Broken neighborhoods. Cracked hearts and minds. Separated souls on each side of a tall wall.
Race relations in Northwest Indiana have been a historical nightmare for much of the past century.
Does anyone recall when Lake County was the most segregated county in the United States of America?
This distant but ever present reality was inside the school bus last Jan. 27th as Gavit’s girls basketball team traveled to Lowell for the final regular season game of the season. These emotions had nothing to do with the Red Devils.
Just whispers of things from the past.
“Driving down there we thought it might be a hot mess,” Gavit coach Alana Anderson recalled. “We had never played them before. We had expectations about how the game might go that were based on some things that had happened in the past.”
“A lot of people see us on the floor and just think that we’re ghetto,” Gavit guard Dominique Johnson said. “Because we’re from Hammond they think we’re going to have bad attitudes.”
Do you see how the shadows of the past can dim the future?
But on that night in Lowell, the whistle blew, the ball went up and two teams began competing at a very high level. They were aggressive. The girls competed with reckless abandon.
They did not, however, care one bit about skin color in the game Lowell won 54-39.
In the final minutes, however, Johnson and Lowell’s Sarah Richardson collided going tor a loose ball. Johnson injured her leg and needed to be helped off the floor. Ultimately, the pain would keep her out of postseason play.
Richardson felt awful about it.
“After the handshakes, after the game I wanted to go see if she was okay,” Richardson said. “I went up to her and said, ‘I am sorry for what happened and I hope you’re going to be alright.’ I said a few more encouraging words to her. She was a good player and they had a good team.”
Coach Anderson was waiting outside the Gavit locker room that night waiting for the Gladiators to finish dressing. One by one Lowell fans walked by and collectively said that they were impressed by the way the girls played and they wished that Johnson would be feeling better very soon.
Then, Lowell coach Kelly Chavez walked over to talk to Anderson, a peer she had never met before. Chavez also praised the play of Gavit and hoped the best for Johnson.
“We had two diverse teams from two different worlds and we all showed respect for each other,” Chavez said. “It was wonderful, awesome. It was great to see what happened that night. This is how it should always be.”
Email exchanges between the coaches continued the past year and a friendship was formed. An idea was formulated that will take place on Jan. 26th at Gavit. Celebrating the sportsmanship of Johnson and Richardson, and the rest of the players and fans from both schools, a Sportsmanship Night will take place before, during and after the game to be played at Gavit.
Lowell has made T-shirts for both teams to wear during warm ups. A big sportsmanship banner will be displayed as Johnson and Richardson will be honored for the way they acted during, and after last year’s game.
The IHSAA has been pushing for greater acts of sportsmanship in high school events for several years and I hope Bobby Cox is paying attention to this great event.
Both teams will sit down and eat dinner together in the Gavit cafeteria after the game.
This is how it should be all the time. The coaches and players from these two teams should be very proud about leading us in this togetherness dance.
“It’s really cool that something like this has come out of our game last year,” Richardson said. “They plan on doing this every year. This is something the players from both teams can be proud of. I know I am.”
“The game was pretty sticky and sometimes in games like that you might think, ‘I don’t like her,’” Johnson said. “But afterwards every girl from Lowell came over and said, ‘You okay No. 4?’ They apologized and wished me the best. And now this.
“We can play hard and still be kind to each other. This makes me feel proud.”
Sports have been bringing people together in America for the last 50-plus years.
It’s great that these young ladies are bringing the same thing to the Region. You should all be very, very proud.