DA REGION | There were 20 football teams who competed in a semistate last November, just one win away from Lucas Oil Stadium on Thanksgiving weekend.
If history is our guide, I would bet toupee money that almost all of them now have at least one "move-in," a standout from a lesser team who changes his address in order to raise the chance of playing in "The Big Game." It's been going on since Knute Rockne lived in this state.
At Morton, however, the opposite took place, a sobering truth that we are living in a dangerous, different age. Coach Roy Richards lost his top returning linebacker, Esai Rosales, plus Rosales' cousin who was going to be a great Gov in the future, for one reason.
"Esai's father couldn't find a job for over two years," Richards said. "The entire family moved back to Texas where he could find work. I know Esai did not want to leave."
Region football was Indiana's top area for football forever. While most Hoosiers were shooting hoops, we were knocking each other's teeth out with thunderous hits and an occasional elbow. A helping hand up after the whistle was seen by bleachers full of fathers who had just finished their shift at the mill.
Or were going to work right after the scoreboard was shut off.
Region football was king, because this area was full of blue-collar, hard-working people. There were economic upswings followed by layoffs. This cycle was ridden by many in the area. But it always came around. The day of the full lunch bucket was always around the corner.
The region's most well-known program of the common era is Hobart. The chant the players sang after every game for decades said it all for them. For all of us.
"All my life I want to be a Brickie, work, work, work. All my life ... work, work, work."
This, though, is different. The economic downturn that is choking our area and all of America is hitting everyone. From Briar Ridge to Black Oak, people are hurting. They want to work. Then, they want to go and watch their sons play Friday night.
Over the last year in Lake County, the average number of people unemployed was 21,939 -- 10 percent of the work force. It's better in Porter County, but not by much -- the 12-month average is 6,453 unemployed, or 8 percent.
"A lot of our families are working very hard to stay on top," Richards said. "People don't realize how hard the parents of Hessville work. Many of them can't get to a practice or games because of their schedule."
At least 20 Governors work part-time jobs. Now. In season. And this isn't just for iPads or cars or any other luxury. It's often to help their families survive.
This is going on all over our area.
Crown Point senior Tyler Kral is one of the top three-sport athletes in the region. The tight end was all-state in football last fall. He finished third at 215 at the state wrestling meet and was named to the academic all-state team. And in the spring he advanced to state in the shot put.
His father, Rand, is an operating engineer. That's where the good news slips.
"In the last 24 months I've worked three," Rand said.
Two years ago during the wrestling season Rand was working in West Virginia. He would run through the airport and get on a plane to get to Tyler's wrestling meets. Last fall, during football, Rand worked in Wisconsin. Four-plus hours away. He excitedly went NASCAR on Friday evenings to get back and watch the Bulldogs.
"There isn't anything I wouldn't do for my kids," Rand said, speaking for most parents in our area. "Driving home I felt like a kid on Christmas morning. I knew how hard Tyler was working. I wanted to be there for him. There's nothing like Friday night lights."
Rand Kral, who has been working since April, said in his chosen field there are ups and downs. So he budgets very tightly. When work is good, everything above the basic needs gets put away for a rainy day. There's just been too much rain in the forecast the last several years.
Anyone else out there think that Rand Kral should run for President? Or Senate? Or the House?
Tyler had the same monetary mindset. There were many nights he stayed home when his friends went out. He'd watch his younger brother and sister to help his folks out. Rand also had a heart attack last year. Stress. He is doing much better now.
"I know how hard my dad works and how bad he wanted to work when he couldn't find a job," Tyler said. "It means a lot to me. I know it meant a lot to me when I wouldn't see him all week, and he'd find a way to get to my games on Friday night."
E.C. Central sophomore lineman Keon Brown has so impressed coach Stacy Adams that the second-year coach has high hopes for Brown.
"He could be the mayor of East Chicago one day," Adams said.
Brown has high hopes, too.
"In East Chicago we need to make it better than what people say it is," Brown said.
The economic rain has hit his family, too. His mother, Kakilya Murphy, has worked as a receptionist at a hospital in Chicago. Due to tough times, she picked up a second job at a car rental agency.
Like Kral, Brown has two siblings. He, too, understands the region's work ethic.
"I know she's going to do whatever she has to do to take care of us," Brown said.
Brown plays left guard and is a backup on the defensive line. His desire to be a good football player comes straight from the top. His mother.
"I see how my mom is taking care of her responsibility. I want to be just like that," he said. "She is a big inspiration to me."
Brown ponders the economic funk that is hitting America right between the eyes. He thinks about how it affects the ones he loves. And, most importantly, he thinks about what we call can do to change it.
Tonight, the Cards will host Hammond. Despite all the hours and love, Brown knows his mother will be in the stands.
"I don't know how she does it, but she does," Brown said. "I always hear her in the stands. She yells, 'Elbow 'em.' That's what she says. Because I know how hard she works, I'm going to work twice as hard."
All our lives, work, work, work.
For those in power, please listen to these stories. America, Da Region, is filled with hard-working people. Kill the greed and let people live. Until then, let's get together on Friday nights and take part in our shared community love-fest.
Until the rain ends, let's get breath from the Friday night lights.
"I think it's incredibly important," Richards said. "Get out and enjoy yourself with family and friends. We've all been doing it for a very long time. These kids work very hard, and they deserve to be celebrated."
This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.