The banner hangs in the gym as a reminder, an inspiration that, yes, great things can happen at schools like Gavit.
Back in 1996, the Gladiators, under the direction of coach Marty Jamrose, finished seventh in the boys cross country state finals, a little guy amidst all the big boys.
Fifteen years later, it's a sport dominated by suburbia, where the schools have feeder programs developing interest and talent. But city kids can buck the trend and still compete. It just takes someone willing to go the extra mile, or two, like Sean Schuster.
"There's no reason we can't get back to the level they were back in the day," Schuster said. "It comes down to training. Hard work, putting in the time, goes a long way. I know they know they're good. The more I say it, the more they'll believe it."
A 1981 Hammond graduate, the enthusiastic Schuster has taken over at Gavit for his own high school coach Bob Stephens, who retired after successful stints at Hammond, Bloom Trail and Gavit. A businessman during the day, the self-described "running geek" has been involved in the sport since his early teens and calls coaching cross country the dream job he'd still do if he won the lottery.
"I'm very passionate about running," Schuster said. "I fell into a very fortunate situation. Gavit already has a very solid program."
One of Schuster's goals is to keep the four-time defending Great Lakes Athletic Conference champions on the climb. He doesn't have 40-some kids to choose from like Valparaiso, but therein lies one of the beauties of cross country. You only need five and Schuster has nine, an experienced group bolstered by some newcomers that seems to have what it takes in a sport that's as much heart as it is ability.
"They're not world beaters, but they're pretty tough, hard-nosed kids," Schuster said. "We have intelligent, articulate kids who know the value of hard work. They're going to be engineers, doctors and lawyers. They all came together and decided to dedicate themselves to the sport this year. It's neat to coach kids like that, to see them develop, get faster and faster."
Five teams from the area are ranked in the boys preseason poll so Schuster knows what he's up against. Gavit isn't going to be making reservations for Terre Haute any time soon, but maybe, just maybe, a trip to New Prairie, the site of the semistate, isn't real far off.
"I'm champing at the bit," Schuster said. "I think we're going to surprise some people. We're not quite at the level of a big school, but I think we can make a dent. Maybe we can knock off a few of those top-tier teams."
Gavit opens its season in the Crown Point Invitational next week, followed by its own meet Aug. 27. That's where Schuster hopes the team can set the tone for the road ahead when the leaves start to change colors.
"If we can get top three there, people will stand up and take notice," Schuster said.
That's the plan.
This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.