GARY | A tear formed in the eye of West Side football coach Jason Johnson Tuesday as he spoke, but it was difficult to tell if it was shed out of happiness or sadness.
Actually, it was probably both.
"I felt like a kid on Christmas morning," Johnson said. "Watching the $6,000 goal posts go up on our field. Seeing the (new) flags blowing in the wind. I can't wait to see the new 25-second clock light up.
"I've dreamed about this since I was 18 years old."
Thanks to a $20,000 check from the Gary school board, crews worked hard to get West Side's football facility up to snuff in order to host Friday's Class 4A Sectional 17 championship game against E.C. Central.
But the IHSAA ruled Tuesday the Cougars' home field was still in too much disarray to host a sectional championship game, so E.C. and West Side will lock horns at nearby Morton instead.
The IHSAA also said the Bowman Academy-Rensselaer championship in the Class 2A Sectional 33 game will be played at Roosevelt. Bowman, the home team in the draw, does not have a field. The Eagles had asked Morton if they could use the field in Hessville for its game. The request was denied because of the E.C.-West Side move, and the Eagles ended up at Roosevelt.
Basically, the face-lift came too late at West Side.
"It's just something else we have to overcome," junior quarterback Ramone Atkins said. "It shouldn't take for us to start winning before the school board starts supporting us. They should support us anyway."
West Side had to move its sectional opener against Lowell to E.C. because of a facility full of holes. Two light banks didn't work. There were no 25-second clocks. And IHSAA Assistant Commissioner Robert Faulkens said the locker rooms needed to be cleaned up among several others things after touring West Side's campus on Sunday.
"You can't make up for 15 years of neglect in two weeks," Faulkens said Monday.
Faulkens and IHSAA Commissioner Bobby Cox were encouraged that Gary was moving forward and trying to make positive changes, but it was all done too late to help with this year's tournament.
"We can't control everything," senior JonVea' Johnson said. "We don't have much here, but look at what we're producing. The school should do more to help us move ahead."
Senior Lonnie Johnson, an Ohio State recruit, knows history will be made on Friday. Neither E.C. nor West Side has ever won a sectional championship.
This is only the second time the Cougars have reached a sectional championship game.
In 2010 Morton beat West Side 54-20 in the Cougars' other game of this magnitude.
"I wish we were playing at home, with the excitement and atmosphere," Lonnie Johnson said. "We lost to Morton in our last sectional championship game on that field. This is about payback."
Crews on Tuesday continued wiring the clocks, working on the press box and other projects at the facility. Jason Johnson hopes his team keeps winning, long enough so the field will be restored enough to play a possible regional or semistate there.
"Everybody's working hard, trying to make this right," Jason Johnson said. "If we keep winning and get another home game, I hope they come and take a look at our field again and I hope it will pass."