Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. resurfaced bitter resentment over a longstanding sports team feud Wednesday by blasting the town of Griffith, saying he's dead-set against the town's pitch to join North Township.
After Griffith residents recently voted to secede from Calumet Township in September, the Town Council this week put in a request for the town to join North Township.
The request comes days after learning Griffith's original request to join St. John Township likely will not come to fruition before year's end.
Joining either township by Dec. 31 would benefit Griffith in that the high tax rates of Calumet Township would no longer apply in the upcoming year.
McDermott said he isn't having any of it and plans to do whatever he can to stop it — unless, of course, Griffith agrees to play Hammond teams again.
"They don’t want our kids in Griffith, and that’s a big deal to me. They're saying things about my kids, my residents, my city, and now you want our help, and this was self-inflicted by Griffith. Now they want us to bail them out. No way," McDermott told The Times.
McDermott is referring to a decision made earlier this year to no longer match up the two teams during regular season games due to sportsmanship issues, including a December 2017 incident in which Hammond's freshmen boys basketball team was playing at Griffith.
A fight broke out in the stands that spilled onto the court with 6.3 seconds left in the game.
Longstanding issues date back to 2015 when a fight broke out in a varsity game between Hammond at Griffith.
Rick Ryfa, Griffith Town Council president, said while he has great respect for McDermott, to suggest the entire town of Griffith has any animosity toward Hammond students is wrong.
"It would be unfortunate and a shame for the really good people of Griffith if something that happened one, three years ago prevented Griffith from joining North Township," he said. "The town didn’t have input on that decision."
At the time, Grayling Gordon's Griffith Panthers told The Times his administration had made the call to no longer play Hammond, but Griffith Athletic Director Stacy Adams described it as a mutual decision.
McDermott said Wednesday the decision was most certainly "instigated" by Griffith schools.
"Town of Griffith says they want to be part of North Township, yet they refuse to play any sporting events against Hammond High School? ... I’m 100% against this proposal. If Griffith wants nothing to do with our kids, I want nothing to do with their Town," McDermott wrote on Facebook on Wednesday.
Griffith Public Schools Board President Gary Sutton said he believes it was a mutual decision, the cooling-off period benefited both parties, and the Indiana High School Athletic Association supported the move.
"And we never said we wouldn’t play Hammond Gavit, Morton, Clark. This is just a cooling-off period between one Hammond school and Griffith," Sutton said.
McDermott also argued Griffith should have first asked North Township to join, rather than turning to them as a second fiddle.
"If the town of Griffith wanted to become part of North Township, they should have said so right away," he said.
Ryfa said that could not be further from the truth.
While the majority of residents did initially favor joining St. John Township because of extremely low tax rates and a Griffith subdivision already being constructed in St. John Township, residents "had nothing negative to say" about North Township.
Several surveyed residents favored North Township, too, because of services, such as dial a ride, senior offerings, job training and more.
"I know Mayor McDermott and respect what he’s done for the city of Hammond, but he’s just wrong on this point, to say Griffith isn’t welcome in the township because of decisions made between Griffith and Hammond schools and IHSAA," Ryfa said.
If North Township or St. John Township should approve the town after Dec. 31, Griffith would have to wait until 2020 to join because of the U.S. census.
Whichever township accepts Griffith first is the one the town is legally required to join.