HAMMOND | Eric Schreiber was on the sidelines, wearing black and gold. It was Nov. 3, 2000 inside a jam-packed Boneyard in Griffith.
The seeds of today's growing flowers at Hammond High were planted back then.
A sectional championship was on the line. What happened on the muddy turf shocked the state. Hammond's Wildcats beat the heavily favored Panthers 30-27. It was the Wildcats' fourth sectional championship, including a trip to semistate in 1988.
Schreiber, now the head coach at Hammond, was an assistant for Russ Radtke in 2000.
"I just remember how hard they played," Schreiber said. "They only had 24 guys on the sidelines. If they were tired they didn't show it. They played a great game. When this job opened up I thought about that game and what kind of spirit those guys played with.
"I wanted to coach kids like that."
In different days of Indiana high school football, Hammond won the 1960 and 1962 mythical state championships. Almost all of these voted-upon champs from 1927 through 1972 were from urban environs.
Suburban powers with plastic grass, 100-name rosters and quarterback clubs that filled half the bleachers were not even a thought. The best football teams in the state were in the city.
Blue-collar jobs made blue-collar teams that pounded all comers.
But the White Flight of the late 1960s and early 1970s started to change the equation. That is what Schreiber and his staff are dealing with today.
Hammond went 8-3 in 2011, Schreiber's first year on Calumet Avenue, and 6-3 last year. The Wildcats beat city power Morton for the first time since 2007 and won the GLAC conference title. The 'Cats also almost beat Lowell, which would've been a first.
But numbers, or the lack thereof, are still an issue for a team that is growing with a lot of promise.
"I'd see kids on their bike after our games last year come up to me and say, 'Hey, coach, I want to play,'" Schreiber said, "but I knew that I would never see them again."
When he took over the program, the Griffith grad started a Leadership Program, which was more about off-the-grid choices than action under the electric light. It is starting to produce dividends.
Of his 11 seniors on last year's team, eight are enrolled in college. Four are playing college football.
"That's great," Schreiber said. "That's why we're doing what we do."
This accountability program divides the Wildcats into six teams. Attendance in the weight room, grades, staying clear of discipline issues are charted and points are accumulated.
"If I get an email from a teacher that someone acted up in class, that person loses 25 points and his team loses 25 points," Schreiber said. "It's making changes."
Hammond's team GPA has risen the last three years. He's had 53 players sign up and show up at different times this summer. But he's facing things that Hall of Fame Hammond coach Bernie Krueger never did.
Students moving back and forth from Chicago to Hammond makes consistency difficult.
"The turnover rate has really hurt us," Schreiber said. "We work with a kid for two years and then, bam, he's gone. He moves somewhere else. The suburban schools don't deal with that. It comes down to the support system the kids have or don't have.
"My guys have a lot of responsibilities that other kids don't have. They have to help out at home, take care of younger siblings. Some say it's a lack of commitment. It's not. It's life."
Chris Boyd played for Hammond last year. He's going to Indiana State. Thomas Gary-Holmes is also a 2013 grad. He will play at Olivet Nazarene. Both believe in Hammond football and see a sea change coming.
"We had two coaches before (Schreiber) and we weren't very good," Boyd said. "He's helped us build good character around the school. He had us focus more on school work and that's why I'm going to college."
Boyd will study business administration in Terre Haute.
"I came from Chicago and they had no programs there," Gary-Holmes said. "I know he cares for us. I'm a competitor so the leadership program, to me, was about getting points and winning.
"I got as many As as I could and I stayed out of trouble because I wanted to win."
Schreiber said he and his kids are excited about this season. The sign posts are looking up, no matter how difficult the days can often be at times.
"I love the history of Hammond High and it's a challenge to get it back," Schreiber said. "Some of these guys are more committed than anywhere I've been. At other schools I've seen kids jogging during sprints because they're too cool to go all out.
"That doesn't happen here."