RSSTrack & Field
Mike Strabavy knows the importance of speed.
The former Bishop Noll and Indiana State two-sport athlete earned recognition on the track and baseball field for his swiftness.
It also paid off when he had both sports going on at the same time.
"My senior year, 1988, we had a baseball game at Clark and the (Lake Shore) Conference track meet at Clark," Strabavy said. "I left in the third inning of the baseball game, changed into my track uniform and headed over to the long jump pit."
Strabavy won the long jump, was second in the 300-meter low hurdles and was on the winning 400-meter relay team. That relay team of David Olivencia, Joe Cetwinski, Strabavy and Rusty Setzer eventually went on to win the 1988 Indiana state title with a time of 42.36 seconds.
Strabavy competed in track and field at Indiana State for two years, then walked on to the Sycamores baseball team and played for three years. He was primarily used as a pinch-runner and pinch-hitter his first season, and started 100 of 120 games his next two seasons. Strabavy will be inducted into the Hammond Sports Hall of Fame on March 11. He joins his brother Tom, who was inducted in 2005.
"To me, going into the hall, that is the defining moment," Mike Strabavy said. "You never think about this when you are competing in high school or college, but this is a great honor ... I can't describe it. To think I am following in the footsteps of my brother Tom is a great feeling."
He did not play baseball at Noll until his senior year when asked by then-coach Jack Gabor.
"He and my track coach, Jim Tarka, had to work it out and I was able to do both," Strabavy said. "We had a schedule that if there was a baseball game, that took precedence. If there was a track meet, I went to that. Of course, there was the time at Clark when I got to do both in the same day."
Another moment sticks out and it was the 1988 (Lake Shore) Conference indoor meet at Bishop Noll.
"I won the long jump, 60- and 200-meter dashes, and was on the winning six-lap relay," Strabavy said. "I got MVP of the meet. That was something that I will never forget."
Strabavy and his wife, Dawn, will be married 11 years this week.
He is a cardiac rehabilitation exercise physiologist at Community Hospital in Munster and said his career gives him a sense of fulfillment.
"You get someone who comes from a procedure, maybe open-heart surgery, and sometimes they can barely walk to the door when they start their rehab," Strabavy said. "They go through rehab in the hospital, then come down to us and to see them a month or so later walking on a treadmill and coming in three times a week just makes you feel good.”
"I love working with senior citizens, but we work with younger people too."
He said he works with inpatients and outpatients. He loves working with patients to get them to better health.
"It is the exercise and education that the patients need to help them lead a healthier lifestyle," Strabavy said. "I have a very rewarding job and I love it."
Pat Montalbano is a longtime supporter of the Hammond Sports Hall of Fame.
"I usually attend all the induction ceremonies," he said. "It's great to see some of the outstanding players I've coached and coached against get the recognition they deserve."
Montalbano also tries to keep the Hall of Fame up to date.
"I thought he was one of the best three-sport athletes we've had here," Montalbano said of a player he once coached at Clark, "so I sent in a nomination form with his name on it."
Some time later, Montalbano got a letter from the HOF.
"At first I thought he got in," Montalbano said, "but when I glanced at the letter, I saw his name wasn't listed with the 2014 class so I just put it away without paying much attention to it."
Later, a colleague contacted Montalbano and suggested he should read the letter again, this time more closely.
"I didn't think I was part of the conversation," said Montalbano, who was surprised -- to say the least -- that he was among the seven chosen to be enshrined March 11 during the induction ceremony/dinner at the Hammond Civic Center.
"It still hasn't hit me," said Montalbano, who was Clark's high school athletic director from 2006-2010 after serving as Clark's middle school athletic director for nearly 30 years. "It probably will when I step up to the podium."
Montalbano, 64, of Chicago, played football and participated in track at St. Francis de Sales.
"I never was a star athlete," said Montalbano, who was a second-teamer at both offensive line and linebacker, and threw discus and shot put for the Pioneers. "That likely helped me as a coach. Sitting on the bench forced me to learn more about the game. I always felt more of a connection with players who had hustle and work extra hard to make up for their lack of ability."
