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.
There’s a young lady I teach at Eggers Middle School. Her name is not the most important thing right now.
It’s what she chose to do that I hope you all think on right now. It’s extremely important. A life-changer. A game-changer. She is in one of my afternoon writing classes. Her attitude about learning is at the top, a tireless worker trying to better herself every day. She follows the rules inside the classroom without complaining or coming up with pointless excuses.
Which is what kind of shocked me several weeks ago when I spoke to her the day after the Knights first girls basketball games. She didn’t play a second in the opener. She was frustrated. A little angry. Questioning why she was doing what she did.
“I think I’m going to quit,” she told me. “I didn’t get to play.”
In my former career I had close contact with some of the greatest coaches in Region history. Hobart’s Don Howell. Gary Roosevelt’s Ron Heflin. Andrean’s Dave Pishkur. Lowell’s and Crown Point’s Pete Iussig. These are but a few of the greats I had the honor of working with over the years. They, I’m sure, had to deal with student-athletes trying to understand why they were not playing very much and/or what they need to do to get back on the floor, the gridiron or the diamonds. Interacting when them for so many years helped me say a few words to this student.
“Work hard every day. Show what you can do in practice,” I told her. “Eventually, the coaching staff will see your worth and give you an opportunity. Don’t quit. Please. That is never the answer.”
I have two daughters who are athletes. One a softballer and part-time hoopster. The other plays soccer, basketball and throws in the spring. More than once through the years, they spent time on the bench more than they wanted. It isn’t very much fun, I know. I told them in those tears-in-the-eyes chats the same thing I told my student.
“Work hard every day, show what you can do in practice,. Eventually, the coaching staff will see your worth and give you an opportunity. Don’t quit. Please. That is never the answer.”
Such wisdom always works out. It may happen in different degrees, but giving it all you have helps you win in alternative ways. The biggest thing is teaching yourself to never quit no matter how difficult the situation may be.
Last Friday, I went to the Hammond City Championships for girls basketball. The young lady I opened this blog talking about played terrific. She hit a three, a nice turnaround jumper in the lane, and ended up being Eggers’ leading scorer in the game. Well done, young lady. Very well done.
Gavit won the 6th and 7th grade championships over Eggers in very tight contests, while Eggers’ 8th grade team ran away with the title in a blowout. There was a lot of talent in all three games. The best part about middle school hoops is there is still time for everyone to put the work in to get better and see where your efforts will take you.
I hope my student feels the victory of how her season went, from sitting on the sad bench to playing big-time in the most crucial contest of the game. I think she did. When I gave her a congratulatory high-five on Monday for playing so well, her smile could’ve lit up all of Hammond for an hour or two.
I hope this small story lifts your heart and helps you in your games or your childrens' games. In this age where everyone gets a trophy, which isn’t true in real life, sitting or losing often does teach much. Especially when dad starts another team down the block where you never come off the court.
This Daddy Ball can of worms has hurt a lot of student athletes over the last 15 or so years. Take a lesson from my student. Work hard. Every day. Especially in practice and the classroom. Get better. And see where this will take you.
The south side of Hammond will have a new face on the sidelines on Friday night as Gavit picked its new football coach. But it is a name quite familiar in the Gladiators’ program.
Dave Silvas was recently named as the Glads’ new football coach. Silvas, a 1997 Gavit grad, has been running the school’s middle school program the last four years.
“I love football and I love the kids at Gavit,” Silvas said. “I had a job in the mill making good money, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I want to make an impact in kids’ lives and I think football is a great way to teach kids about life.”
While playing for coach Bill Melby, Silvas was a member of a Gavit team that had a huge win against the Paul Strabavy-led Whiting teams back in 1996. Such wins were not easy against a program like Whiting for the linebacker and offensive guard.
“Those were great times,” Silvas said. “I want to bring something like that back to my alma mater.”
Silvas replaces Robert Robinson as the Gladiators coach. Robinson was 29-51 in nine years at Gavit. He said the school wanted to go in a different direction.
“I saw a lot of kids who played in middle school stop playing by the time they got to the high school,” Silvas said. “I want to do everything I can to keep the middle school kids playing now. I’m going to meet with the kids in a week and that’s something I want to talk to them about.”
Silvas is still putting together his staff and it will take some time before he knows what kind of athletes he will have in his locker room. So he is not ready to divulge what systems he plans on using on both sides of the line. Yet.But the philosophy is simple.
“We want to score more points than the other team,” Silvas said with a smile.
With a new Hammond High School being built there has been a lot of talk and whispers about whether Hammond High and Gavit might consolidate into one mega city school, with brand new athletic facilities.Silvas has heard the words and he knows he has three years to show what he can do at Gavit.
