West Side beats the odds in bringing home state trophy
By Carole Carlson firstname.lastname@example.org/302-0949 June 10, 2014 10:20PM
The West Side Boys Track & Field Team brave the elements to participate in a parade down Broadway then 11th in Gary on June 10, 2014. | Jim Karczewski/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 12, 2014 6:36AM
GARY — This West Side High track team isn’t bothered by potholes, detours and doubters.
Earlier this year, the Indiana High School Athletic Association deemed the school’s track unfit for track meets because of its pock-marked surface and the occasional crater. West Side wasn’t able to host a home meet this season.
The boys ran and jogged on the gritty Gary streets and snuck in a little work on parts of the track that still had some surface left.
They celebrated their determination Tuesday with their city and classmates as they walked onto the West Side stage with the state championship trophy.
On Saturday, the Cougars squeaked by runner-up Carmel’s track team, which boasted a head coach and seven assistants in an upscale suburban setting. West Side earned 41 points to Carmel’s 39 points. It marked West Side’s first track title in 34 years.
“I don’t have a complaint. We’re blessed,” head coach Gene Johnson said. “It’s an indication that even in hard, difficult times, good things can happen.”
Physical facilities, like West Side’s track and football field are casualties of the school district’s growing budget deficit, now at $27.3 million. The district hoped to have the track patched in time for the spring season, but the money wasn’t there.
“We know what kind of track we have,” said junior Carlton Sims, who ran legs on two winning relays. “We haven’t had any home meets, but we just run as hard as we can.”
The Cougars took the stage to pulsating music and cheering students.
Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt choked back her emotions as she praised the team for defying the odds.
“They ran against the wealthiest school district in Indiana. The IHSAA declared our track unfit to run. I don’t know how they did it,” she said.
“It goes to show, no matter what people say or think, you can do anything you want to do.”
Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson thanked the team for “making Gary proud.”
Assistant Coach Ronnie Bond said he motivated the Cougars by reminding them they weren’t supposed to win.
“They said we were dark horses. We were disrespected. I’ll take these black beauties any time. They really poured it out,” Bonds said.