The Butler did it

Butler player Avery Jukes and coach Brad Stevens celebrate after beating Kansas State on Saturday to advance to the Final Four.

When I moved to Indy about four years ago, I was surprised to learn the city didn’t have a major college.                   

The state’s two biggest universities (both in the Big 10) were more than 50 miles away — Indiana University in Bloomington to the south, and Purdue University in West Lafayette to the north.                     

But I kept hearing about a small liberal arts college in Indianapolis called Butler University, with about 4,000 students. It was just located about five miles north of downtown. Its most notable alumni were novelist Kurt Vonnegut, bodybuilder Peter Lupus and former Illinois governor George Ryan.                      

Soon, I began running by Butler a lot, because the campus sits on a hillside above one of my favorite local trails, the Central Canal Towpath.                      

Sometimes I would cut through the campus to get to or from the trail.  Then little by little, I got to know more about Butler.     

I wrote news stories about its pharmacy and business schools. One of my sons ran a few cross-country meets on the school’s wooded trails.  Another son visited Butler’s Observatory and Planetarium on a Scout trip. I took in a few jazz and classical recitals at Butler’s concert hall, and was amazed by the creativity and energy.                      

Then it got bigger. Mrs. Trail Boy and I took walks and picnics at school’s lakes and gardens. I once watched a nervous young man propose to his girfriend on the steps near the school’s bell tower. I  joined a church located just a few blocks from Butler’s campus.                      

And of course I learned that the school’s old-fashioned Hinkle Fieldhouse was a landmark. The final game of the 1986 movie “Hoosiers,” starring Gene Hackman and Dennis Hopper, was shot inside Hinkle. Every Hoosier worth his salt knew that, I found out. The place is to Indiana basketball what Wrigley Field is to Chicago baseball. It’s a temple.                      


Pretty soon, it felt like I had known Butler a long time.                    

And now, the whole country is hearing about Butler. Last weekend, the little school surprised the college basketball world by earning its way into the NCAA Final Four basketball tournament after upsetting Syracuse and Kansas State.                      

Butler, the school I never heard about five years ago, is getting huge play in the New York Times, USA Today and just about everywhere else I look. It’s the smallest school to ever make it to the Final Four.                  

Of course, the whole city is rooting for Butler, the Cinderella team without a superstar, just a baby-faced, 33-year-old coach, Brad Stevens, and a bunch of Indiana kids who play well together. It’s their moment in the sun.                      

This weekend, Butler will face mighty Michigan State for the right to play in the championship game. The final game is also in Indy, on Monday night.                     

 The campus is on fire this week, as kids try to get tickets to the games.     

The nation’s sports press is swarming around Butler, interviewing just about everyone. The school has been featured in hundreds of newspapers and TV reports.     

A few months ago, it was Butler Who? Now it’s Butler U!                    

Today, I had to get a little taste of it.  At lunchtime, I drove up to Butler, about 10 minutes away from my office, and ran through the campus. I wanted to soak up a little excitement.                      

I parked a few blocks away, trotted to the scenic, wooded campus and took a look around. You could feel the electricity. At every turn, you could see kids and adults wearing “Final Four” shirts and hats. You could see pictures of the Butler Bulldog mascot nearly everywhere.                      


Then I ran down the back hillside, past the gardens, over a footbridge to the towpath. I followed the path for a few miles to the Indianapolis Museum of Art, then crossed a footbridge back across the canal, ran up the driveway, through the museum grounds, and circled back to my car on quiet sidestreets.  I finished in 37 minutes.                      

It was a fun run.  With a dash of Butler excitement.                      


This was my first run since the Fools 25K trail race on Sunday morning, a tough race that battered my legs. My hamstrings and glutes have been sore for 48 hours. My run today was more of a shuffle than a dash. But the sun was shining, and Butler was shimmering. I enjoyed it.                      

The Fools race director posted the results yesterday. I finished 73rd out of 146 in the division, or smack in the middle, with my finish time of 3:03:06. Guess that makes me a true midpacker.                      

Another 90 runners ran in the 50K division. I can only imagine what they feel like today.                      


Congrats to my younger sister, Sheridan, who ran her first marathon this month, the Los Angeles Marathon.                      

She finished in 6:00:58, and is already planning her next marathon in Denver.                      

I’ve always thought that running marathons was pretty contagious. Nice going, Sheri!                      

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4 Responses to “The Butler did it”

  1. I love stories like the one you just told about Butler. Thanks. And congrats to your sister. Does your mom run marathons, too?

    • Mom retired from marathoning at the age of 80, having run 193 marathons, setting a personal record of 2:44.

      You could look it up, but I hope you don’t.

  2. I ran at Butler tonight. We start and finish at the fieldhouse. Anyway, I didn’t see him, but others in my group said they saw Brad Stevens walk out to his car, no entourage, no security, no reporters, nothing. Just walked out to his car like a normal guy. There were two news vans parked out front which isn’t normal.

  3. Hey John thanks for the mention about my first Marathon ~I am still so happy just thinking about it! It was so much fun~ I am now going to run San Diego Rock and Roll Half in June. I still want to run in Denver in October I told Ramzi and he rolled his eyes so that may or may not happen!

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