“I can’t worry about that,” he said. “I want what is best for the city of Hammond and the kids of Hammond.”
Let’s be honest. All of us, everyone, picks their/our noses. It’s not a big deal. Unless, of course, if it is seen by another human. The worst such scenario happens in a car when I didn’t see a filled station wagon laughing hysterically.
Today I plan on doing a public picking for all to see. I will let you know who is going to win the local boys basketball sectionals, which begin on Tuesday.
Another round of Hoosier Hysteria, Region style.
My picks are locks. And when they all come true I’m going to go and get a big cheese-booger to celebrate. You are all welcome to watch.
This is the 109th IHSAA boys basketball state tournament. Sectional finals are March 2. The regional nets will be cut on March 9. Semistates are the 16th and the state finals will be March 23 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
And here are your local winners, folks.
Morgan Twp. Sectional: Three-time defending sectional champion 21st Century got invited to the Porter County Conference tournament. And the Cougars got a tough draw. They will have to beat host Morgan (13-7), then likely Washington Twp. (15-6) and Kouts (19-3) in the final. 21 beat Kouts by 8 on Feb.8.
If anyone is going to get the Cougars this is the year. It will not be easy. But I think Rodney Williams team will find a way to survive.
West Central Sectional: Not sure if you can tune into WJOB in DeMotte, but Covenant Christian will win the young school’s second straight sectional title. The guard play is too good for CC.
Triton Sectional: South Central has three wins for the season. Argos will cut down the nets.
Lake Station Sectional: This is the Region’s most competitive sectional. Period. End of sentence. Andrean (14-8) opens against Bishop Noll (12-9) on Tuesday. Bowman Academy (10-11) battles River Forest (9-12) in the first game on Wednesday and Whiting (11-11) plays Roosevelt (3-14) in the second. Lake Station (17-6) will play the winner of the first game between the two Catholic schools.
There should be some college scouts in the gym since there are so many top-shelf individuals lacing them up here. I’m going to go with the 59ers because sophomore Kyle Ross is a matchup nightmare and I do not know if he can be checked.
Winamac Sectional: Marquette Catholic will have trouble with the hosts in the Blazers first game, but Colin Kenney’s shooting range and the rest of his mates will be enough to get by and take out the Saturday night scissors.
Hammond Sectional: The best venue for any local sectional is here, the Hammond Civic Center. Wish Russ McLeod could be there for the first one, Griffith (18-4) vs. Hammond (14-6). The two powers did not play in the regular season. West Side (14-7) won’t get tested until Friday night.
I’m going to pick Griffith by a hair. I think the Panthers’ defense and the play of Tim Lawson and Corey Landers will be the difference.
Calumet Sectional: The defending champs get to play at home in the fieldhouse of the sectional I went to as a kid. I think it’s going to be an all 2-1-9 final, Calumet vs. Hanover Central. Warriors’ junior guard Davion Davis is the best player in the field. If he gets hot no one will be able to hang. I think he will as Carl Traicoff smiles down from above.
Crown Point Sectional: Throw a dart at the wall in this one, full of great programs and players. East Chicago Central got the best draw needing to get past Highland and Lowell to get to Saturday night. While Munster, Lake Central and Crown Point fight it out on the other side. Last time the Bulldogs hosted a sectional a kid named Sasha hit a halfcourt shot at the buzzer to help get the win.
Sasha ain’t there anymore. I’ll take Munster by two over E.C. in the finale.
Portage Sectional: Valparaiso’s Vikings and standout Brandon Newman have won 18 games and have not lost to anyone in the field. Barak Coolman will be dressed to the nines and Valpo will win it all. But it will not be easy. At all.
I only missed one local sectional pick for the girls, thanks to Doug Nelson’s Kankakee Valley Kougars. A last-second shot or I would’ve been perfect. I feel my percentage at the line of going up. My head tells me all these picks are stone-cold locks.
If not, I’m sure some folks in a station wagon will be laughing at me next Sunday morning when I’m picking something else.
We ALL get wet from time to time. Like in the 7th grade at Taft Middle School when I had a crush on a gal many moons ago and I mustered up enough courage to ask her to go to the Crown Theater to watch a flick.
The 30 seconds of silence was only broken by the noise of some spiritual crickets chirping.
And her voice eventually screaming, “Are you kidding me?”
That was a long time ago. I got over the painful slight. Last Thursday I think it was.
We all fail.
