Copper wire thieves are taking the lights out of football Friday nights throughout Northwest Indiana.
East Chicago Central High School and Clark High School were both hit earlier this week in a string of copper wire thefts targeting light poles on the schools' athletic fields.
"It's happened to us, it's happened in Hammond, it's happening all over the place," Steve Segura, East Chicago city spokesman said. "These people know what they're doing it. They're hitting several places, this is not just an isolated incident and it's causing millions of dollars in damage."
Segura said a "rash" of copper wire theft has popped up between Northwest Indiana and Chicago this year. He said city property has also been vandalized recently.
Monica Maxwell, East Chicago Central High School director of athletics, said the school discovered Tuesday that eight light poles had been vandalized. The wiring had been cut and the copper was stolen from four light pole banks on the football field and four light pole banks on the soccer field.
"Whoever is doing it is hurting kids in exchange for a few dollars and it's unfortunate these kids have to pay for it," Maxwell said.
Maxwell said an electrician has been able to restore all of the lights on the football field, but the soccer field still has a quarter of its lights still out. Originally, she said the vandalism eliminated half of the football field's lights.
The repairs cost roughly $20,000, Maxwell said.
"It's a very extensive fix, it's not a cheap fix or an easy fix," she said.
With special events for the students approaching quickly, the school is not planning on canceling any games. Friday's football game between East Chicago Central and Gary West Side was rescheduled from 7 p.m. to start an hour earlier.
"The soccer and football teams have their senior nights Friday and Saturday, they'd be devastated if we canceled," Maxwell said. "We'll just have to make due."
On Tuesday it was discovered Clark High School also had been hit by wire copper thieves again, according to football coach Nick Testa.
"This is the second time, it happened about two weeks ago," Testa said.
Testa said he's not sure if all of the lights have been repaired yet, and the schools' homecoming game is Friday.
Earlier in September, Gavit High School had to reschedule a football game against East Chicago Central due to copper wire theft. The original game date also happened to be the same evening as Gavit High School's special athletics alumni event.
On Aug. 17, the Hammond Police Department posted a public notice asking for the community's help catching thieves who were stealing copper wiring from the city's decorative light poles. At the time, police reported more then 10 recent thefts.
Hammond police said many of the thefts happened in the Robertsdale area and north Hammond, but that incidents had occurred throughout the city. They said the thieves were posing as utility workers to go unnoticed.
East Chicago police did not respond for comment Thursday, but Segura said they're working hard to catch the copper wire thieves.
"We're aware of the situation and the police are doing the best they can to quickly apprehend the people doing this," Segura said.