During his tenure at Clark, Montalbano coached baseball, football, basketball, track and cross country, compiling winning records and championships in most ventures.
From 1977 to 2000, Montalbano was head coach for the Pioneers middle school boys basketball team, which went 373-270 during that span. He received conference "Coach of the Year" awards twice during his three-year stint as Clark's varsity baseball head coach, which resulted in three conference titles, two sectional titles, and a school-first regional title in 2006.
Montalbano also served as an varsity assistant coach for Clark's football and baseball teams, and assisted Bob Navta with Clark's middle school cross country teams, which won 11 straight city championships.
Whatever sport Montalbano coached, getting kids to come out and stay out was never a problem.
"I believe if a kid makes the team and shows up for practice, he's going to play," Montalbano said. "Yeah, sometimes you might lose a game here or there if you make sure everyone on the bench is going to get in an inning or two, but I've found out that so many times it's the guy you least expect is the one who comes through for you in the end.
"All they needed was the chance."
Montalbano still teaches high school math at Clark, where he was named "Outstanding Teacher of the Year" in 1995.
"Being a math teacher requires a lot of prep time, and if you're athletic director who also coaches, it can really wear you down," Montalbano said of why he stepped away from athletic administration and coaching three years ago. "It was time for some new blood to take over. Now, after work I can come straight home and spend more time with my wife (Suzanne)."
Former Andrean football coach Pete Billick was remembered by former players and colleagues as much for his love of competition, life and his players as much as for the Xs and Os.
Billick died Saturday at age 80.
"When you talk about the Andrean family, Pete was what it was about," Andrean athletic director Bill Mueller, a 1981 grad who played for Billick from 1978-80. "When I came back (to Andrean), he came up to me and made me feel at home.
"If we needed something, we would call him and he was very resourceful. He could get it done for us. He loved Andrean."
Tom Peller was a quarterback and a 1979 graduate. He said Billick influenced some of the things the Chesterton boys basketball coach does on the court.
"I remember the trust, confidence he had in me to let me call my own plays," Peller said. "We would meet and go over plays. I try to do the same with my players. We go over things in practice so they are able to make decisions in games."
Billick, a Gary native, was head football coach at Andrean from 1972-81 and was 58-42. Prior to that, he was an assistant coach under Nick Crnkovich.
Most remember Billick for overcoming throat cancer in 1972 and despite not having a voice, he was still able to coach.
"He never used that as an excuse," Crown Point athletic director Bill Dorulla, 1976 grad, said. "He was a good man who taught you more than football. A lot of people don't know that he was a Notre Dame grad and an architect.
"He was a tough guy and he taught you toughness."
Peller said he too had a lot of respect for his high school coach.
"I respected the fact that despite his handicap, he never let it stop him from coaching," Peller said. "He did not have a voice, but he was able to coach football."
Billick grew up on Gary's East Side in the Emerson neighborhood. He graduated from Chicago's Mount Carmel High School in 1951.
"He had a degree in architecture, but he chose to coach and teach at Andrean," Mueller said. "That says a lot right there about his love for working with kids."
He is survived by his wife, Mary Ann, and four children — Larry (Denise), Debbi (Greg) Ashcraft, Carol (David) Hamm, and Sandra (Jamie) Caylor. He is also survived by six grandchildren.
Once upon a time, high school track and field was a glowing beacon that put Gary on the national map.
"It's startling to see what Gary track and field accomplished," said Steve White, president of the state hall of fame museum in Terre Haute. "When Gary runners stepped off the bus at meets, the other athletes looked at them in awe."
Those were golden times in Gary when team turnouts were high, facilities were primo, fan interest off the charts and "dominance" the operative word.
White's detailed research found that Gary produced 40 boys state championship teams in a 62-year period and 50 in all, including six girls titles.
There also were 18 runner-up finishes by the boys.
But the city has since gone from eight high schools to just three — Wallace, Roosevelt, West Side — with Wallace's days reportedly numbered.
Facilities are dreadful in all sports, student interest is at an all-time low and any sense of Gary's glorious history sadly lost among today's youth and their coaches.
