Prep Sports

Closing of Lew Wallace saddens many former Hornet athletes

2014-07-01T17:00:00Z 2014-09-09T23:05:18Z Closing of Lew Wallace saddens many former Hornet athletesSteve Hanlon steve.hanlon@nwi.com, (219) 933-4198 nwitimes.com

Dave Templin grew up on the east side of Gary, near the steel mills. Before graduating from Emerson in 1966, a blue-collar lunch-pail district, he would drive south with his pals.

They looked with awe at the southernmost public school in Gary, Lew Wallace. It was almost like driving from Detroit to Harvard back in those days.

The tall brick walls were beautiful, with life-giving green ivy climbing toward heaven. The homes around the school were big, brick and symbols of affluence, something rare in the Steel City today.

"When we would drive to Glen Park it was an upscale area, they had more than what we had," Templin said. "It was considered more classy. They had better sports than what (Emerson) had.

"Horace Mann and Lew Wallace was great in football in the 1950s and '60s. We viewed it (as) the cool school."

Templin later worked at Wallace. Templin coached the Hornets for 25 years, 17 as a head football coach. From 1978 through 1994, his record was 101-63. His 1989 team went undefeated in the regular season, beat two eventual state champions and won Gary's only sectional championship of the IHSAA's modern tournament era.

Lew Wallace, which opened in 1926, was closed last month. Gary has lost 50 percent of its population and 60 percent of the staff doesn't live in the city, according to school board member Nellie Moore. Plus, the tax collection is at 42 percent. An added deficit of $23.7 million took all options other than closure off the table.

Lew Wallace also failed the state's testing bottom line six consecutive years.

Five other schools were closed when Wallace was put on the chopping block.

"To close it is so sad," Templin said. "There is such a great heritage there of great teams and great athletes. I cannot believe that there will no longer be a Lew Wallace High School and that feeling touches a lot of people."

Hank Stram won three American Football League championships, leading the Kansas City Chiefs to the Super Bowl IV title. Stram was a Hornet, a 1941 grad.

Tellis Frank played five seasons in the NBA at Wallace. Teammate Jerome Harmon was an All-American at Louisville and played in the NBA. Milo Komenich, another Hornet, also played a year in the NBA.

Julius A. Rykovich played five seasons in the NFL in the 1940s and 1950s. Jerry Shay played six seasons in the NFL from 1966 through 1971.

"It's a sad state of affairs when they start closing schools," said Shay, a 1963 grad. "I had a lot of fond memories in that place."

Shay said he was part of a Glen Park when there were fathers in every home on the block, taking care of the kids' safety and disciplining when needed. The streets and homes were safe back then.

But the youngsters, who became athletes, were tough.

In the first day for coach Joe Black's football team, he was told to run 64 times around the goal posts with all the other Hornets players.

"We didn't like anyone from downtown coming to our neck of the woods," Shay said. "Glen Park was a hell of a place to live. Hardly any crime. No gangs. We were tough individuals. We didn't take crap from anybody. Coach Black told us to hit the guy in front of you so hard on the first play he'd know who was boss the whole game."

After a standout career at Purdue, Shay was drafted by the Vikings and spent two years there and two more in Atlanta. A three-year stint with the New York Giants was followed by a 40-year run as a scout for the Giants.

Lew Wallace set a great foundation for the San Diego area resident.

"Football was great to me; I had 26 surgeries," said Shay, who said there were eight Gary high schools when he was a student. "I have more steel in me than U.S. Steel in Gary."

In 1941, Wallace won a mythical state football championship. From 1960 through 1971, Eddie Herbert was Lew Wallace's football coach. In the 1960s, the Hornets played in front of 12,000 at Gilroy Stadium for another mythical crown with Herbert as coach.

Merrillville's Tommy Herbert played for his father, now deceased, before graduating in 1965. Tommy went on to become a Big Ten football official for 30 years and was the replay official in last winter's National Championship game, another Wallace grad who made an impact in the world.

"We had a lot of discipline back then," Tommy Herbert said. "I got kicked out of Spanish and I got three of the hardest swats I ever got. From my dad."

Wallace also had a great baseball program in the 1960s, with Glen Park's Little League team winning state championships. That was something.

Wallace girls track coach Rhonda Brady-Anderson helped the Hornets win IHSAA state titles in 1992, 1993, 1994 plus place second in '95 and '97. It was the "cool school's" most dominant run in team sports.

"That school is so close to my heart," Brady-Anderson said. "I understand the situation the school district is in, but we still have wonderful memories. I challenged the girls. I told them every other school in the city had success except us and the girls really started working hard. We had tremendous support from the administration there."

There were other great stories and memories. Frank's 1983 boys' basketball team made it to the 1993 semistate championship game against Anderson, filling Purdue's Mackey Arena.

Frank and teammate Harmon were standouts, both making it to the NBA, with Frank being the No. 14 pick in the NBA's first round.

"Wallace was a great place with great times," Frank said. "I'm heartbroken I can't go back to my high school and see pictures on the wall. I guess Father Time catches up with everybody."

In 2010, the Hornets made it to their first Indiana state championship game, led by Michigan State standout Branden Dawson. That's how quickly greatness can evaporate.

In 1997, a young lady was shot and killed at a Wallace football game. Two years ago, gun shots were heard outside Wallace's gym when the Hornets were playing Andrean's boys basketball team. The golden road has fallen into disrepair, as gangs, violence and drugs have choked the life out of the school in recent years.

That, too, breaks the heart of Mose Carter Jr., a 1985 graduate who starred at Ball State before returning to the area. He is the pastor at True Worship Christian Center in Merrillville and also a personal trainer.

A leader of a team know as "The Killer Bees," Carter was selected as an Indiana All-Star and helped the North win a big game in Indianapolis.

"When I went there everyone in that school was family," Carter said. "There was so much tradition. The teachers, even the custodians, believed in you and they told you. When I left that school I did not have low self-esteem. I don't remember one person saying a negative thing to me.

"I look at all the people who came through there and made great contributions to the city of Gary, the country and even the world. It is sad that it is no more."

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