MUTKA: Once-proud Wallace football died from benign neglect
By John M ut ka email@example.com July 20, 2014 9:08PM
Post-Tribune File Photo Head Coach Dave Templin reacts to Hobart's first touchdown. Date of photo is unknown.
Updated: August 22, 2014 6:27AM
From the very beginning Lew Wallace was a football school.
What I remember most about the Glen Park-based program was its hardy rosters forged from Eastern European roots. The early birds who experienced the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression didn’t rave about hoops until inept leadership hastened Wallace’s demise on the gridiron.
Football prominence began with Chuck Baer, who guided the Hornets to a mythical state championship in 1941 only 13 years after its football debut. It ended with the 1994 departure of Dave Templin, who piled up 104 victories, highlighted by an 11-1 season in 1989. That represents Gary’s only sectional title since the state tournament was introduced.
Two years later the program collapsed. A victim of benign neglect, Wallace staggered to just 32 victories in 19 consecutive losing seasons before folding.
Long before those two torturous decades, Baer left for the University of Illinois (assistant), then took Detroit to the Missouri Valley championship in 1949. Wallace polished his resume with a 93-26 record and five city titles.
Seven years later Gilroy Field became the home of all Gary high schools except Tolleston, Edison and Wirt. The stressed facility survived despite shoddy workmanship, inflated costs and empty promises.
Through Gary’s portals Baer mentored such memorable athletes as Hank Stram, who coached the Kansas City Chiefs to Super Bowl appearances in 1967 (lost to Green Bay) and 1970 (beat Minnesota). Stram started with the Dallas Texans, who morphed into the Chiefs, winning three AFL titles.
Baer’s premier defender was lineman Les Bingaman, who toiled for Buddy Parker before the Lions went from fierce to farce. In the ’50s they won two NFL titles and fashioned a three-year record of 28-7-1.
During Bingaman’s seven years in the Motor City he was a co-captain twice and played in two pro bowls. When the big guy exited in 1954 he also claimed the dubious distinction of being the NFL’s heaviest player at 335 pounds.
Baer also coached Julie Rykovich, who also labored for Notre Dame, Illinois, the Bears and the Redskins. In four NFL seasons (1949-53) Rykovich rushed for 2,584 yards and 32 touchdowns.
Thousand yard rushers were almost unheard of in that era but Rykovich amassed more than 700 yards in 1950, including 344 on 21 receptions.
Those with shorter memories remember the mid-’60s as Gary’s time to flower. Eddie Herbert coached Wallace to 18 straight victories spread over 1965-67. Quarterbacked by Dave Shelbourne, who later started for Northwestern, the Hornets went 10-0 with seven shutouts in 1966.
Regretfully they couldn’t get together with Wirt, which matched their 10-0 record, but belonged to a different (Calumet) conference. That would have been a game Gary senior citizens still might be talking about.
Shelbourne coached at Highland and Avon, taking both to 5A state runner-up honors in 1987 and 2005, respectively, before retiring with a lifetime record of 211 victories. His 1978 and 1982 Highland teams were 10-1 and 11-1, respectively.
This column wouldn’t be complete without mentioning two other distinguished Wallace grads: defensive tackle Jerry Shay and Jim Mackenzie, who played in three successive major bowls for Bear Bryant at Kentucky from 1949-51.
Shay starred for Herbert’s first two Wallace teams in 1960 and 1961, then earned All-American honors at Purdue. The first-round draft choice toiled for the Vikings, Falcons and Giants from 1966-1971 and has been a member of the Giants coaching staff since 1977.
Mackenzie earned six letters before graduating from Wallace in 1948, then served as defensive coordinator at Arkansas, which appeared in six bowls from 1958-65 and won the Cotton Bowl for the national title in 1964. Oklahoma named him coach in 1965, but he died of a heart attack after his first year.
All of the above have been inducted into the Indiana Hall of Fame except Bingaman and Rykovich. Not many old-timers are left to champion their cause, but they are worthy candidates.