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Sports reporter

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.

CHESTERTON — It was a bitter cold day last November in downtown Gary.

The wind whipped like razors around the Genesis Center.

An elderly woman struggled as she tried to carry a turkey she received from West Side's boys basketball team. Gravity wasn't her friend that day.

Keontae Lee, a senior guard for the Cougars, saw the lady. He rushed over to lend a hand. He grabbed the bird and waited in the wind for her ride to show up.

This, my friends, is what Hoosier Hysteria is all about.

"That's me, giving back," Lee said after Friday night's 48-47 loss at Chesterton. "I was out there for two hours. But she needed some help, so I did what I needed to do."

The wind chill inside the Cougar's gym was even colder two years ago. Tom Skilling would've worn a scarf had he attended a game.

First-year coach Chris Buggs, a member of West Side's 2002 state championship team, took over a team that went 9-10 the year before.

In his first season back home West Side finished 3-21. Welcome back, Kotter.

"There was pressure that first year because we were losing," Buggs said. "But the kids were great. Every one of them went to college."

When will inner city coaches understand this most-important concept? Only the very few will make it to the NBA. But everyone can go to college. It's great that Buggs understands the game of life.

Senior Jason Randolph said very few of the Cougars had played much basketball two years ago. The new coach made it a little more challenging. But as juniors, West Side went 7-16.

"We needed to have faith," Randolph said. "We had to trust the process."

West Side carries a 12-9 record into next week's Class 3A sectional at the Hammond Civic Center. The Cougars are assured of a winning season, their first since 2012-13.

I was impressed with the pace this team played with against the Trojans. Well coached and quite fundamental, they worked the half-court offense with precision.

The team defense was also well done. The Cougars just didn't have the size to slow down 6-foot-6 senior Austin Peterson, who scored eight in the fourth quarter and the Trojans' last six, including the game winner with 2.1 left.

"When coach got here we didn't understand how to play the game," senior Teionte Mitchell said. "This year, we know we have the talent to do something special."

Three freshmen teamed with West Side's senior class to compete well on the Duneland Athletic Conference floor. Point guard Quimari Peterson moved the ball well to his teammates and made a couple of nice buckets.

Ninth-grader and forward Chrishawn Christmas, nephew of 2002 state champ and Indiana All-Star Keith Christmas, had a couple of big baskets late in the fourth quarter, when the game was on the line.

And classmate Paris Roberson did his job coming off the bench.

Buggs also led this team to collect socks, clothes and food for the hurricane victims in Houston. And they were a part of a breakfast outreach at Embassies of Christ church in Gary.

As we enter the 108th version of the Indiana state basketball tournament next week, the one time of the year where the scoreboard reigns supreme in our beloved game, what kids and teams do to help those in their communities gets lost in the sectional spotlight.

But it shouldn't.

West Side plays the winner of the Griffith-Lighthouse game next Friday, with Hammond likely awaiting on Saturday night.

The host Wildcats beat the Cougars 66-60 in Hammond on Dec. 8.

"We've had some tough losses this year," Buggs said. "But I am so proud of where these kids have come to."

As you should be, coach. No doubt.

This column solely represents the writer’s opinion. Reach him at