It’s no secret that the Munster Mustangs are not one of the Region’s top teams this season. Proud as they may be, the ‘Stangs will be fighting to stay above the basement dwellers of the new Northwest Crossroads conference. Highland however, made Munster look like state champs last Friday in the annual border war known as the “Battle of the Bridge.”
While Coach Leroy Marsh certainly had his players prepared, their opponents on the other hand – the Highland Trojans – weren’t quite as charged up for what is annually the biggest game on both teams schedule.
The Trojans came into the contest winless after falling 35-21 to 2A Wheeler in week one and 28-0 to 5A Portage in week two. Even though it was dwindling fast, there was still some hope for the season coming into week three. All that ended with Munster’s 49-0 thrashing of the Trojans at Mustang Field. If several big plays hadn’t been called back due to penalties (or mercy flags???), the headline could have read something like 84-0.
As if the lopsided thrashing wasn’t embarrassing enough, earlier that morning a short letter appeared in the “Talkback” section of the Times titled “Practice schedule unfair” which referred to head coach Eric Miller’s decision to practice on Labor Day. The anonymous critic said players should get the day off to perhaps spend time with their families or maybe go on an out of town trip.
The author didn’t mention the commitment or sacrifice each player is expected to make when he signs up to represent his school as a varsity football player. Nor did he or she note that most, if not all of the top programs in the area, put in some practice time during the holiday. Besides, it wasn’t going to be an eight-hour marathon session anyway, although maybe it should have.
Thanks to the two events on Friday – the letter and the loss – the Highland football program is taking a public relations beating. The players are being labeled as quitters and the program is being called the softest in Northwest Indiana. After giving up 31 second half points on Friday – mostly to second and third string Mustangs – it’s hard to argue otherwise.
With the toughest part of the schedule ahead of them, one can’t help but wonder if the worst is yet to come, or when and if Highland will dig up a win this season. If Munster beat them by seven touchdowns, what will Morton, Lowell, Griffith and Andrean (the Trojans next four opponents) do to them? Kankakee Valley, who beat Wheeler, (who beat Highland) and Hobart round out the 2007 campaign. On paper, Highland doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance.
As the program descends to rock bottom and a merciless stretch of potential blowouts loom ominously ahead, the challenge will be keeping the program together more so than winning games. With just over 40 players in uniform, the Trojans can’t afford any defectors, but even young teenagers know that when train wreck is about to happen, you’ve got to get off the tracks. And if it’s true they’ve already quit mentally, why even bother showing up against the Red Devils or Panthers?
To add insult to injury, if the Trojans don’t pull off an upset in the regular season, they’ll have to hope for luck of the draw come sectional time just to win a game. Griffith and Morton have been added to an already tough bracket that includes Hobart, East Chicago, Wallace, West Side and Hammond High, meaning anyone other than Wallace or West Side and Highland is one and done in the tournament. That’s not to say they’ll beat either of those teams, just that it’s not an automatic defeat.
How did it get this way? There’s plenty of blame to go around, just don’t lay it all at the feet of the current head coach. Don Howell himself wouldn’t have stood much chance in this town. The former coaching staff, administration and school board are as much to blame as the apathetic, unsupportive community that wasn’t paying attention and allowed it to happen.
What do I mean apathetic? Did the town of Highland wake up with a collective chip on the shoulder Saturday morning – or as they say about Highland – Saturday mourning? The answer is no, there was no collective chip. No dark clouds casting doom over the community. No call to action.
How about you Mr. Alumni? Were you mad enough to whisper to your buddy how tired you are of getting whooped by Munster? You probably did. Well whispering ain’t gonna cut it. You’re going to have to get madder and louder, a lot louder!
Parents in Griffith, Hobart and Lowell would never write to the newspaper complaining about the practice schedule. Those towns want to see their school win on Friday nights and those parents want to teach their kids the value of hard work. It’s not by coincidence that some programs are at the top and others, like Highland, are where they are.
Football is king in the Region and to compete takes commitment and sacrifice, from the top brass down to the equipment managers and people in the community. If Highland is to stop getting humiliated on the gridiron, changes in attitude need to happen, otherwise the free fall will continue.
Until the town is willing to put its money where its mouth is, it can’t whine about the Friday night outcome. We can talk all you want about how winning isn’t the most important thing, and that may be true, but it’s better than losing 49-0 to your arch rival for the second time in five years. What lesson does that teach?
Apparently in Highland, where the priorities are different, it doesn’t really matter how badly they get beat as long as nobody gets hurt and the kids don’t miss out on the last family barbecue, pool party or campout of the season.