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Region basketball community honors Marvin Rea's legacy

Former Bowman Academy coach Marvin Rea cuts down the net after his team's Class 2A state championship in 2013.

Some looked at Marvin Rea as a basketball recruiter who took all-star teams to state in order to cut down nets.

But those who were closest to Rea saw a much different side to the basketball legend, who was killed on Tuesday afternoon in a car accident on I-65 near Lafayette.

"Instead of having our environment raise us, Marvin used basketball to mold us into men," said Tyrae Robinson, a star guard on Bowman Academy's 2010 Class A state championship team. "He taught us to work hard, stay out of trouble and do the right things.

"He wanted us to carry those skills and attitudes off the basketball court and on into life."

Robinson noted that 10 players on the 2010 team went on to college. He played two years at Ball State and two more at the University of Indianapolis. Robinson played two years of ABA basketball.

Now, he is an entrepreneur with his mother in Oklahoma City.

Robinson heard the horrific news Tuesday night, and is planning on returning home when the services are announced.

"He was like a father-figure to me," Robinson said. "It seems unreal. I lived with him for awhile so I have more inside of me about it. I'm still trying not to think about it. I still have so much energy inside of me because of him."

Luis Roldan is a member of the Northwest Athletic Officials Association, which is a basketball organization for referees. He's worked so many of Bowman's games his friendship with Rea was pretty tight.

Rea coached at Bowman from 2007 through January of 2015. He led the Eagles to the 2010 state title, the 2012 Class 2A state runner-up, the 2013 2A state crown and the 2014 Class 3A runner-up finish.

Four state finals in five years has never been done in Region history.

But Roldan recalled last year's Bowman at Lighthouse game, in Rea's first year as the Lions coach. Two young officials were working with Roldan that night and Rea wanted to see if they were ready.

"There was a call that Marvin didn't like and he had the ball and one of the young guys came over to get it," Roldan said. "It was hot in the gym and the door was open so he threw the ball outside. I ran over and he said, 'You're not going to call a T on me. One of them has to do it."

Roldan said Rea had a smile on his face.

So when one of the younger officials came over and called the technical foul on Rea, he said to Roldan, "Ok, now he can ref games here."

Roldan also worked the Chesterton-Lighthouse game earlier this season. Roldan called a block against the Lions and Rea went a little crazy, then winked to the ref. Later, Roldan made the same call than benefited Rea, who just looked at him with a big smile.

"There are a lot of hurt kids in Gary right now," Roldan said. "There are a lot of officials in our association who are hurting. He was the first AD (at Bowman) who reached out to us and we started working all those big games at his place against great teams.

"He was tough on us in those games. He was funny on the sidelines. He was always, always fair."

Roldan spoke of how Rea taught character to his team. If an official spoke to Rea about the behavior of one of his players, the zebras didn't have to do a thing.

"Marvin would handle it," Roldan said. "For the most part, his players played the game right. Gary lost a great one."

Rea also reached out to suburban teams, something that wasn't happening much on the schedule at that time. His legacy and his teams started getting schools like Crown Point, Chesterton, Lake Central and Munster to put the Eagles on their schedules.

He was doing the same thing at Lighthouse, too.

"I knew how his guys played, that's why we wanted to play them," C.P. coach Clint Swan said. "I knew how hard they played and how competitive they were. We saw the mentality Marvin instilled in his kids.

"Yes, he had really good players. But his fingerprints were all over the way they played the game. And I respected him for that."

Swan has always called himself a basketball "junkie" that goes back to his younger days. He recalled seeing Rea, wearing goggles as a Roosevelt Panther, leading coach Ron Heflin's team to the 1987 state finals.

Swan recalled seeing the photo of Rea winning the Trester Award for mental attitude.

"What an honor and he was able to take that with him for the rest of his life," Swan said. "The impact he had on kids' lives was something special. This hit me really hard. We're all part of a coaching fraternity and you just hate to see something like this happen."

Donnie King did Bowman's scorebook for five seasons, after doing the same thing at Wirt for decades. King has been around Gary basketball all of his life and his love for it goes down to his very core.

He remembers Rea as a young kid playing ball in the streets and gyms of Gary with find memories.

"I'm in shock," King said. "He was a great man. I worked for a lot of great coaches, but Marvin was the best. He brought me on and allowed me to win a state championship and I'll never forget him.

"He touched a lot of people in Gary, around the Region and all around the state. I love that man."


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.