Video courtesy of Lakewood Police Department
These words are being written on the first day of summer, June 21. I wore a parka yesterday, just like everyone else in Da Region.
But “summer” is just around the corner. Diamonds of “joy” will be filled with youngsters playing games, along with soccer fields, humid basketball gyms, and other athletic events for the young.
These activities are supposed to be fun. Kids getting to learn how to be a part of a team, winning or losing, making new friends on the field, and in the concession stand line. These should be some of the best days of their lives.
Parents, please in all your zeal, don’t ruin it for them.
We learned an awful lesson, again sadly, last weekend in Lakewood, Colorado about how awful we can be to our young. A group of seven-year-olds were playing a baseball game. Instead of “Hey batter, hey batter, swing,” being sung in unison, a group of parents rushed the field and started fighting.
Because some didn’t like the calls of a 13-year-old umpire. He warned both coaches about the foul language being yelled at him and instead of folks calming down and becoming human, they started an awful brawl.
The video on social media shows the horrific scene where one man suffered five broken ribs among other injuries and at least 20 “parents” are being investigated by the police.
How stupid are we?
How insane are we?
How evil are we?
I played Little League baseball in Crown Point back in the 1970s, along with Pups basketball, and a couple snaps of youth football. I loved it. Great memories are still in my noodle from the wins, losses, and life lessons learned.
There were a few dustups here and there, but this was a generation watching the Brady Bunch so the vast majority were pretty chilled about youth sports.
Then, as people started watching “Dead Pool,” “The First Purge,” and anything produced by Quentin Tarantino, I saw an extreme change in behavior by fans at youth sports events. Then as I spent a few years coaching my daughters’ teams, I was shocked by what I saw.
F-Bombs coming out every other sentence by a kids' “dads.” Soul-ripping words about someone else’s child from some kid’s “mom.” Threats of fights in the parking lot where children gather to enjoy testing their skills.
It’s happened at the high school level and as we’ve seen recently, it’s happened at a seven-year-old baseball game in the Rocky Mountains.
Good thing Colorado legalized marijuana, right?
Here is the bottom line, folks. No matter how many curse words you scream at the ball yard, no matter how many cheap shots you throw hoping to hurt someone because their kid wears a different-colored T-shirt than yours, it will have no influence on whether your child makes it to the NFL, NBA or MLB.
These awful incidents will not propel your kid to play Division I sports.
From the Optimist fields in Hammond, to Hidden Lake in Merrillville, to the Crown Point softball diamonds,and all the way to Imagination Glen in Portage this summer should be filled with games, pizza parties, sleepovers, and all that’s good about youth sports.
Your children do not need you acting a fool in public places. Or at home.
I have seen so many kids through the years quit playing sport because of overbearing parents bringing undue stress into their lives over a “game.” It was sad 20 years ago, 10 years ago, and today.
A very wise coach I met many years ago told me something that was gold.
“If it isn’t fun it isn’t worth doing.”
If a child is not having fun they will hate it all eventually. I wonder how many of those boys in Lakewood, Colorado will be playing baseball in two years?
Parents take a chill pill and relax. Let your kids have fun this summer. That is what this is all about.
It was October of 2016. I was at Munster High School covering the boys tennis state tournament. On this day all eyes were on Crown Point’s Bryce Bonin, pounding smashes all day, all over the court, in the singles tournament.
Remarkable, it was.
But my eyes drifted to the south a bit and saw a guy I’d known for many years sitting in a lawn chair. He was enjoying the moment. It was former Merrillville boys basketball coach Jim East.
This snapshot of “a day in the life” perfectly summarizes the life of Coach East. He loved high school athletics. At a higher level he loved his family even more. Bonin was East’s grandson.
East smiled and waved and we chatted for a minute or two. Then, we said good-bye. It was the last time the two of us would talk.
The Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame coached died last weekend at the age of 79. I will never again be able to see a purple suit coat without it conjuring up great memories and a tear.
East’s name and resume belongs in the Who’s Who of Hoosier Hysteria. The native of Selma, Indiana played volleyball at Ball State before he put a whistle in his mouth. He coached at Chester Center, Center, Connersville, Lawrenceburg and Merrillville, where he coached the Pirates since 1980-81.
His record was 653-337 in 43 years as a head coach, with 16 sectional championships, six regionals and the 1995 state runner-up trophy, losing a heartbreaker to Indianapolis Ben Davis. He won 12 Duneland Athletic Conference championships and owns the DAC’s consecutive win streak mark at 25.
