In four years as an assistant baseball coach at Lake Station, Ray Dix made quite an impression.
His unbridled love for the game is only equaled by his desire to help kids.
"It didn't matter if you were a good player," said Lake Station freshman Marcus Farr, who has been coached by Dix in the summer. "He cared for those who tried, in anything. He'd pick them over those with more talent."
In 2003, Dix was arrested and charged for marijuana possession. He pleaded down to a misdemeanor and was given probation. In '06, he was picked up by police on the same charge. The end result was the same, plus community service.
"I 100 percent own my mistakes," he said.
The Lake Station School Corporation knew of the record when it hired Dix in 2010. On March 18, the past resurfaced 10 minutes before practice, when he was told not to participate.
Players and parents spoke on Dix's behalf at the March 19 school board meeting, presenting a petition with numerous signatures. By week's end, he was informed in a letter from Superintendent Dan DeHaven that he couldn't substitute teach anymore, and his coaching contract would not be renewed.
"These are my guys, my players," Dix said. "I've known them since they were 12. It's so hard to do this to them. I absolutely love what I do. I asked them, even if I can't sub, let me go at the end of the year. I've been with these six seniors all four years. That's all it's ever been about."
DeHaven said via email he could not comment on personnel matters.
Dix said DeHaven was aware of one arrest when he was first hired, but not the other. That came to light recently when another check was done by the Northwest Indiana Special Education Cooperative, which oversees Lake Station's Special Ed. program.
In the letter, Dix said DeHaven wrote, "Your actions are severe enough that I feel I can not recommend you for a coaching or sub job in the future."
"So much for second chances," Dix said. "Drug test me right now."
I appreciate the corporation's concerns. I'd also like to think they put stock into the feelings of players and parents who don't have any issues with Dix, but I don't know.
"Ray's always been like a mentor to our community's kids," said Karen Knight, who has known Dix for several years through Little League. "He really inspired a lot of boys. If a kid didn't have a parent, he'd bring them to play. He always goes above and beyond. So many boys called me, upset, in tears, asking if there was anything they could do. They were all begging for Ray to come back."
Misty Ramirez, whose senior son Tyler wrote the petition, said he was devastated. Tyler Howell graduated from L.S. in 2010. He credited Dix for turning his hitting around with his friendly, personal approach.
"It's no coincidence we had our most wins since we won the sectional in 2005," Howell said.
Dix's impact extended well beyond just hitting and fielding.
"He was always there to help you improve, to make sure you did your work and stayed out of trouble," Lara said. "He's more than a coach. He helped us better ourselves for life. He didn't give up on any of us."
Now the players think the system has given up on Dix.
"I love him more than as a coach," Farr said. "I love him like a father. He's just a great guy. Why now? We all feel the exact same way."
Lake Station's turnout of 32 players is its best in years. It's no stretch to say Dix had something to do with it. Now he can only support them from outside the fence.
"Baseball's my safe haven," Dix said. "Going to practice makes my day better."
I hope an area team puts Dix back in uniform, even if it's just as a volunteer. They won't regret it.