FORMER HEAD COACH BROUGHT AN END TO A DECADE OF DYSFUNCTION
By: Chris Ramirez
When Brett St. Germain was hired as head football coach at Lake Central in 2010, the program was suffering through a decade of dysfunction and despair. At the largest school in Northwest Indiana, football didn’t matter anymore. And it hadn’t for quite a while. At Lake Central, football had faded into failure and then obscurity.
Before that, when Elmer Britton was setting the gridiron standard at Lake Central, it did matter. In his 18 years at the school (1983-2000), Britton achieved a record of 131-63, amassing four sectional trophies and his 1993 squad was the Class 5A state runner-up.
Unfortunately for those who were enjoying that success during the 1980s and 90s, Britton, the person most responsible for it, was run out of Tri-Town after the 2000 season and the program went into a free fall.
Sometimes Your Timing Is Just Bad
And such was the case with Scott Freckleton, a good man and highly respected coach, who had the misfortune of following Britton. Freckleton, a Hobart football legend, who before he came to LC had been a long time assistant for Don Howell during the glory years of the Brickies, certainly was qualified to be a head coach. But what could go wrong did go wrong and the program soon found itself in the midst of back to back one win seasons.
With little or no administrative interest or support, the decline of the program was inevitable – no matter who was coaching. In an effort to pass the buck rather than offer the resources needed to turn the program around, the powers that be decide to make a change after Freckleton’s fourth season.
The next person chosen to lead the Indians, or so we were told, was Kevin Foster, an up-and-coming high school coach from Ohio. Remember him? The day he was suppoed to be introduced to the local media at the St. John school, he was instead charged with raping an 11-year old girl in Ohio – a charge that was later reduced.
Then from out of nowhere came a press release stating that Bill Melby, the former Gavit head coach, had been hired to replace Freckleton. Heads were spinning.
Melby, a candidate for the job who worked in the school system but was passed over in favor of Foster, himself admitted to being the school’s second choice. He even went so far as to say that his wife had turned him down when he asked her out the first time too, so he was fine with it and happy to be given the opportunity.
Just the same, all of this created an image problem. The program looked bad – in every way possible, and by the end of the 2005 season, Lake Central football had bottomed out.
To make matters worse, Andrean appeared in the state championship game three of out four years and won the Class 3A state title in 2004 (with St. Germain as head coach). All of those rosters were filled with kids living in the Lake Central school district.
Under Melby the Indians hit a high water mark of 7-5 in 2007, even reaching the sectional final that season – a first in the post-Britton years. But with just five wins combined over the next two seasons, the writing was on the wall, and by the end of the 2009 season, Melby, faced with the same issues as Freckleton before him, resigned as head coach.
It had now been a full nine years since Britton was sent packing. Since his departure the Indians, by this time a member of the Duneland Conference, had just one winning season, a dismal overall record of 31-64, and a .326 winning percentage – the worst among all Duneland schools during that time. And if you start with 2003, the year LC joined the conference, their record in the seven seasons through 2009, the year before Saint took over, is even worse at 20-53. More on this later.
Across the state line, private schools like Mt. Carmel, Marion Catholic and others were now raiding the Rt. 41 football cupboard at a rapid rate. The program was mired in dysfunction and the facilities were in shambles. Lake Central football it seemed, had been forgotten…and was not far from being ignored altogether. It just didn’t matter anymore.
Football did matter at the Pop Warner level however, and the Tri-Town Raiders organization, the supposed “feeder system” was having tremendous success during this period, competing and/or winning at the national level on more than one occasion. But strained relations between the Raiders and whoever was the varsity coach, meant the high school teams weren’t benefiting at all from the success at the lower level.
Adding insult to injury, many of the new homes being built on the far south sides of Dyer and St. John were actually part of Hanover Township, meaning Hanover Central was the school of jurisdiction for a lot of those students, not Lake Central – and in some cases, students had other options as well.
With all those families moving in and all that talent about to come of age, it was just a matter of time before a varsity football program would start reaping the rewards. That program would be Hanover Central, much more so than Lake Central.
These were just some of the issues facing the new coach, whoever that might turn out to be.