These digits all point to No. 1.
Jim East was the best boys basketball coach I ever covered. Period.
That doesn’t mean he was easy to get along with. The first time I met him in the mid 1990s he told me to get a haircut. He didn’t like my Freak Flag flying. He was right. There were times he refused to speak with me He was right a couple times. There were arguments and yelling matches in the coaches office from time to time.
But I never lost respect for East. And I believe that street ran in both directions.
He was old school. He said exactly what he felt. His passion could be seen on frigid Friday nights inside packed gymnasiums. His teams, all of them, played great defense and worked the half-court offense like the ticking of a clock.
East built Merrillville’s program into one of Indiana’s finest. He will be greatly missed.
After a very tough loss in the 2011 sectional at Michigan City, East’s last game, I wrote a couple of lines about how I felt one official did his best to end Merrillville’s night. And he did. In the middle of the night East called me, which didn’t happen that often, to say thanks.
That meant a lot. It still does.
My prayers go out to Jim’s family. His wife of 59 years, Marlene, who was side by side with him through all the ups and downs and games. His daughters Kelly and Kara (Bonin) and all the grandchildren.
And to all the former Pirates who had their lives touched and shaped by East. Let his legacy live on in your daily steps and breath. Such things are eternal.
Region basketball will never be the same. Neither will Hoosier Hysteria. Merrillville High School will never be the same. I hope very soon East is honored by the naming of the gym or the floor after this legendary man.
CEDAR LAKE -- I am not a fan of Facebook. At all.
Don’t like the brain-numbing control, politics, or CEO of one of the world’s richest and dangerous corporations.
But that does not mean there aren’t positive items that could be gleaned from the "Tech Monster."
Hanover Central sophomore Leah Mokos was searching for some softball uplift in early March, something that would draw the Wildcats closer. The young squad was barely average in 2018. She wanted more.
Her eyes sprinted across an article about a volleyball team that used a rope as a team-bonding icon. Instead of fighting factions, grumbling loners, or bad attitudes in spikes, Mokos wanted a slogan that all could share.
This wasn’t a T-shirt, bumper sticker, or saying within a yawn. This was a lifestyle, a heartbeat.
“I will hold the rope” became a battle cry.
“It said if you were hanging off a cliff would you want one of your teammates up above holding the rope, having your life in their hands,” Mokos said. “Last year was patchy, we didn’t play like a family. I did not think it would go this far.
“But it has.”
Mokos talked to second-year Hanover coach Jason Bolden about the “Hold the Rope” concept. He loved it. Before the season even started the team got together at his home for a pizza party, then each player and coach put their favorite color on the 10-foot rope.
In time, all the colors bled into one.
Bolden had gathered each player before the season started and read them the riot act. He spoke about things that happened last season, on and off the field, that could not happen again. Issues like focusing on personal stats, whining about where you are in the batting order, and moaning about if you’re playing this game or not had to end for the betterment of the team.
After a lot of tears and soul searching, a team with no “i” in the word started to grow.
“I knew everyone of these girls had to have each other’s back,” Bolden said. “The rope has been at every practice and in the dugout for every game. In our first game against Chesterton I kept saying, ‘Hold the rope.'
“It didn’t take long before the girls were saying it.”
On Tuesday at Jimtown, the rope was stretched along the fence in the dugout. The paws of the Wildcats were on it throughout a nail-biting 8-7 win in the Class 3A regional, the program’s first in four years. If you followed the local media you would not even know Hanover Central had a softball team. These talented ladies have been ignored.
But on Saturday they will play Yorktown in the semistate. Is anyone paying attention outside of Cedar Lake?
“I was a little confused about the rope at first,” junior catcher Tyler Chambers said with a smile. “But it didn’t take long before I got what I stood for. We are all in this together.”
In 2013, ‘14, and ‘15 Hanover won sectional and regional titles under legendary coach Larry McMillen. After that there were crickets for three springs. Consequently, when Hanover beat Highland to win its first sectional championship in awhile goosebumps could be felt all around Griffith’s field.
“A huge weight was lifted off my shoulders,” Bolden said.
“We were all crying in the dog pile,” junior Elise Kratkoczki said of the sectional win. “I had chills.”
“There was so much energy,” junior Ashtyn Barnett said. “We were all holding the rope and holding it up high.”
