MERRILLVILLE -- Andrean is, without question, one of the Region's top athletic schools. It's a who's who of 2-1-9 legends.

Folks like Dan Dakich, Luke Harangody, Sean Manaea, Pete Visclosky and last but not least, The Times' James Peters, attended high school at 5959 Broadway.

The school has won five state baseball championships, three state softball titles, two football state crowns and one girls soccer state trophy.

But this week the school made a more significant historical marker by hiring Kelly Fitzgerald as the new athletic director. She is the first female AD in school history.

And for the Munster native, it was a great chance to come home.

"I want to be a part of the great tradition here," Fitzgerald said. "It's a fun and exciting place to be. I want to take it to the next level."

Then Kelly Hendry, she was a three-sport star at Munster before graduating in 1997. She starred in volleyball, basketball and softball. She played volleyball at St. Xavier and after teaching high school for two years, she started coaching college volleyball.

For seven years she coached at the Illinois Institute of Technology and for the last six years she coached at Roosevelt University, both in Chicago.

But her husband John knew the family would return to Indiana. Four-year-old Colten and 2-year-old Vivian all are living in Munster, mom's home town.

Getting back to the Region and back to where all the college sports begin pulled Fitzgerald away from the college games.

"It's a smaller school with a great family atmosphere," Fitzgerald said. "This reminds me of years ago. This is something I want to be a part of."

While tradition never graduates, as the red and gold T-shirts say, there have been some issues at Andrean in recent years. A dropping enrollment has most of the programs playing Class 2A in the coming school year.

Rumors of the school relocating seem to float around every month or two as well. Some of the programs that used to dominate have fallen back to the pack some in recent seasons. Still good, but not shining trophies like the salad days.

While Fitzgerald wants to see all the teams excel, she also has a greater good in her job.

"I want out kids to develop sportsmanship and integrity," she said. "I want them to be true student athletes. I want to teach them there is a higher purpose for all of this."

Fitzgerald's life has been greatly touched by the positive aspects of Title IX, giving equal opportunity to girls and women in education and athletics. It was a great piece of legislation that has helped to even the playing fields for all.

But Fitzgerald did not know she was the first female leading the 59ers athletic department on Broadway when we spoke on Thursday afternoon.

"I have always been a big proponent of female athletics," Fitzgerald said. "It's opened a lot of doors for a lot of people."

But she won't be caring for the girls programs any more than the boys. She understands the old days of people flocking to games "just because" are over. Giving fans more reasons to attend is vital in this era of shrinking wallets and attention spans.

I suggested bringing back the pep band for basketball games and she said she will look into it.

My first request is simple. "Sweet Home Chicago." I'll dream of Frank Podkul playing lead guitar.

"We need to make our games an event for our entire community," Fitzgerald said. "That's what we're working on right now."

This was a good hire. An important one.

This column solely represents the writer’s opinion. Reach him at steve.hanlon@nwi.com.

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Steve has won awards during two different stints at The Times. In addition to being the Prep Beat columnist, he covers football, boys basketball and boys track. He is a long-suffering Cubs fan.