That will hopefully change at the 2014 Hall of Fame Track and Field induction Jan. 31 at The Sheraton at Keystone Crossing in Indianapolis.
It will be followed by the Feb. 1 Museum Induction and Reception in Terre Haute honoring the 50-year anniversary of Roosevelt's 1964 state champions.
Highlighting the evening will be a tribute to Gary Froebel's Miles family, the only family in modern IHSAA times to have three brothers — John, Howard and Galvester — win state championship gold medals in track.
Did you know that? I didn't.
"A lot of times, things don't sink in until you're much older," said Delores Miles Crawford, one of seven siblings in the family.
"We're just so, so, so, so excited they're being honored now. It's never too late."
A lengthy list of former Gary track standouts, coaches and other VIPs are scheduled to attend the reception. More than 40 members of the Miles family are expected as well, Delores said.
The IHSAA will have a re-enactment of the '64 trophy presentation to Roosevelt at the museum reception and commemorative medals given to all banquet attendees.
"It's going to be an incredible night," White said. "Great videos, great photos, great memories."
White and cohort Marshall Goss, director of the Hall of Fame Museum, are committed to rounding up Gary's forgotten track stars for future induction.
"They're going to get in. It's just a matter of time and patience before they do," White said.
Goss claims this is the only high school track and field hall of fame museum in the country.
"The really big story is that the Gary school system was a blueprint for school systems in the U.S. back in the '20s and '30s and few people know that," Goss said.
"People came from all over to see Gary's schools and how they were run."
Tickets to the reunion are free if you go through the IATCCC web site and there is talk of Roosevelt alumni association president Annie V. May (219-938-6611) providing bus service.
Goss (812-339-7121) and White (812-243-4031) are other contacts who can give you answers.
Gary track memories still have enough breath left to fog a mirror, so these two huge events can only help.
It doesn't take much for Albert Evans Jr. to push himself for that extra rep on the football field or in the weight room.
The former Portage and Purdue gridiron standout doesn't give up easily. To him, it is nothing to push himself to the limit or beyond.
The Gary native not only continues to work out daily, but has also begun teaching personal training.
"I love helping people who want to get in better shape and help themselves," Evans said. "I am very fortunate that I have that opportunity to do this, coach and still pursue my dream."
That dream continues to be playing professional football. Evans had a tryout with the Miami Dolphins in 2012, and in the meantime has been an assistant coach at Homewood-Flossmoor High School under his former coach at Portage, Craig Buzea.
"Ever since I was a young kid, just like everybody else, my dream was to play in the NFL," the 24-year-old Evans said. "I am still young enough to pursue it and I just want a chance to show I can play whether it is the NFL, indoors or Canada.
"I am in good shape and I can take off in a minute for a tryout. Not everyone even has that opportunity, so you have to make the best of it."
Evans' dream began on the now-shuttered Aetna Elementary School's front lawn on Arizona Street and the playing fields behind the school. It continued when he went to Kennedy-King Middle School, then to Portage and Purdue.
He is proud of his degree in health and human sciences and has had something to fall back on.
"I would say my goal was to play Division-I football, then in college it was to graduate from Purdue and get my degree," Evans said. "I graduated with honors and that was important to me. With my parents (Albert Sr. and Loukecia), it was always school work first. My two sisters and me all graduated from college."
Evans has also worked with kids who have had troubled pasts and live in a group home.
"I saw they were not bad kids, but just had no guidance from adults," Evans said. "It made me feel very lucky and not take for granted what I have. I am very lucky that I have two parents who worked hard to give us everything."
He loves working with Buzea and is glad his former coach brought him aboard the H-F staff.
"I feel I can make a difference, help a young kid out because I am not that much older," Evans said. "I have gained a lot of valuable experience from Buzz and from coaching.
"The players know I played college ball and I will do what I can to show a kid what he needs to do."
Jawann Turner said when he talks about the importance of academics to young people, he uses himself as an example.
Turner, a 2003 Hammond High grad and 2003 Times Tim Bishop Athlete of the Year winner, had football offers from Purdue and Wisconsin, but did not qualify academically.