“Relief,” Chambers said. “That’s what I felt. Relief.”
Alyssa Albrecht missed much of last season due to illness and injury. Now, she’s at third base and holding the rope like all of her teammates, which boasts an athletic and deep line-up.
“(Mokos) is my throwing partner so I wanted to know what she was talking about with the rope,” Albrecht said. “We talked about it a lot and I’ve seen what she was talking about every game this year.”
Now, back to Facebook, if we must.
Bolden said the parents, friends, and fans of this team are typing “Hold the Rope” in their Facebook posts. So if that’s happening this must be important, right?
“These kids are leaving a legacy,” Bolden said. “And that is really cool.”
Saturday will be tough, ladies. But let me tell you winning can take place. Play the game you love with all your heart. Have fun. And without question, “Hold the Rope.”
ST. JOHN -- A decade ago high school softball was a much different game and few were those who strayed from the orthodoxy.
If you had a stud-ette pitcher, she threw the ball in every big moment of the season, especially when the breeze started to warm up.
Pete Iussig was coaching the Lowell Red Devils in 2009 and he rode Lauren Wells to the Class 4A state finals. During the regular season he split the pitching time between Wells and Jacki Fletcher. But when the postseason arrived he rode his horse, Wells, all the way to Indianapolis.
“Fletcher was one of the best second basemen in Indiana,” Iussig said. “We were much better with her there.”
Two years ago Iussig rode Alexis Holloway and the Crown Point Bulldogs to the Class 4A state championship. Every pitch. Every moment from May on. That’s the way it used to be. But the game is changing.
On Friday night after C.P. edged Lake Central 2-0 in an unbelievable sectional championship game in St. John, Iussig started the game with freshman Brinkley Kita. She was lights out in the first four innings. In wins against Kankakee Valley and Munster to get to Friday’s showdown he trusted his sophomores. He put Madi Young (Bowling Green) in the circle for the middle innings and Arizona-bound standout Madi Elish in to close out the last few innings and finish the game.
Against the Indians, however, he went from Kita to Elish.
“No,” Iussig said when I asked him if he ever didn’t pitch a Division I pitcher in a postseason game in his 30 years of coaching softball in the Region.
“Using different pitchers gives (Lake Central) a different look,” Iussig said. “And they have a really good lineup.”
This great game is changing. The old days are gone.
Iussig said when he started coaching softball 30 years ago about half the pitchers his Red Devils faced would hear the same kind of thing from someone in the stands, “She throws like a girl.”
Neither of these three Bulldogs will ever hear those tired old words, and neither will Lake Central pitcher Peyton Pepkowski, who was throwing darts. The sophomore had 10 strikeouts.
Only a home run down the left-field line by Mallory McMahon in the fourth inning and a RBI double in the sixth by Anna Holloway dinged the scoreboard. Elish also had two hits with a double.
Many colleges are starting to use multiple pitchers in a single game. One time through the order and you’ll see movement in the pen. But not in high school, right? Is there that much pitching out there these days?
With the opportunities out there these days in travel ball and scholarship money at the next level, I believe more girls are putting in the long hours to develop these skills. The bigger schools have a better chance to develop a rotation. But using three pitchers in a game all the way to Indy, is this possible?
Crown Point will play at Chesterton on Tuesday in the regional. A win gets the ‘Dogs to next Saturday’s semistate.
Iussig said he never told the girls about using them all in one game. But five games ago the "Pony Express" started to run fast in red. Most every pitcher wants to be out there all the time. It takes a lot of sacrifice by these girls hoping to make the team better.
“I believe that all of our pitchers can do their job,” Elish said. “The hitting is getting better so I think the game is changing. I think we’ll see a lot more of this in the future.”
That’s a strong pitch for the betterment of the game.
It’s snowing as my fingers dance atop the keyboard. Yep, snow in April. This has got to be the 2-1-9.
My entire column’s point of view gets crushed by a simple wind shift.
The plan was to talk about how this spring has been pretty good. Not a ton of moisture and a higher percentage of sunshine, which has shown a light on the Region’s softball diamonds.
There have been more than a few surprises this spring. Let’s start in St. John, where the state finalist Lake Central Indians were expected to be in full time rebuilding mode after losing seven senior starters off last year’s squad.
Might want to check that.
L.C. is on a 16-game winning streak as the snow falls, heading into Tuesday’s game against Crown Point. Some things never change. C.P.-L.C. softball, one of the Region’s best rivalries of all.