Librarians. Pro basketball players. Aunt Bee. Preachers. Jussie Smollett. Journalists. Clueless journalists. Owners of MLB teams. The folks who sweep up the trash at the end of million-dollar games. The cabbie, teacher, iron worker, mothers, crossing guards, fathers, circus clowns, politicians, politicians and politicians.
All of us.
So what do you do if you miss the game-tying free throw with .2 seconds left on the clock? Give up a bomb in the 9th inning? Say something to someone you shouldn’t have? Or ask a girl out who is in another league?
Well, we can never stop believing in ourselves. Get up the next day to work as hard as possible to improve. Drink more orange juice. Make the adjustments needed to get better at our crafts. Never ever lose faith in what wonderful thing can happen each day.
The sun will come up tomorrow, bet your bottom …
I saw a wonderful thing on Saturday at LaPorte High School. The Crown Point Lady Bulldogs were playing Hamilton Southeastern in the Class 4A girls basketball semistate. The high-flying Royals played exceptionally, while C.P. had a dud.
As the clock was slipping to zeroes in the fourth quarter, Crown Point senior Paige Sanborn was taken out of the game that ended up at 61-28. Bulldogs’ coach Chris Seibert wanted to allow the players soon to graduate to get one last round of applause.
Isn’t that a great thing? A pat on the back no matter what the scoreboard says.
Tears were streaming down Sanborn’s cheeks, like the faces on most the other Bulldogs. They had worked so hard. Spent much of the last four months together. Every day. Almost every minute. And it was ending with a crushing thud.
Sorrow. Sadness. Understandable.
Sanborn walked to the bench and hugged every coach. The same thing happened with every teammate. I’ve seen this scene occur hundreds of times through the years. It is always emotional.
That is the way to go out, folks.
Remembering all the joys and the friendships you’ve made. The sleepovers and treats. The laughter, the tears, and always thinking of the smiles. Those things can not me taken away.
Every athlete’s career comes to an end. Michael Jordan, the GOAT, isn’t hooping it up like he once did. The clock on the wall slows us all.
For those who still have games, get up and work to get better. It will come. For those who are done, remember what this is all about. The relationships you made with peers and coaches, some of the greatest educators around.
We all trip and fall down. We all get the game-winning hit and hear the screams of adulation and get the hugs from mates. Both make our lives what they are -- absolutely wonderful.
Enjoy the ups and downs with a smile and fierce determination to get better and, please, drink more buttermilk.
I blog therefore I am.
This thought penetrated my skull on the long drive to LaPorte High School on Saturday afternoon. I had good company, my daughter Gracie, and the two of us were excited to watch the Crown Point Lady Bulldogs take on Hamilton Southeastern in the Class 4A semi state.
Gracie had played against C.P. in the regular season before an injury and she knew we were going to watch my alma mater play for a bus ride to Indianapolis and yet another state championship appearance.
Echoes of the past, a gym full of people screaming “We are C.P.” just before the nets are cut down, shot through my brain again, just like all those times in the 1980s and ‘90s. The pulse quickened as we walked into the orange-tinted gym.
Saw a lot of old friends. Saw a gym that looked 75 percent full of people in red and white, many with the “We are C.P.” emblazoned on their chests. Then, I saw about 15 students from HSE wearing chef aprons. I thought, wow, this could be a noise mismatch to the 10th degree.
But not once did I hear the age-old chant from the folks from The Hub. Not once.
That’s how good the Royals were. Period.
An early lead kept growing like Jack’s beanstalk. This children’s tale ended in a 61-28 loss. This game wasn’t as close as the score.
“We obviously wanted to get off to a quick start,” said HSE coach Chris Huppenthal, the former Highland coach, and Highland native. “But we knew they hadn’t played the schedule, the people, we played. We just didn’t feel they could match up with us.”
The Lady Bulldogs were 0-for-8 from behind the 3-point line, while the Royals hit five in the first quarter. C.P. shot 20 percent from the field. Crown Point had 0 assists while its foes had 15.
This is why the chefs were dancing and screaming “Why so quiet” throughout the fourth quarter.
On the other side of the gym, the sound of silence and Simon and Garfunkel were absent.
“They hit us in the mouth right off the bat,” Crown Point coach Chris Seibert said. “It wasn’t a good day for us. But like I told the girls after the game, this loss does not take away the season we had. It was remarkable. The kids have come so far. We just have to keep working hard to get better so we can get back here.
“Nothing is guaranteed.”
Freshman Lilly Stoddard had nine points along with senior Ellie VanDeel. Freshman Jessica Carrothers had seven. Two of C.P.’s best players are ninth graders. The junior varsity went 22-1. The ninth-grade team was 16-2. And there is more talent coming from the middle schools.
