GARY | Marshalltown was a section in Gary where sports was very important. Athletes were stars in their neighborhood.
Well, if they were male, anyway.
Kia Matthews didn't mind bucking the trends of society.
The other boys on Lane Street knew she would race them up a tree with every intention of getting there first. She was the first female to play in the Gary Little League.
Matthews is again making history. She is West Gary Lighthouse Charter School's boys basketball coach. The program will play its first varsity season this winter.
She is Gary's first female to coach boys varsity basketball in the Steel City's glorious history. And, according to the Indiana High School Athletic Association's Jason Wille, Matthews is the only female coaching boys varsity in Indiana this season.
Wille, a Crown Point native, said the last female to coach boys was Hebron’s Brenda Drook, who coached the Hawks from 2007-10.
"I'm real excited," said Matthews, who will have her first official practice Nov. 5, along with the rest of the state. "It's been a challenge. I'm working hard to get our athletes to believe. And their parents to believe.
"We want to be as good as we can be once the season starts. The most important thing, though, is I want to develop good young men who will be a benefit to our society."
Matthews, like thousands of others, got a benefit from the passage of Title IX legislation. She played on Roosevelt's first girls basketball team in 1975-76. She was good.
She got a scholarship to Wiley College in Marshall, Texas. She stayed there for one year before transferring to Florida A&M.
Upon graduation, she coached girls basketball in Florida for a decade, six years as a varsity coach. She then moved back home and coached in the Chicago Public League, at Simeon and Harlan.
Then, she got RIF-ed. That's when a new dream developed.
"I wanted to be a WNBA official," said Matthews, who is also West Lighthouse's athletic director. "So I worked hard at the lower levels to work on that part of the game."
She got a chance to work at the LeBron James All-Star scrimmage in Chicago. King James called her "The Lady Ref" and encouraged her. He also sent her tickets to a Bulls-Cleveland game along with an autographed jersey.
Bowman Academy coach Marvin Rea has known Matthews for many years. She used to officiate many games at the lower levels, where Rea was building his program many years ago.
"She's been at it awhile, doing it in a man's world," Rea said. "It's hard on a woman. It says a lot about what kind of lady she is. She loves the sport. She loves her community. She's going to do a good job over there."
Rea played for a team when he was 13 that was coached by Cora Hoskins. That team of stars made it to a national championship game, so Rea knows that the gender of the coach doesn't really matter.
"Man or woman, it's about motivating your kids and doing the best for them," Rea said.
Matthews tore her ACL, and her officiating dream ended. She returned to Lake County after getting the Windy City pink slip and was a substitute teacher in Hammond for a couple years.
She saw the sign of the new charter school on the west side of her hometown and walked in to see if they needed a physical education teacher. She was asked if she had a resume.
"I said I'd be right back," Matthews said. "I was back in about 5 seconds."
The kindergarten-through-12 school has 619 students, with 190 in grades nine through 11. The team does not have a gym. They will play all home games at the Hudson-Campbell Sports and Fitness Center downtown.
West Gary Lighthouse will be eligible to participate in IHSAA postseason events in 2016-17.
Junior Aarion Green grew up in basketball, having one brother play at Lew Wallace. Green played one year at Roosevelt before going the charter route.
"She's the first lady to ever put a ball in my hands," Green said. "I thought it would be hard, at first, with her being a lady. But she knows what she's doing.
"What a man can do, she can do."
Matthews has 24 boys in her program, with another five who have to raise their academics before the Nikes get laced up. That conviction is higher than wins or losses.
"I don't want my boys just getting to college," she said. "I want them graduating from college."
The 1978 Roosevelt grad has genderless old-school rules.
"My players know where I came from," Matthews said. "I want them to come in every day, work hard and stay focused. I want them to be role models for the younger students in the school.
"It's simple and sweet."