MIKE CLARK: I'm back home again in Indiana

MIKE CLARK: I'm back home again in Indiana


Hi, remember me?

If you've been around the Region for a while, I'm guessing the answer is yes.

Though I recently returned to The Times after an 11-year absence, I first started working here back in 1988. Then, we were located on Fayette Street in downtown Hammond and the internet was the stuff of science fiction.

Now, we're on 45th Street in Munster and chances are, you're reading this on a smartphone or tablet. The other change from those early days: I don't have much hair anymore and the hair I do have is gray.

The Region sports landscape is different, too. An entire high school conference, the Northwestern, has vanished, the victim of enrollment declines and budget cuts in the Gary school system. Of the Gary public schools we covered in the '80s, only West Side and Roosevelt survive.

Other schools have shifted leagues. When I got here three decades ago, it would have been hard to envision a Duneland Athletic Conference without Hobart football, or Griffith not in a league with Ridge Road rivals Munster and Highland.

Not everything is new, of course. The Porter County rivalries between the big three (Valparaiso, Chesterton and Portage) and the rural schools of the Porter County Conference endure.

There's a mix of old and new on the local college scene too. Valparaiso University remains a basketball school, while Purdue Calumet and Purdue North Central have merged into Purdue Northwest and made a long-expected move from NAIA to NCAA Division II.

Minor league baseball wasn't around when I first got here. There were rumors, plans that went nowhere and a brief, and often chaotic, experiment with teams playing on high school fields in East Chicago and Merrillville before the RailCats finally gave the Region a team of its own in 2002. Well, a traveling team anyway, because U.S. Steel Yard wasn't ready for the team's first season and didn't host its first game till 2003.

The RailCats have changed leagues, too (sense a pattern here?). But they remain an affordable summer entertainment option for Region families and an island of stability in the often shifting world of independent baseball.

So that's the landscape as I return to oversight of the Times' sports coverage. The Region is a great place to be a journalist in general, and a sports writer in particular, because there are stories around every corner. I'm fortunate to be able to work with a pair of talented young staff writers in James Boyd and Robbie Weinstein, as well as a group of freelancers with deep ties to the Region.

Our mission statement remains the same as when I was last here: to tell the stories that matter to our readers. We'll be there for the big rivalry games like the Battle of the Bridge and the Battle of 119th Street. And we'll introduce you to and follow the progress of rising stars like West Side basketball phenom Jalen Washington, who already has scholarship offers from Indiana and Purdue.

We'll also tell the stories of the people behind the scenes and what the Region's best athletes do away from the field. Our job is to do more than just tell you the score of last night's game, though we will do that too.

I've always considered our work to be a conversation with our readers, without whom we would have no reason to be here. So please let me know if you have story tips, questions or concerns. My contact information is up above, and I look forward to hearing from you as we head into the next phase of this adventure.

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the games.

Mike Clark can be reached at (219) 933-4197 or michael.clark@nwi.com. The opinions are the writer's.


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