Just as the film “Hoosiers” captured the poignant spirit of Indiana high school basketball, “The Road to Paradise” tells the story of an unlikely and unexpected football champion – an unproven team without a football pedigree.
Considered by many “experts” to be a team that could never seriously contend with the powerhouse schools from northern Indiana, the 1982 Castle Knights capped off a magical undefeated season with a championship that had been born six years before when a group of young, pubescent teenage strangers took the practice field for the first time as a team.
The Castle High School Knights hadn’t set the world on fire since first fielding a football squad in the fall of 1960. The Knights were more often than not the preferred homecoming patsy of most of the teams they faced.
And when Castle High was elevated to the state’s largest football classification, AAA, the Knights would face the state’s largest schools on the football field. Disaster loomed, and for a few years it took its toll on the school and community. The Knights hit rock bottom in the 1978-79 seasons when they would drop 19 straight games.
But at rock bottom, there is nowhere to go but up. The next season, the Knights would finish 6-3 and the season after would top that with an 8-2 record and drive deep into the state playoffs before being destroyed by the eventual state champion Carmel Greyhounds 49-13.
Had a fluke season just ended like it was supposed to – in annihilating defeat? Or was it that promising season a harbinger of things to come?
The answer came in a perfect 14-0 season in 1982 by the still “unproven” team that hailed from the disrespected and overlooked part of the basketball-mad state.
“The Road to Paradise” is the story of that season, that team, that community, and high school football in Indiana. But this story reaches beyond football. It is the story of a time and a place and the people who called it home.
The “Road to Paradise” is more than the story of what happened on a cold and rainy night in November of 1982 when the unproven Knights stepped into the glare of the big time and a state championship match up with the football powerhouse Hobart Brickies. It is the story of all that happened before, and all that would happen after for a team, a school and a community at a crossroads.
It is the story of two towns from the opposite sides of the proverbial economic tracks forced together in a shot-gun marriage, but with the common ground that both resided from the disrespected end of the state.
It is and is not a football story. It is a story about winning, but even more so, a story about refusing to lose. It is the story of a diverse group of young men that all come together to accomplish something impossible, something magical that no matter what life might throw at them — could never be taken away.
Similar books include: “Friday Night Lights,” “Our Boys,” “Miracle on the Gridiron,” Twelve Mighty Orphans” and “When Cuba Conquered Kentucky” as well as John Feinstein’s “Open,” “The Majors” and “A Good Walk Spoiled.”
Next — Chapter 1: Friday the 13th