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Gorches: Real life issues hit home in Gary athletics

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Updated: February 25, 2013 12:56PM



There are times when real life interjects itself into sports, and when sports interject themselves into real life.

When sports are a diversion from real life problems, and when real life problems are part of the sports that we have grown to love because they prevent us from worrying about life for a couple hours at a time.

Former Notre Dame linebacker (he’s done in South Bend and now working out in NFL draft camps) Manti Te’o has found that out the hard way. He admitted in an interview with Katie Couric that he lied briefly when he found out his deceased girlfriend didn’t exist.

Former seven-time Tour De France winner (now seven-time Tour De France cheater who had to give back his titles) Lance Armstrong has found that out the hard way, and he told the truth to Oprah Winfrey on national TV — several years too late.

On Tuesday a couple local instances of real life hit home in Gary when it came to high school athletics.

The first was Ball State University announcing it would not renew the charters of three local schools — Charter School of the Dunes, LEAD College Prep and West Gary Lighthouse — while five others received renewal notices. Among them are 21st Century (five-year renewal) and Gary Lighthouse (three years).

Now the three that won’t be renewed are not Indiana High School Athletic Association members, and only one of them has unsanctioned athletics, but both 21st Century and Gary Lighthouse are IHSAA members and in the midst of some promising seasons in boys basketball.

Lighthouse is 9-8, while 21st Century is 6-5 after throttling Lighthouse 100-72 a couple weeks ago.

Can you imagine the uncertainty of working at a charter school when you’re trying to coach and teach student-athletes — any students for that matter? Luckily for 21st Century boys coach Rodney Williams and Lighthouse coach Thomas Smith, the academic performance of those charter schools has been good enough to warrant keeping the doors open for at least three more years.

Those other three Gary schools aren’t so lucky.

Speaking of Gary schools, 13 administrators in the public school system were notified their contracts wouldn’t be renewed after this school year. Now this really isn’t news in Gary since almost everybody is basically “fired” every year and then possibly told they will be back.

It’s well-publicized that Gary coaches work under one-year contracts, and have to work under the shadow of worrying whether they will have a job next year. It turns out those coaches’ boss was also one of the administrators notified Tuesday that he’s under the same umbrella of uncertainty.

Yes, Earl Smith — whose several duties include city athletic director — was on the list of administrators whose job could be gone at the end of this school year.

Now a disclaimer needs to go with these notifications that each person could be brought back or reassigned within the school city, but it’s still surprising to see Smith’s name on the list.

He’s been a hot topic of controversy over the years, but his vision for a new and improved Northwestern Conference and his discussions with Gary charter schools and non-Gary public schools, such as East Chicago and the Hammond schools, is admirable.

Maybe I’m in the minority, but I hope Smith is brought back and can continue that quest. If not, hopefully he can complete the conference rebuilding before the end of the school year. Otherwise, I fear it will never happen and the remaining Gary public schools will be relegated to independency and irrelevance.

Purdue Calumet getting there

A couple weeks ago Purdue University Calumet in Hammond announced the hires of its first baseball and softball coaches as the school is headed in the right direction with its athletic department under new athletic director Rick Costello.

The two new programs will start play in the spring of 2014 with Heather Tarter named the first softball coach and Dave Griffin named the inaugural baseball coach.

Both of them are good hires. Griffin is quite impressive, considering his resume — six years at Bishop Noll with a state title in 2004 and state runner-up in 2006, 20 years as director of Dave Griffin Baseball School in Griffith, head coach of the very successful Indiana Playmakers elite travel team since 1998, and a professional baseball player himself for nine seasons with the Atlanta Braves, Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees.

Now that Purdue Calumet has done a good job starting those two spring programs, what about adding more sports? Calumet College of St. Joseph’s up the road in Whiting still has quite a bit more sports than PUC despite the latter having a much larger enrollment. PUC will have 12 sports with the new additions while CCSJ has 18 sports. The ones PUC doesn’t have include track and field, bowling and wrestling — all of which are very successful region high school sports that would be very beneficial to tap into. There’s no reason those three sports, and maybe more (how about women’s gymnastics) shouldn’t be added by Costello.



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