“We knew we had some positions to fill coming in, but our kids always knew we could play with anybody,” L.C. coach Jeff Sherman said. “Our kids took notice when the preseason stuff came out and they felt like they didn’t get the love they felt they deserved. The win streak has changed our focus. We have to focus and work harder every day to keep it going.”
Freshman Sydney Doloszycki has been a beast at shortstop, making hard plays look easy and hitting with a purpose. Leadoff hitter Alexis Johnson and No. 3 hitter Olivia Peterson have also been hitting it hard and getting on base.
“When the season started we weren’t sure how our offense would be,” Sherman said. “But we’ve been on a tear the last 16 games.”
Last year Alexa Pinarski owned the circle and rarely left. She was outstanding. This season a three-pitcher rotation is being utilized. Peyton Pepkowski, Jenna Towle and Amanda Aardema. The trio has been fantastic, even being used in the same game at times.
“We haven’t had this kind of depth in a long time,” Sherman added. “It’s been a fun year so far.”
On Tuesday in Crown Point the two powers will face off for the second time this season, L.C. winning the first one 6-2.
The preseason darlings of softball were the Crown Point Bulldogs. With two sophomore pitchers already committed to play Division I ball -- Madi Elish (Arizona) and Madi Young (Bowling Green) -- it’s easy to put the crown on the head in March.
But Pete Iussig’s team lost three games in a row early and the old county courthouse lost some chips of paint.
“We lost some tough games early but we’ve won 12 straight,” Iussig said. “The girls are starting to get it going. We just have to keep doing that.”
Beth Thornburg has a very strong team at Munster. Again and again. Always under the radar the Mustangs will be dangerous when sectionals come around. Chesterton, also in Class 4A, has played great softball so far. It would be great to read about these teams and see photographs of these talented student athletes.
But I’ve been told nothing of this sort is taking place this spring. It’s a shame. Thousands of fans and hundreds of players being ignored. Every day.
This is what happens when you hire Eddie Arcaro to play power forward for the Bulls.
Ladies, keep playing the game you love. The fans will keep coming, just like they’ve done for decades. How you’re being treated by some is repulsive. But your talent and passion will not be ignored by those you matter most.
It’s been a few weeks, folks. I’ve been on sort of a Spring Break. One without any tan lines.
But it’s time to get my fingers dancing again. Maestro play the tune please.
We are just a few minutes or days before the sun warms up and all of Da Region gets to thaw out. Put all of our parkas away for awhile and bask in the heat that makes so many of us smile. For me, I can’t wait.
The crack of the bats on diamonds all around Northwest Indiana, and of course, at Wrigley Field is just awesome. But before we all begin to sweat I would like to take the next few moments and look back at the winter of 2018-19. To gaze a bit inside the gyms of our local high schools.
Player of the Year: Valparaiso’s Brandon Newman is the best player in the 2-1-9. He is a finalist for Indiana’s Mr. Basketball award. The 6-foot-5 wing led the Vikings to 21 wins and the Class 4A sectional championship game. He averaged 27.2 points and 8.8 rebounds a game. Complete stud in green, he was.
I’m not the only one with the same conviction. Purdue’s Matt Painter will be coaching Newman for the next four years. Yes, the same coach who led his Boilermakers into the Elite 8 in March losing a heart-breaker in overtime to eventual national champion Virginia.
Most years Newman would be a lock in getting my Player of the Year vote. But this is not most years.
I’m going to drive down Broadway with my trophy and hand the honor to Andrean’s John Carrothers. The 6-foot-3 “do everything” player carried his 59ers to the Class 2A state championship. His numbers -- 13.9 points, 3.1 assists, 4.2 rebounds -- aren’t dazzling or jaw-dropping. It takes a few minutes of watching him work before you realize how good his game is.
In the 59-54 win against Linton-Stockton inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse Carrothers scored 16 points and grabbed four boards before cutting down the nets.
If I was a college coach Newman would be my first pick. But I’m not. I’m looking for the high school player who did the most to help his team win which is why John Carrothers is my Player of the Year.
Have a great summer kid.
Near misses: Here is a list of Region players who were remarkable as well. Chesterton’s Jake Wadding was and is remarkable for the sectional champion Trojans. Andrean’s Kyle Ross won a state title as a sophomore and will be fun to watch the next two winters. Probably the ‘Niners best player. Munster’s Jevon Morris had a great run for coach Mike Hackett. He helped lead the Mustangs to a sectional title, something that had been missing in recent springs.
