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First, the good news.

The future Gary Sports Hall of Fame finally has a home in what was formerly known as the "Diamond Club" at RailCats Stadium.

Now, the not-so-good news.

The opening of a much-needed Region landmark, still several months away, is long overdue.

Proof of that came last Saturday when Western Michigan University played host to Northern Illinois in men's basketball and two Gary notables crossed paths without even knowing it.

At halftime, WMU retired the number "5" of legendary scorer and distinguished educator Manny Newsome, a Roosevelt grad, while NIU guard Eugene German watched the celebration.

"I never heard of him. (Saturday) was the first time," said German, who led the state in scoring his junior and senior years at 21st Century.

A Gary Sports Hall of Fame, once it officially opens, will hopefully educate and inspire city youth on the student-athletes who have achieved great success before them.

"I know about a couple of guys — Winston Garland, Renaldo Thomas, Glenn Robinson," German said. "I got to put my dad in there — David German Sr. He went to Horace Mann.

"That's about it."

And that's quite sad.

Newsome became the first African-American administrator at WMU in 1964 and had a storied career in higher education throughout Indiana, Ohio and Florida before retiring as vice president of student affairs at Florida Atlantic University in 2006.

On the court, Newsome was well worth the price of admission and more.

As a player from 1960 to 1964, the 5-foot-9 guard averaged 26.3 points per game and led the nation in scoring (32.5) part of his senior year.

"Gary has a lot of world-class athletes that I looked up to while growing up," Newsome said. "A hall of fame is long overdue. A lot of people from all over will visit there.

"I had a great time in Gary. I'm glad I'm from there. Gary Roosevelt ... got it in my veins."

With the state's second-richest sports tradition of any city besides Indianapolis, area youth need to understand the sacrifices, obstacles and accomplishment of those before them.

Take Newsome's case.

Despite graduating with a warehouse full of plaques, trophies and assorted honors, he was not drafted by the NBA.

"The league had only nine teams then and there was a 'quota' of four blacks per team," Newsome said. "Many blacks had to go overseas to play."

What often makes a true hall of famer is being able to overcome their hardships.

"We should know all about them and be able to talk to them because there's a lot of kids heading in the wrong direction and they can find out what worked best for them while growing up," German said.

The two Gary natives did not speak to each other Saturday but Newsome noticed in the program that NIU had a Gary player on its roster. And what a player.

The Huskies prevailed at University Arena, 79-72, behind German's 21 points in 35 minutes.

"He put on quite a show," Newsome said.

The Gary Sports Hall of Fame is a non-profit corporation with a 501 C3 tax status that's been in the planning stage for two years. It's the brainchild of former coach/city athletic director Earl Smith Jr.

RailCats General Manager Brian Lyter was instrumental in working with the city and securing the future location, which is adjacent to the ballpark and will be open throughout the year.

"I'm real excited," said Lyter, a native of Buffalo, N.Y. "I think it's a great opportunity to merge a couple of entities together and enhance the ballpark and the exposure for the RailCats and all the great athletes who have come out of the city of Gary.

"You really don't understand the depth, the number of folks and the impact they made on the various sports here."

Manny Newsome knew. Eugene German didn't.

That will all change eventually.

It's about time.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at al.hamnik@nwi.com.

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