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Gorches: Time to form new Gary conference

Updated: September 25, 2012 10:56AM



So will West Side win yet another Northwestern Conference title in football this fall?

Will Renaldo Thomas make a huge difference at his alma mater, Roosevelt, and lead the Panthers to an NWC title in boys basketball?

Will Lew Wallace challenge for the top spot in the NWC track and field meet in the spring?

The answer to all of those questions is a resounding “No!” because there isn’t a Northwestern Conference anymore — officially.

Then again, it wasn’t a conference the last couple years either, with just three schools.

First in an email, then on the phone, Gary city athletic director Earl Smith made it official that the process of forming a new conference is ongoing, and that Roosevelt is no longer under his office’s umbrella.

“We cannot call this a conference with only two schools,” he said. “Roosevelt does not come under the Gary Community School jurisdiction and is not a member of what I would say is a true conference.

“With three schools we really didn’t have a conference. We changed the conference track meet to the Hall of Fame Meet, and we haven’t given out any awards for winning titles.”

The disappearance of the NWC is no surprise since Wirt was closed in 2009. But what is slightly surprising is Smith admitting that Roosevelt is basically an independent. It’s basically become a charter school without being a charter school since EdisonLearning took over.

I don’t get it. Just because an outside firm came in to fix the academic issues doesn’t mean it’s all of a sudden become an athletic pariah.

But I won’t argue with Smith on that one. There are plenty of things in life I just don’t understand and am fine going through life continuing to not understand.

Where I am on the same page with Smith is getting a new conference formed right away. It’s too late for this school year, obviously, but there had better be a new group together and new conference by-laws for the 2013-14 campaign, and it should still be called the Northwestern Conference.

Roosevelt still plays West Side and Wallace in all sports this year, though that was even a question mark up until a couple weeks ago.

“There are some factors I’m not at liberty to discuss, but it was debatable whether (Roosevelt) would play the other two,” Smith said. “Surprisingly, they couldn’t find any athletic contracts for this year.”

It’s not that surprising to me. First, EdisonLearning was probably not concerned about athletic contracts to start off. Second, chaos is the norm in Gary, so missing school contracts shouldn’t be a shock.

Hopefully, Smith’s talk about a new conference brings calm to the chaos sooner rather than later.

Not to toot my own horn, but I said a little more than a year ago in a column that the NWC needed to add schools to prevent extinction. A couple days later, Smith chimed in on how important the quest is to him.

“It’s time to save the NWC,” he said.

It’s not about saving the NWC anymore. It’s about reconstruction.

There have been a couple meetings with charter schools Bowman Academy, 21st Century and Gary Lighthouse. Assuming Roosevelt is brought back into the fold, that’s a healthy six schools.

But why stop there? Hammond High and East Chicago have been part of the discussion, though Hammond is a longshot. The Wildcats are already in the Great Lakes Athletic Conference — barely above extinction level itself with four Hammond schools, but a group nonetheless.

I still think Clark, Gavit and Hammond would be better off away from Morton. In most sports the Governors are way above the other three. In football, it’s light years apart, and not just because of the talent on the field and consistent excellence from the coaching staff. Morton’s the only Hammond school with Fieldturf while the other three have football fields that would be better cow pastures if not for the lines and numbers.

Not to mention Morton openly admitted it was looking to become the eighth member of the Northwest Crossroads Conference, which would be a perfect fit, while Clark, Gavit and Hammond would fit perfectly with EC, the three Gary public schools and the three charter schools.

Hey, that’s a 10-school conference. Sounds perfect. Two of the charter schools (21st Century and Lighthouse) don’t have football teams, so that means it’s an eight-team group for football — also perfect.

“Some great rivalries have almost disappeared,” Smith said, referring mostly to basketball. “I asked East Chicago why they would go to a holiday tournament downstate when they have the Turkey Classic. Gary schools don’t even participate anymore.”

He recalled when that event was two days with all local teams. It’s been four teams for years with a Chicago school in it last year.

Bottom line is that politics, egos and a lack of logic have gotten in the way of a simple solution to the problem. Hatfield-and-McCoy quarrels are getting in the way.

“It’s a real sensitive situation,” Smith said. “Some fences need mending. When guys like Ike Brown and (Ron) Heflin were coaching, we wanted to beat each other, but still got along off the court. Now it’s personal. We’ve lost that (respect) and I’m trying to get it back.”

Bowman might be the key, and I would hope athletic director and coach Marvin Rea would understand how being a member of a conference would be beneficial to the kids, the school and the fans since he’s a Roosevelt graduate who played in plenty of rivalry games.

It’s time to let bygones be bygones and form the new conference. Otherwise, several people not named Earl Smith will be letting grudges get in the way of what’s best for the kids.



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