I’ll finish my best of the best list with Lake Station’s Dominique Smith. I remember watching this pint-sized freshman at the Highland Holiday Tournament four years ago and was amazed. His game got better every year after. He averaged 21.5 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.7 assists for the 17-win Eagles. Well done, sir.
A great group of young men who have a lot of basketball yet to be played.
Coach of the Year: This one is pretty easy. If you lead your team to a state championship then you get this honor. Period. Congratulations to Andrean’s Brad Stangel for assembling this team and finally getting over the hump.
Near misses: Here is my list of coaches who did a great job this season even if they did not make it to Indy. Hanover Central’s Bryon Clouse, Hammond’s Larry Moore Jr., Chesterton’s Marc Urban, Munster’s Mike Hackett and Lake Station’s Bob Burke.
Well done, gents.
A fond farewell: Two great coaches chose to step away from the game at the end of this season -- Michigan City’s John Boyd and Merrillville’s T.J. Lux. Boyd led Gary West Side to the 2002 state title. He attempted to get City into the upper tier but it never did happen. Lux was a true gentleman of the game, a great guy, who truly cared about his kids, on and off the court.
I wish the two of you the best as you walk into the next chapter of your life.
Part of me wants to keep writing about what was a great season this winter. But the sun is shining and the buzzer on our dryer just went off. My Speedos are ready to be worn. Can’t wait for summer.
But I’m putting my parka in the trunk just in case.
MERRILLVILLE -- The run of the 2018 Andrean boys basketball team has been an exciting thrill and a whole lot of fun. But that is not all.
Advancing to the Class 2A state championship game on Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse has been damn near remarkable.
In almost all six of the ‘Niners postseason wins they could’ve lost. And in a couple cases maybe should’ve.
“What a wild ride it’s been,” Andrean coach Brad Stangel said.
In the sectional opener against Bishop Noll, Andrean trailed by eight at halftime, but went on to win 54-51. A six-point win against a very good Lake Station team, playing on its home court, in the semifinal set up a final against Bowman Academy.
These state finalist were down 10 with 4:21 left in the game but lived up to the T-shirts and bumper stickers that said, “Tradition Never Graduates.”
This mantra got this team the 70-64 win and a chance to climb up the ladder of history.
“The kids just found a way to win,” Stangel said. “It seems to be a part of their DNA.”
The regional semifinal was another instant classic, a 71-70 win over Marquette Catholic. Intense. Insane. Inside the heart you could hear the thumping passion of this group.
“We did not want this to end,” Matt Lelito said.
A 60-49 win over Westview was the only “breather” this team has seen in March. But for anyone who has seen Westview there were some tired lungs and legs after that glorious Saturday night.
That set up last Saturday’s semistate against Frankton, another outstanding team and program from outside of the Region. I’ve seen Frankton play on the big stage several times and I’ve been impressed every second on the clock. Andrean won 73-64 in double overtime. For those who took in the game that is where the moniker Hoosier Hysteria began, in games just like that.
Andrean senior John Carrothers may not be the best hoopster in the 2-1-9, but he is surely making a strong case for Player of the Year as he showed in from of a packed house at Lafayette Jeff’s gym.
He scored 20 points and almost willed his deep and talented team to the victory, which sets up Saturday’s game for all the marbles against Linton-Stockton, scheduled to tipoff at 11:45 a.m.
So in six playoff wins Andrean has won by a total of 36 total points. Expect another white knuckler in Indy.
I’ve watched this group and program grow over the last three seasons. I actually covered Stangel’s first three games when he arrived at the double 59s in 2016. Some might say dropping to 2A made the trip down I-65 a little easier. But when you look at the teams Andrean has had to beat to advance, I would say no.
The Lake Station Sectional this season was filled with talented players and teams. There were and will not be any walkthroughs playing in that field.
Stangel’s team went 5-2 in the regular season against teams that went on to win a sectional.
The 59ers are deep, talented, skilled and play the game the right way. Much of this credit should go to Stangel and his staff, along with great families supporting the young men.
“I believe in these guys,” Stangel said. “It has been a lot of fun.”
Shane Power was wearing the threads the last time Andrean played in a state final, 19 years ago. Dan Dakich was sporting the same colors the team before that, when the 59ers lost a heartbreaker in the 1980 one-point loss to New Albany.
