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Many students at Lew Wallace High School had tears in their eyes on Wednesday and heavy hearts at the Glen Park school. Thomas Powell, a math teacher and former football coach for the Hornets, died.

Wallace boys basketball coach Melvin Yancey confirmed that Powell collapsed at the school, but he did not know if Powell died at the school, in transit to the hospital or once he arrived at the hospital.

"I do not know what happened for sure," Yancey said.

Yancey's class is on on the first floor. He said Powell collapsed on the second floor.

Beyond that Yancey did not know the details.

"There were children crying," Yancey said. "It was sad. Very sad. To me it hit the kids pretty hard. He was good man. He will be missed."

Powell was the head football coach for Lew Wallace from 2000 through 2001. A knee injury took him off the sidelines.

Powell, an East Chicago native, was hired as the E.C. Central football coach in 2006, holding the job for two weeks. After being hired, his contract was rescinded.

The E.C. Roosevelt grad coached Wallace football full time in 2000. After his knee injury, Gary's then-city Athletic Director Earl Smith did not approve Powell returning for the 2002 season.

In 2006, a Lake County jury awarded Powell more then $280,000, according to Powell's lawyer, Anna Hearn, in a Times article.

The jury found the Gary Community School Corp. violated federal law when it failed to reinstate Powell as the Hornet's head football coach and assistant boys basketball coach in 2002.

Friends and colleagues were saddened by Powell's death on Wednesday and wanted to remember a man former Wallace boys basketball coach Renaldo Thomas called, "A gentle giant."

"He loved the game of football, he loved sports," Thomas said. "He cared for the guys the most. He was a gentle giant. He didn't have to raise his voice. He was a true professional.

"He carried himself with a lot of class, a proud guy. He was a good person to be around."

Calls to Gary Community School Corp. spokeswoman Charmella Greer were not returned on Wednesday.


Sports Reporter

Steve has won awards during two different stints at The Times. In addition to being the Prep Beat columnist, he covers football, boys basketball and boys track. He is a long-suffering Cubs fan.