With all of the news about football bowl games in the air, we can be reminded of the fact that the Calumet Region stocked many of the teams that created the history of the bowl system.
That’s because in the days of yore, before World War II, most colleges did not have the manpower to field big-time teams. That changed when the quarterback of East Chicago’s first state championship team took root in the south, first as a player, then as a coach.
EC's Frank Thomas first played one year for the University of Michigan at Kalamazoo, then accepted a full scholarship from Knute Rockne and played four years at the University of Notre Dame and graduated as a lawyer. Rockne recommended him to the University of Georgia as a backfield coach, and after three years there, he coached at the University of Tennessee. Finally, he served as head coach at the University of Alabama.
Again, the challenge of academics blocked early success, but Thomas knew the answer there. He kept the players respectable while he began trolling for new players up north. And thus began a great pipeline from the north to the south.
The pipeline worked full blast for 20-some years and its vestiges may still be working. In all that time, Thomas’ teams set the standard for bowl-bound teams and won all of the major bowls: Rose, Sugar, Cotton, Orange, etc.
What began as strictly a football connection gradually became an all-sports pipeline. It wasn’t too hard to roll basketball slots into the football pattern. That’s because almost every boy in high school played multiple sports.
Then, as the whole mantle of activity became represented, the feeder system became smooth and efficient until it was self-perpetuating. Meanwhile, high schools in the Calumet Region grew larger and more sophisticated. Interestingly, the southern high schools did not pick up steam much at all, so the dependency on northern schools continued.
In time, quite a few of the northern players decided that shoveling snow was a great character builder, but southern schools had a flair about them, too. That is, the southern schools began to have slots all year around.
While the farm system is thoroughly entrenched in East Chicago, it long since has expanded to include other Calumet Region towns. If you’ll check your alumni mailing lists, I think you’ll find that Regionites ply their trades in some 15 states of the southeast.