INDIANAPOLIS — If Indiana is a “basketball state,” Ray Crowe is one of the pillars holding that reputation up. Crowe is Indiana basketball royalty. In 1955, he coached the Crispus Attucks Tigers to a state basketball championship.
The team became the first all-Black team in the country to win an open state championship and Crowe became the first Black coach to win a state title. Crowe and the Tigers would follow up that victory with a second championship in 1956.
“We could not take a step without him being stopped, or someone talking with him, patting him on the back, shaking his hand,” his daughter Linda said.
Though his prowess on the court was evident, Crowe was seen as a father figure by his players. Described as a “quiet man,” Crowe preached discipline on the court, while also teaching his players to hold their head high as they navigated the racism and discrimination that was rampant during the 1950s.
“Just the way he carried himself, his demeanor in front of anyone and everyone. He was steady. And that’s what I try to do in my life,” Crowe’s son Larry said.
Despite their success, the Crispus Attucks Tigers didn’t receive the adulation their white counterparts did. State basketball champions would traditionally be paraded on a fire truck from Butler Fieldhouse to Monument Circle. When Attucks won in ’55, they were only allowed one lap around the circle then taken to the “Black part of town,” due to fear of rioting.
In 2015, 60 years after their victory, remaining team members were finally given a proper celebration and parade.
Crowe remained as the Crispus Attucks coach until 1957 when stepped down and became the school’s athletic director. In 1966 Crowe was elected to the Indiana state legislature where he served five terms. From 1983 to 1987, he served on the Indianapolis City-County Council. Throughout his time in public office, he fought to end educational segregation, pushing for Black students and teachers to get the same opportunities as their white counterparts.
“He was definitely a servant of the city. He loved Indianapolis, and I think did a fabulous job and all the areas that he worked,” Linda Crowe said.
Ray Crowe finished his coaching career with a record of 179-20. He was inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in 1968.
He was also featured in the movie ‘Hoosiers” as a coach whose team lost to the Hickory Huskers; something his children find irony in seeing as “he didn’t lose, often.”
Crowe died in 2003 but his legacy reverberates throughout the state of Indiana. At the University of Indianapolis, Crowe Hall dormitory is dedicated in his and his brother George’s name. George Crowe, who went on to play Major League Baseball, was the first Indiana “Mr. Basketball.”