I believe this year’s team will make history.
Many of the seniors have looked at the wall inside their gym and noticed there is no state championship banner hanging. This group will get it done.
Linton-Stockton is a great southern Indiana program. But they will lose this one. By a point.
Specialization in youth sports has robbed a lot of student athletes of countless memories and left their scrapbooks at last half empty.
We all know how it goes.
A youngster shows some talent early. A club or AAU coach starts talking about how “Junior” will go to Duke or UCLA if the family listens to him. Several years later after many checks have been cashed, reality occurs.
“Junior” gets a walk-on opportunity at Septic Tank Community College and the club coach won’t return phone calls. "Junior" missed out on several opportunities to play other sports in high school with his friends, and the club coach buys a new car.
Andrean senior Matt Lelito didn’t focus on one sport at 5959 Broadway. Although on paper you would think he would. The 59er's have one of Indiana’s best baseball programs so most all of the players put all their time into stickball.
That allowed to ‘Niners to win last year’s Class 3A state championship. But on Saturday, Lelito and his teammates will run onto the floor at Lafayette Jefferson High School to play Frankton in the Class 2A semistate. Just 32 minutes from playing for hardware at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“I’ve been playing basketball since seventh grade,” said Lelito, who is from St. John. “I loved it. I couldn’t give it up. I had to do both.”
Andrean hoops coach Brad Stangel is very happy the 6-foot-5 post did just that. While Lelito doesn’t get a lot of headlines in his role as a defensive stopper who scores here and there, he is a very important part of this talented roster. It takes a village in red and gold.
“Matt’s had the same role for us the last three years,” Stangel said. “We didn’t have many big guys his sophomore year so we threw him to the wolves. He’s athletic and strong. He always guards the other team’s best post and he’s had some really big games for us.”
Andrean’s gymnasium is one of the Region’s best gyms. A classic. Lelito and his mates have noticed that all the banners hanging in the crackerbox have state numbers underneath. Except for hoops.
In 1980 and 2000 the 59ers have made it to state in boys hoops, but have yet to chop down the nylon in Indy. They are now just 32 minutes away from having another shot at it.
“We talk about it all the time,” Lelito said. “We want to put a number up there.”
Lelito will play baseball at Kankakee Community College next year. He plans to use that experience to draw attention from a bigger school, where he will study Kinesiology.
This team has trailed in the fourth quarter of every postseason game but one. Almost all of their games have been down to the wire white-knucklers. But Stangel has seen a group of young men who will not quit.
“They don’t want this to end,” Stangel said.
“We do not want our season to end,” Lelito added.
I hope more youngsters and their families learn from Lelito. Play all the sports you can for as long as you can. Youth sprints quick. Enjoy as many experiences as you can. You never know what might happen.
“I don’t get nervous in any games,” Lelito said. “I’ve been in these positions many times. I’ve played in semistates and state in baseball. I’ve played in tough sectionals and regionals in basketball. I feel like we trust each other and we know what we can do.”
Now, that’s special.
Our days are filled with uncertainty. Often.
We know the sun will rise in the east and set out west at night. But there is no way for sure to know what will transpire in between.
Great joy in facing a historic opportunity, or insufferable pain emanating from pure evil.
These were the two emotions dribbling in the minds of the Hanover Central Wildcats last Saturday night. The boys basketball team boarded the yellow bus to travel to Calumet for the Class 3A sectional championship game against the host Warriors.
Hanover had only one sectional title in school history in 1986. That’s a long, long while.
But there was also some overpowering fear in the ‘Cats’ souls. Two of their friends and former school mates -- Thomas Grill Jr. and Molley Lanham -- had been missing for several days. A social media push was seeking answers. The Wildcats took the floor last weekend with hope of making history and a daunting fear of the dark unknown.
“I was thinking of them, we all were,” Hanover senior Luke Barach said. “We didn’t know. They were in my prayers.”
The Wildcats went out and “upset” Calumet 50-42. Climbing up that dusty, cob-webbed ladder meant the world to these kids. A huge crowd from the community was there to support them. It had been 33 years since the last nets had been chopped.
“It felt so great to finally win it,” junior Dominic Lucido said.
But on Monday the hard news let the Region know that Grill Jr. and Lanham had been killed. Valparaiso’s Connor Kerner has been charged in this crime.
When will this unspeakable horror end?
When will we start treating each other with an eternal respect?
