New Professor, New Book

October 13th, 2016 | SMWC

Bill Riley, Assistant Professor of English
Bill Riley, Assistant Professor of English at SMWC

One of the newest faculty members at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (SMWC) is also one, if not the most recently published.

In September 2016, SMWC Assistant Professor of English Bill Riley’s first book, The Milan Miracle: The Town That Hoosiers Left Behind was published by Indiana University Press.

Riley, who considers himself both a writer and teacher, says publishing his first book was definitely a surreal experience.

“It’s still hard to believe that someone is going to read this,” he says with a chuckle. “Like somebody that I don’t know will read it, maybe two people, two people I don’t know may read it, that is pretty amazing.”

A native of Greenfield, Ind., Riley graduated from DePauw University with a degree in communications before completing his master’s degree from Ohio State University. He and wife Sarah Summers moved to Terre Haute in 2014 to pursue careers in higher education.

“When I saw that Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College was hiring a professor to teach writing and manage the new professional writing major, I knew I had to apply,” Riley says. “Teaching is very important to me, and it's exciting to come to work every day and help students develop their critical thinking skills and gain confidence in their writing. As a person who has held a variety of ‘day jobs’ in order to support my writing habit, helping students see the range of possibilities for their writing skills, not just in their careers, but in their lives, is exciting.”

Riley was once in that same position; working on his writing as a graduate student at Ohio State. He explains that while watching TV one evening he stumbled on the movie Hoosiers. As a basketball fan and former college football player at DePauw, Riley says he never passed up the chance to watch the classic underdog sports movie based on the 1954 state champion basketball team.

While he watched Riley says he began to think about the town of Milan, Ind., in which the movie takes place. Like any good writer he started to seek the answers to his many questions, including internet searches and an email to the current Milan High School basketball coach. It wasn’t long before Riley was sitting in the high school’s gym watching the team practice. But the team that once was and the reality of the present are two completely different things, as he soon discovered.

“There is a huge tension between the adults in town and the kids,” Riley explains. “The kids don’t really care about the history that much, some of the guys on the team haven’t even seen the movie Hoosiers, but the adults really care, it’s the identity of the town, so they really care about it, but the students not so much.”

That unexpected dynamitic and the history of the team hooked Riley right away. He attended a majority of the practices and nearly every game of the 2011 season and based his master’s writing thesis on the story of the current team. With a manuscript in hand at the end of his degree work, Riley shopped the work to agents and publishers. Indiana University Press signed on to publish the book; even inviting Riley to the 2016 Hoosier Hysteria, the basketball season opener, to promote and sign books.

The book is a personal and professional highlight for Riley. He says he wondered how the book would be received, but soon after publishing he was contacted by the head coach and many of the players. The reaction upon reading the final version of the book was extremely supportive, which came as a positive affirmation to Riley who says the goal was always to tell the story of an Indiana town.

The book is available for purchase at Indiana University Press.