ST. JOHN — Lake Central's Jackson Long was on a recruiting trip recently. Like always, it was an exciting and nervous time.
This unofficial visit took the linebacker to the University of Illinois. A conversation took place that has blossomed into something much bigger.
"Where are you from?" one Illini coach asked.
"I'm from the Region," Long said.
"Where's that?" asked the coach.
Long explained where the Region was located and who and what we are. Then, a thought came to his mind. He started a #PushForTheRegion program on Twitter, a way for student athletes from Northwest Indiana to come together and be proud of their home.
It promotes sportsmanship. It is designed to help our kids on the college recruiting trail. And the money raised by selling $2 wrist bands with the hashtag emblazoned will go to support the Westlake special education sports programs.
"I wanted to make a bond with athletes in the Region, male and female," Long said on Monday. "I wanted to do something to bring us all together and to make us proud of where we're from. And so far it's working pretty good."
He's seen Tweets from Michigan City, LaPorte, Lowell, Highland, Munster, Andrean and Griffith, among others. Members of almost every sporting community are joining up.
Social media can often be quite unsocial. At a girls basketball sectional game two coaches met before the tipoff and talked about how bad the trash-talking had been between the players on both teams heading into the game.
After Merrillville beat Crown Point in the boys basketball sectional, two Bulldogs fans posted a terrible photo with awful words about the Pirates. A Lake Central girls player posted a photo with terrible words about West Side's Dana Evans, too.
These things are God awful. So Long should be applauded for using this medium in the right way. Using it to uplift others, that's what it should be used for.
Sadly, though, too many use these things for the wrong reason and it needs to stop.
Two Andrean football players — Teely Rhyne and Cameron Williams — both got offers from Iowa State recently. Both put #PushForTheRegion on their tweets.
Munster offensive lineman Andrew Rapata recently played in a concert at Carnegie Hall. He, too, used #PushForTheRegion as a slogan of pride.
"I am so proud of Jackson, this has been really cool," Lake Central football coach Tony Bartolomeo said. "I'm seeing softball players, football players from Michigan City, kids from all over the area. I talked about with our players last fall all the time, try to be a positive change. This is a part of it.
"Being positive spreads just as fast as the negative."
Wow. I wished everyone hung the previous sentence on their wall and read it every day. Sportsmanship and getting along is so important. And so overlooked by too many.
"What is unique is this is entirely athlete driven," Long said. "It's bringing a sense of community. It's really cool how it's spreading. I've even heard from people in colleges, IU. We're all coming together and saying the same thing.
"Everyone from here is proud to be from here."