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Walt Viellieu retired after 31 years as Hammond's city athletic director in 1998, but he never stopped caring about the city's kids.

"He was a tireless worker," said Tom Zasada, who succeeded Viellieu as city AD. "Years after he retired, I still met with him."

Those sessions, often over lunch at Viellieu's home, allowed Zasada to pick the brain of a man who wanted the best sports experience for every kid in Hammond, from the biggest basketball star to the third grader playing intramurals.

Viellieu was a visionary leader who presided over the introduction of girls interscholastic sports and was a driving force in the introduction of prep soccer in Northwest Indiana. In the wake of the U.S. Women's National Team's historic World Cup triumph, it feels like a fitting time to take note of his legacy. Viellieu died on June 30 at the age of 88.

Zasada, who was Hammond's football coach before moving into administration, didn't have a lot of interactions with Viellieu in his earlier role. "Once I got to know him, he was a sweetheart," Zasada said.

Viellieu also was a guy who stepped up wherever he was needed, whether it was running a middle school track meet or finding a way to help football players stay in shape in the offseason. That was the impetus for his drive to start high school soccer programs in Hammond along with longtime Clark and Purdue Calumet coach Frank Carroll.

"He was a good man," longtime official and Bishop Noll coach Ed Hreha said of Viellieu. "He got that going and it just took off."

Viellieu showed the same can-do spirit years earlier when he played football at Purdue, lettering in 1951 and '52. According to Wes Lukoshus, who worked alongside Viellieu with the Hammond Sports Hall of Fame, the Boilermakers were looking for a heavyweight to fill out their wrestling lineup and approached Viellieu — who had never competed in the sport before.

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But Viellieu stepped up, earned three more letters in his second sport and even was voted team captain.

It was a move that foreshadowed Viellieu's mindset after college, when he was Hammond Tech's football coach before taking over as city AD.

"He was the kind of guy who took his job very seriously but never took himself too seriously," Lukoshus said.

One of Viellieu's pet projects in later years was the Hammond Hall of Fame's Anderson-Peterson Family Distinguished Athlete Award, which recognizes the city's top male and female athletes. Viellieu gathered and compiled the nominations and set up a subcommittee to decide on the winners. 

Again, it was another example of Viellieu's willingness to make the athletic experience a memorable one for Hammond's kids.

"He didn't delegate to avoid work," Lukoshus said. "He did the best he could with the resources he had."

"He did the intramural program for elementary schools," Zasada said. "He got the money for that. Without him, that never would have kept going."

And without him, generations of Hammond kids wouldn't have had the chance to play the sports they loved at the level that suited them best.

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

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