EAST CHICAGO - Jay Novak makes effort to teach his high school football players that their character off the field holds as much weight as what they do on the field.
The dean of students at East Chicago Central High School was an assistant coach at the school from 2007-2012 and head football coach from 2014-2019. His coaching career stems back to 1997, when he was assistant football coach at Whiting High School for nine years, then assistant football coach at Lake Station Edison High School and then head football coach at Hammond Clark High School.
A former high school athlete, Novak got into coaching when he ran into Brian Jennings, who was head baseball coach at Griffith High School and also head football coach at Whiting Junior High.
"We got to talking about how much I missed playing football and how great it would be to coach and help others learn the game,” said Novak. Jennings invited him to a game, and Novak knew right away that he was meant to coach. “I was hooked after watching the game and being around the team. I wanted to learn from the coaching staff. Varsity head football coach Jeff Cain and his staff turned out to be incredible role models for me as they taught me the game. I was like a sponge around those guys and soaked up as much as I could.”
Fast forward a few years to 2012 as a snowstorm hits the Region. Novak received a phone call from North Township Trustee Frank Mrvan. “He asked me if I could help shovel out some local seniors who were stuck in their homes and needed to go fill prescriptions, go to the grocery store, had doctors’ appointments, etc.,” he said. “I immediately called some of my players to see if they could help. I was able to get five football players to come out and help shovel out homes. The reaction by the senior citizens was priceless and so genuine and they were so grateful. The kids learned an important life lesson on helping their community. From then on we have carried on the tradition of shoveling out our senior citizens every winter.”
That community service project snowballed into many more that have included a school playground restoration, food pantry assistance, restoring a house for a veteran, tree removal, helping with the Rotary Club Race in Munster, the Lions Club Pancake Breakfast, the Highland Democratic Pancake Breakfast, the Penn Center Christmas Toy Drive, North Township Easter Egg Hunt and more.
“When I was named head coach at East Chicago I wanted to participate in more community service projects,” said Novak. “I realized when you are a leader of a group you have the power to make an impact on your group and your community. Lessons learned by both will help in creating a connection between that group and their community. For instance, we saw a correlation between our community service in East Chicago and an increase in support at Friday night football games.”
Novak is grateful for so many individuals who have helped make his job easier and more meaningful. “I would like to thank my family for always supporting me as a coach and encouraging me to follow my mission. I would also like to thank the many sponsors who have donated to our football programs at Clark and East Chicago. To all of my coaching staff and administration, thank you for all of your hard work and support over the years,” he continued. “Finally, a last thank you to team mom Jacklyn Perez for always organizing football operations, events, and feeding the team.”
Novak said the most difficult part of coaching is the time away from his own family and missing family events due to practices, planning and games. “In the end it is worth the time and effort when you are building future leaders,” noted Novak.
Novak recently resigned as head coach, but will carry with him the rewards of watching his players grow into successful adults and role models within their families and communities. He intends to return to coaching at some point. “I am not done by any means,” he said. “Like a bow and arrow - sometimes you need to take a step back in order to propel yourself forward.”