GUEST COMMENTARY: Before Central, East Chicago had great hoops teams

2012-11-20T00:00:00Z GUEST COMMENTARY: Before Central, East Chicago had great hoops teamsBy Michael Phillips
November 20, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Since its closing in 1986, no prep hoops program in the area has even come close to eclipsing the accomplishments of East Chicago Washington's Senators. The program that John "The Hawk" Baratto built is still the best the region can boast of today.

Prior to his death, I read many interviews with Coach Baratto and op-ed pieces about him, but I never read any about him being called this area's best coach. If there is someone better, please name him!

In his first year as hoops coach at Washington in 1947, the same year Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in pro sports, Baratto took a Ray Ragelis-led Senator team to the state finals. Thirteen years and many close calls later, in 1960, he won Lake County's second state basketball crown.

Two years later in 1962, the Senators were back in the state championship game led, by Hall of Famer Bobby "Pop" Miles and Johnny Blanchard. Sadly, three points kept ECW from a second championship. In 1966, the Senators were back at the Final Four again, but his Johnny Joe Cousin-led group fell to eventual champion Michigan City Elston in the semifinal.

All told, Baratto took his Indiana Harbor troops to four Final Fours, a record that still stands.

As the 1960s ended and the 1970s dawned, the Senators remained dominant. Former assistant coach John Molodet was now the skipper over the area's best program. In his second season, he had the second best team in the state, because the best team was East Chicago Roosevelt High School. The late Jim Bradley led the Rough Riders past ECW to a state championship and a 28-0 record. However, the next season, the Senators would prove to be Indiana's best hoops squad, winning a second state championship with a 29-0 record.

Hoop historians know East Chicago is the only city in the IHSAA's history to produce undefeated champions in consecutive years. The 1971 ECW team was voted the sixth best high school basketball team of the 20th century. Can the names Darnell Adell, Ruben Bailey, Junior Bridgeman, Tim Stoddard and Pete Trgovich ever be forgotten?

As the mid-1970s emerged, ECW remained dominant with winning records but not advancing in the state tournament.

In 1975, the Senators played in possibly the greatest game in the history of the old Gary regional, losing a 76-72 double overtime classic to top ranked Hammond High. That loss provided the motivation for next year's team led by returning starters Keith Walker, Hall of Famer Drake Morris and myself, to return to the Final Four. After racing to a 21-point lead against Rushville, a second half meltdown cost the Senators a shot at a third title.

In 1977, ECW returned to the state finals, making it to the championship game, but fell to Carmel by a point.

The Senators did not return to the state finals again until 1985, under new head coach Darnell Adell. The Kenny Lofton-led group fell to Richmond in the morning semi-final. This was the last hurrah for the Calumet region's top program.

In the 26 years since East Chicago Roosevelt and Washington were combined, Central has achieved only one state championship. What's wrong with this picture?

Michael Phillips is a 1976 graduate of East Chicago Washington and a member of the 26-2 state finalists. The opinion expressed in this column is the writer's and not necessarily that of The Times.

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