HUTTON: Sportsmanship banquet celebrates its 60th birthday
By Mike Hutton 613-0141 or firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter:@MikeHuttonPT February 24, 2014 10:30PM
Illinois-Chicago head coach Howard Moore reacts during the final minutes of the second half of an NCAA basketball game against Illinois in Chicago, Saturday, Dec. 28, 2013. Illinois won 74-60. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty) ORG XMIT: CXA110
Updated: March 26, 2014 6:26AM
SCHERERVILLE — Back in the day, before Twitter and Facebook, before a 24-hour news cycle and before kids had their own personal platforms to self promote, they had issues with sportsmanship. It’s a universal theme, especially in the region where basketball is hugely popular and particularly intense this time of year.
In 1955, the year after an incident at the Hammond Sectional when Frank Radovich was undercut in a game and some fans got into it outside the Hammond Civic Center, some business leaders from the community decided to create a yearly forum.
It was specific to those schools and teams in the Hammond Sectional.
The theme always revolved around what it meant to be a “good sport” (a vague term if there ever was one) and it was meant to bring basketball players and coaches together in a non-threatening, non-competitive environment, to share goodwill for an evening.
The first speaker was Wilfred Smith, the Chicago Tribune sports editor. He was the perfect person to kick-off the long, legacy of outstanding speakers they have had over the years. That includes former Michigan State coach Duffy Daugherty, Hall of Fame quarterback Otto Graham, Gene Keady, Matt Painter, Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald, Notre Dame coach Mike Brey and Dave Perry, former head of NCAA officials. Smith coached football at East Chicago Washington before he moved into journalism.
The first one was a cozy affair with players from each team sitting across from each other at separate tables. They held the first banquet at the Katherine House in East Chicago. It moved to various places — Teibels and Woodmar Country Club — all in West Lake County. Since the first gathering in 1955, the banquet has morphed into a sprawling affair, featuring teams and coaches mostly from Porter and Lake County.
They no longer have players from different teams sit across from each other. It’s too complicated; there are too many bodies.
On Monday at the Halls of St. George, a handful of the original players from the first banquet attended. They were there to listen to UIC head coach Howard Moore, who was the featured speaker. Those players included Nick Mantis, an East Chicago Washington graduate who played at Northwestern and with the Minneapolis Lakers; Bob Bradtke, a Noll graduate who played at Northwestern; Russ Marcinek, another Noll graduate who coached at Morton; John Dull, the Lake County attorney, who is a graduate of East Chicago Washington; Hammond graduate Jim Lamott; and Noll graduate Bob Bradtke.
They are all still fans of high school basketball and not at all cynical about sportsmanship and how the game is played today.
In some ways, it really is better.
Take for instance the post-game handshake. That was never part of the end of the game protocol. It started sometime in the late 1980s or early 90s, according to Marcinek.
“I don’t know why it started,” he said. “It’s hard to say. We just weren’t used to doing it. I’ve seen someone get cold cocked right after the game. There is just a lot of emotion. There is nothing wrong with it.”
Mantis said it was part of the code back then. Don’t associate with the guys you were competing against.
“We were always taught that they were your friends but once you put the uniform on, they were no longer your friends,” Mantis said.
Lamott said the game was more physical then and that trash talking was common.
One other interesting sidelight is that kids didn’t generally dunk in games — it was considered showboating, according to Mantis.
Mantis, a 6-4 guard, said his first basket in college was a two-hand dunk. He couldn’t wait to throw down. Too bad he wasn’t playing today. He could slam dunk freely and frequently, guilt free.
In some ways, it really is better today.