

Huntington defeated Portland with ease (68-54), and after a much shorter than anticipated rest between games, the two teams met in the championship game. 

Huntington won in a game that was difficult to watch. Swayzee was so exhausted from playing such a long game mere hours before, they could hardly keep up. Huntington dominated Swayzee, winning by a final score of 58-33. A local reporter for the Marion Chronicle-Tribune described the game in just a few short words: “Swayzee tried their best, but that entire team was simply dead on their feet.” 

Huntington went on to finish runner-up in the state to Lafayette Jefferson, 58-55.

Swayzee had one more season in 1965 and the Speedkings were eliminated in the sectional opener by Fairmount. 

After that season ended, Swayzee consolidated with Oak Hill. Liberty Center also fell victim to consolidation, merging with three other nearby schools to form the new Southern Wells. 

Two teams faced off in what would end up being the longest high school basketball game in Indiana history, only to not even exist a mere two years later. Crazy. 

Despite both schools ceasing to be, the story has lived on. People talked about it for decades, mainly because the record continues to stand. Anytime a postseason battle is broken down, with descriptions of game intensity and multiple overtime periods, sports writers can always name-drop the Swayzee/Liberty Center game. 

 Almost 60 years have passed since that game and the record is still celebrated in and around tiny little Swayzee. And, given the odds of a 10-overtime game ever happening in Indiana, it could very easily end up being celebrated for 60 more years to come.