Who will save us from ourselves?
Lucido was friends with Grill Jr.’s brother and spent many days at the family’s home in middle school. Barach played Jr. Wildcats’ basketball and Grill’s father was his coach. This wasn’t some random case of violence seen on the TV while surfing with the remote.
This awful instance hit home. And it was a direct hit.
“They are in my prayers,” Barach said. “It’s so sad. I will keep them in my head, my heart. In my mind I have to believe they’re in a better place.”
Where would we all be without such a hope to cling to?
These heavy hearts will travel to South Bend Washington on Saturday morning for a regional semifinal against Culver Academy, likely the top team in 3A in the state. These Wildcats are riding a wave of good feelings from the historical success they’ve had.
Coach Bryon Clouse has a lot of young talent growing playoff whiskers right now. He said the addition of 6-foot-6 freshman Landen Babusiak and 6-foot-3 junior T.J. Burt at midseason gave a talented group a spark and more depth.
The players at Monday’s practice joked that winning the sectional crown will finally get Clouse to stop talking about the ‘86 team.
“Climbing up the ladder was awesome,” Clouse said. “Turning around and seeing the kids (players), their families, the students, the people from our community really meant a lot. It was special.
“No one expected us to win sectionals and no one expects us to beat Culver. So we’re going to play loose and have some fun.”
Hanover hit 16 3-pointers in one game this winter and 15 in another. The ‘Cats know how to hang some nets. This is a great stone to have in your back when you’re facing Goliath in March.
I hope all who read this will remember the two families from the Hanover community in prayer, who are grieving right now, living in days where basketball scores mean nothing.
Here’s to hoping the boys in light blue can lift up their neighbors by the way they play, and the way they remember their lost friends.
“They will be in my mind when we play on Saturday,” Barach said. “They will be in my prayers.”
HAMMOND -- The wings were tasty and the sides were delicious back on Feb. 17 in Hammond. The Wildcats of Hammond High were feasting on plates and with brotherhood that Sunday afternoon.When the IHSAA’s ping pong balls revealed Hammond against Griffith at the Hammond Civic Center this past Tuesday night. The two programs will forever be joined at the hip because of what happened on Feb. 7, 2015.
A fight during a game. Ugly. A suspension from tournament play coming from Indianapolis. Not being invited to the Sportsmanship Dinner. A court fight that got both teams back into Hoosier Hysteria, which culminated with the Panthers reaching the Class 3A state championship game.
Thankfully, Tuesday night’s clash was just a basketball game, won by Hammond 76-69.The ‘Cats were 8-of-12 from beyond the arc. Jamar Styles hung the bomb three times and finished with 17 points. Ronald Harris scored 14 and Reggie Abram added 12.So much for the defending sectional champs who lost nine seniors to graduation proving the experts, like me, wrong.
“We played a good schedule,” Abram said. “It prepared us for the Griffith game.”
“I knew we were going to beat them,” Amiri Young said. “I just knew we would.”
Because of a later altercation between Hammond and Griffith during a freshmen boys basketball game in December of 2017 the two schools stopped playing each other during the regular season in all sports.Sectional play, however, is another story.
“None of our kids were here when (the fight) happened,” Hammond coach Larry Moore Jr. said. “We moved on. We don’t even talk about it. We knew Griffith had a good team and our guys were ready for it.
Back in ‘15 I got so tired of typing “the Griffith-Hammond fight” that my fingers fell asleep. It was a very important story. It is so refreshing that both communities have moved on. That’s what sportsmanship does. All who had a hand in this transformation should be applauded. Tuesday night was a great game and nothing more. That’s why people buy tickets. Not the other junk.
Friday night Hammond (15-7) plays one-win Clark in the semifinal, while West Side (15-7) plays Lighthouse (8-10) in the other one. Lighthouse and West Side have both beaten Hammond this season. The Lions also beat West Side. This weekend should be fantastic in the Region’s best high school gym.
“We want to make history,” Young said. “We haven’t won back-to-back sectionals in 20 years. We want to repeat.”
“We don’t want to lose,” Abram added.
Moore Jr. only has two seniors on this squad. The eighth grade team at Eggers Middle School is really good. Climbing up the ladder on Saturday night with the purple scissors in hand could mark a long run of postseason success for Hammond. It won’t be easy, but the lights on Calumet Avenue are burning brighter. It’s going to be fun to see what happens before the cock crows on Sunday morning.