"I use myself as an example all the time. I up front tell them that," Turner said. "You have to put the work in in the classroom. I learned the hard way, but I learned."
Turner not let that stop of his dream of playing college football or getting a college degree. He played at College of DuPage for a year, then at Rock Valley after DuPage dropped its program. He earned a scholarship at Indiana State, where he played football and graduated in 2008 with a degree in criminology.
"I had to work extra hard, but it was worth it to get into a (four-year) college and earn that degree," Turner said. "I tell the kids, that you have to get an education. No matter what, once you get that college degree, nobody can take it from you."
Turner was Mr. Everything at Hammond as he starred in football, basketball and track. On the track, the only races he lost was at the state meet in the 100- and 200-meter dashes. He was the most valuable player of the North-South all-star football game and he passed for 1,843 yards and 16 touchdowns, and rushed for 1,094 yards and 11 TDs in 2002.
In basketball, he averaged 23 points per game.
Now, he works with troubled youths and also is an assistant football coach for Roy Richards at Morton.
"One day, I hope to be a head coach," Turner said. "I listen and learn from Roy. He has taught me so much about the game. He really loves what he is doing and loves the game."
Turner said he loves his job because he feels he can make a difference in kids' lives.
"A lot of these kids, it is making sure they get their GED or you help them try and get a job," Turner said. "They need some guidance, some direction and someone who cares about them. At both places, we have people who care about helping the individual.
"I think a big part is showing you care and encourage them."
Rich Rust can recall as if it were yesterday when the Hebron boys basketball team traveled to Lafayette Jeff for the regional.
"It was (as if) the whole town of Hebron shut down," Rust said. "Both in 1974 and 1976 we played Jeff in the championship and we had a big following."
He said it was kind of special as the Hawks won the Kankakee Valley Sectional and were playing in a historic gym.
"Once we got used to the big crowd, we made the adjustment and we were fine," Rust said. "It was a thrill to play in that gym and against Jeff. We played hard, but we just didn't have enough."
In the morning regional game in 1974, the Hawks beat North White and in 1976, it was Frontier. Twice they faced the Bronchos in the regional championship and lost.
Rust went on to play one year at Alaska-Anchorage, then he transferred to Fort Hays State in Kansas. Now, he is the concrete superintendent for Empire Contractors, Inc. in Evansville.
Before leaving for college, Rust was one of the best athletes to come out of Hebron. The 1976 graduate starred in basketball, baseball, cross country and track.
He was a two-time Porter County Conference basketball player of the year (1974-75 and 1975-76), all-conference in track and field in 1974 (high jump), '75 (800, high jump) and '76 (440, 880 relay), and all-PCC in cross country in 1974 and 1975.
In basketball, he averaged 19.1 points-per-game his junior year and 16.8 his senior year as he was named first-team all-state for small schools by the Bloomington Herald. In his three-year varsity career, he had 875 total rebounds.
"That was a lot of fun and being at a small school, I was able to play all four sports," Rust said. "The PCC was good basketball, and we had a tough one every Friday. We knew each other, played against each other in the summer and loved the competition."
The Hawks won the South County Tournament all four years he was at Hebron.
"The South County Tournament was really special," Rust said. "Back then, you didn't have a lot do. There was no Internet, cellphones, so a lot of kids showed up to the games. It was like a postseason atmosphere. It was really special for the small schools to have our own tourney."
John Collet wasn't trying to imitate Pheidippides, the first marathoner, but he ran the same way Pheidippides did.
"We used to run our meets barefoot," Collet said. "I liked it, and I felt comfortable.
"Of course, we ran on soft courses, golf courses like Cressmoor (Country Club in Hobart). It was just natural to run in your bare feet."
Collet said he won his first sectional in bare feet, then the IHSAA said runners had to run in shoes.
Collet had quite a prep career. He was a four-time sectional champion in cross country.
"I am proud of that because that is one record that will never be broken," he said. "It can be tied but never broken."