This was an incredible run by these talented young ladies. The tears will likely be there for awhile. But I hope the athletes and the fans give a standing ovation to these Lady Bulldogs for putting the program back on the map.
John Dillinger can move over now.
“This meant a lot,” Carrothers said. “We got Crown Point’s program back to where it hadn’t been for years. Look at all the people who’ve come back to support us.”
One day, young lady, you guys will play in a game this big and they will be chanting, “We are C.P.”
It’s going to happen.
For Huppenthal, coaching in his seventh semistate, he did not have a Steve Young “Would somebody please get this monkey off my back” moment. He took four Highland teams to semistates before getting pushed out by some stupid politics, which is popular these days. He took Kokomo to one and Saturday was his second semi state with Hamilton Southeastern. He was an 0-fer in wins. He had kissed his sister six times before getting this win.
“In the other six semistates I was in we were never the favorite,” Huppenthal said. “This time we were. And we got it done like I thought we would.”
He had a smile on his face after that statement and I had one, too, as I was leaving Seibert smiled and said, 'Hey, I heard you’re blogging now.'"
See. It’s getting around. Me? A blogger.
I blog therefore I am.
Back in the winter of 1996, Chris Huppenthal walked up and down the hallways of the old Crown Point High School. The one that smelled of flooding water, ancient wood and a former student named Steve Hanlon, also known as “Beef Boat” in his salad days.
Huppenthal’s arms were up and his fingers were pointing to photos and banners on the wall and hardware behind plexiglass.
Coach “Hup” was in his first season as head girls basketball coach at Highland. He pointed to the Lady Bulldogs’ state runner-up trophy in 1983, state championships in 1984 and ‘85 and a return trip to the state final in 1997 under legendary coach Tom May.
“I wanted our girls to see where we wanted to get to,” Huppenthal said on Tuesday. “We went out there that night and they (Crown Point) just killed us.”
Huppenthal replaced Anne Equihua at Highland and everyone in Crown Point knows that lady, who led C.P. to three state championship games in the 1980s when Annie was her first name and Kvachkoff was her last name.
It seems like deja vu all over again, folks.
On Saturday at LaPorte High School Chris Huppenthal’s Hamilton Southeastern Royals will play Crown Point in the Class 4A Northern Semistate. The tipoff is at 3 p.m. and the winner will play in next Saturday’s state final at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
This is Huppenthal’s seventh semistate game. He took Highland to four, Kokomo to one and HSE to two.
Crown Point has not played in a semistate since ‘97.
“It’s an opportunity to play in the state finals,” Huppenthal said. “If our kids or if they’re kids can’t be excited about that, they should be doing something else.”
Huppenthal graduated from Highland in 1994. In those days kids didn’t have I-phones, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter or the brain-dead stare that is so prevalent these days.The relationships back then were face to face, real. And going to high school games filled his life, along with brother Joe, who is the girls basketball coach at Lake Central.
“High school events were a big deal back then, everyone rallied around their sports teams. I expect Crown Point to have a huge crowd on Saturday. We’re travelling the furthest and I don’t know how fair that is.”
But he then said he would go wherever he had to in order to play in a game like this.
The Royals have three Division I players. Amaya Hamilton is a 6-foot-2 senior who is headed to Duquesne University. Tayah Irvin is a 6-foot-2 senior heading to Northern Kentucky. And Sydney Parrish is a 6-foot-2 junior who has multiple D-I offers who has not yet made her decision.
Huppenthal’s team is 25-1, while C.P. coach Chris Seibert’s team is 28-0. The Bulldogs are extremely young, including standout freshmen Lilly Stoddard and Jessica Carrothers, who keeping with the theme of this piece, lived in Highland before moving to the county seat.
Hamilton Southeastern starts three players 6-foot or taller. Crown Point has four 6-footers on the roster.
This game should be an instant classic, and one that has a lot of Region flare.
“This is my 13th year down here and a lot of people asked me about the crime when they found out where I was from,” Huppenthal said. “They think it’s a rough place. (The Region) plays by their own rules, people do whatever they want.
“I tell them all it isn’t like that. It was a great place to grow up.”
Huppenthal misses the pizza and beverages at Traditions Pub in his old home town. He has a lot of friends up here who will likely be in LaPorte on Saturday. Expect a packed house. This one is going to be fun.
“I don’t know if it’s the same,” Huppenthal said. “They have a new school. I haven’t been there for 15 years. It’s nice that Scott Reid is back on the bench for them. I’ve known Scott a long time.
“But I don’t really think it’s deja vu.”
I do. A little bit.