He is part of the Indiana Association of Track Track and Cross Country Coaches Hall of Fame Museum's silver and golden anniversary team. Collet, a 1966 Griffith grad, is part of the gold team which will be honored Saturday at the IHSAA state cross country finals in Terre Haute.
"It is an honor and I am looking forward to seeing those guys, especially (Hall of Fame director) Marshall Goss," Collet said. "My wife Carol was a big part of it and my coaching career, and she will be there, too."
Collet won the state 2-mile championship in 1966 with a time of 9:31.
He was runner-up his junior and senior years in the state cross country meet. In 1964, he finished second to West Lafayette's Mark Gibbons, who set a state meet record in 9:26.6. The previous best was set in 1963 by Indianapolis Washington's Dennis Grider (9:40).
"I beat the old mark, too, but didn't win," Collet said.
His successes earned him a scholarship to DePaul where he competed in both sports. The Blue Demons had to be creative since they had no true track facility other than running the halls of old Alumni Hall.
"Lincoln Park was where we ran," Collet said. "We trained outdoors all year-long and I think it made us tougher and better runners."
That included the blizzard of 1967.
"Running in snow made your legs stronger," Collet said. " I used that when I coached track at Bloom Trail. My guys hated it, but come the end of the season when it counted, they were in great shape."
Collet went to coach cross country at Griffith, Highland and Bloom Trail. His 1983 Bloom Trail team was second in the Illinois High School Association's Class AA meet, losing 49-46 to East St. Louis Lincoln. The 1985 Trail Blazers were third in Class AA. At Bloom Trail, he had some great track meets with Bloom, coached by legendary coach Lonnell Poole, for the bragging rights of Chicago Heights.
"Lonnell always had a powerhouse and all those kids knew each other," Collet said. "We had some great teams back then and our conference (SICA East) had Homewood-Flossmoor, Thornton, Thornridge, Thornwood, us and Bloom. A great track conference."
Collet and Carol are busy getting their new sporting goods store ready for its opening. They merged St. John Sports and Mike's Sporting Goods and will open a new Mike's Sporting Goods in a strip mall in Schererville.
Jose "Pepe" Gonzalez, once the fastest man in Indiana, died early Saturday morning at his Northbrook, Ill. home, losing his battle with bladder cancer and ALS.
His daughter Carla Pister said he was surrounded by his wife of 54 years, Elaine (nee Garcia) Pister, daughter Lisa Marie Torre and son Jay. Gonzalez was 82 years old. In addition to three children, the couple had three grandchildren.
Gonzalez was a star athlete at Froebel High School in Gary. He was a three-time state champ in both the 100- and 220-yard dashes from 1947 to 1949. He is the state's only athlete to accomplish that feat.
He set a state record in the 220 (21.2) in 1948 which he held for 18 years until Brebeauf's Clyde Peach ran 20.7 in 1966. The mark Pepe Gonzalez broke was previously held by his older brother Marce.
Gonzalez also was on the Blue Devils 1949 state championship team. He was a part of the 1948 state-champion 880 relay team, which set a state record (1:31.4).
Marce won state titles in the 100 and 220 in 1942. Pepe and Marce are both in the Indiana Track and Cross Country Coaches Hall of Fame. Both went to the University of Illinois. When Pepe went to Illinois, Marce was an assistant coach. Pepe was a Big Ten champion, winning the 55-yard dash in 6.4 seconds and the outdoor 220 (21.8).
Gonzalez became an executive with Sears. Marce became a coach and administrator in the Gary Community School Corporation.
In an August story in The Times, Pepe Gonzalez talked about his life, career and his battle with the two diseases.
"People ask me 'Are you angry about it?' Hell no!" Gonzalez said in the interview. "I had over 80 years of great living, running, working and a great family. A lot of people did not have the opportunities and great life that I have.
"I can say, God has been great to me. I can't complain about a thing."
Pepe and Elaine both grew up in Gary, she on 11th Avenue and Pepe in the 1100 block of Harrison Boulevard. Because of the various ethnic groups that lived in that neighborhood, it was known as Gary's "United Nations" as was Froebel School, which was the city's lone integrated school.
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