Kirk Kennedy To The Rescue
At the time the LC job came open, following Melby’s resignation, the Lowell Red Devils were the top program in Northwest Indiana, winning state in 2005 and placing as runner-up in both 2007 and 2009. But things were changing on Commercial Ave and Kennedy’s days there were numbered. With the football job coming open at LC, it seemed almost certain the head Devil would be riding his Harley north in the morning to his new position as assistant athletic director at Lake Central, where he would also be the new chief of the Indians football operations.
Several well known names applied for, or at least inquired about the opening, but it was narrowed down to two people – Kennedy and St. Germain, then an assistant at Crown Point after departing from Andrean. Whoever would be chosen was to be the savior of LC football.
In the end it was Kennedy’s choice to accept or decline, and it appeared he would take the job, but at the last minute, for reasons unknown to me, he got spooked, and from out of nowhere, turned down the Lake Central offer.
Before the dust could even settle, Kennedy was hired at Bloomington South and the responsibility of rebuilding Lake Central football went to St. Germain. That was seven football seasons ago.
I’ve heard it said countless times since then that the LC program should be farther along than it is, and that Saint, as he’s called by those who know him, hasn’t done enough. All those kids, three middle schools and now that brand new stadium – they should go to state every year. It’s all been said so many times. And when judging a book by its cover, maybe that’s how it looks. But those who’ve read the book from start to finish and understand it, likely see things differently.
JUST THE FACTS
Let’s take a look at how things have gone for the Indians under their most recent regime; as stated previously, in the nine years before St. Germain arrived in St. John, Lake Central was 31-64, worst among DAC teams. In the seven seasons since being hired, the Indians overall record of 45-29 is second only to Merrillville among Duneland schools.
So if we do the math from earlier, Lake Central won 20 of the previous 74 games they played in prior to St. Germain’s arrival. In the 74 games he was head coach at the school, the Indians won 45 games – more than twice as many.
Taking 2010 out of the equation, St. Germain’s first season, the Indians were 43-21 for a winning percentage of .672 – best among DAC teams. Merrillville has more wins (46), but they also have more losses (26), giving them a winning percentage of .639 – second to Lake Central amongst conference opponents the last six years.
The 34 wins Lake Central registered from 2011 to 2014 was the fifth highest total among NWI schools over that time. The teams ahead of the Indians (Andrean, Merrillville, Morton and Whiting) are all established programs. That’s also the second highest win total during any four year stretch in school history, trailing only those great teams of the early 1990s by just one win, and it’s the only time in school history that Lake Central has won eight or more games four seasons in a row – and that includes the Dyer Central years as well.
Lake Central has one lone Duneland Conference football trophy in its case after 14 seasons as a member – it came in the St. Germain era. The school has won just one sectional championship in the 21st century – it also came in the St. Germain era.
We mentioned that those early 2000 Andrean teams were loaded with kids from Tri-Town. The same was true during the 59ers most recent run of state success under Phil Mason, yet Lake Central still improved under Saint, and would have been even better if just a couple of those players had chosen to continue their public school education instead of going private in the ninth and 10th grades.
This is nothing new however. Over the years, Lake Central has been picked apart by the private schools mentioned earlier. These aren’t all unhappy third stringers who think they’re better than they are, these are kids who in many cases go on to play in college. And even if they weren’t ready to start at LC, depth is often the deciding factor in 6A football, so losing those underclassmen in such large numbers can and has hurt the growth of the program big time. Nonetheless, under Saint’s guidance, forward progress still happened.
Thanks mostly to St. Germain’s coaching credibility, the number of players leaving to go elsewhere seems to have diminished in recent years – which is what happens when you make people believe in something.
Long term success at just about anything requires a few common components and the most important factor of all may be stability. In Saint’s time at LC, there have been four athletic directors and three principles. The people who hired him are long gone, meaning he’s been on his own to a certain degree for some time now. How many successful local coaches are in the same predicament? Nonetheless, there was significant forward progress.
IT’S EASIER BECAUSE LAKE CENTRAL
HAS THREE MIDDLE SCHOOLS
Getting three middle school coaches who work in three different communities for three different principles to sacrifice their win-loss record in the best interests of the varsity program isn’t as easy as it sounds. I’m sure it’s a problem other coaches would love to have, but it’s a problem just the same. After years of striving for consistency, at least two of the three had finally come on board and bought into the system, something that shoulda/woulda/coulda produced positive results in the near future. Nonetheless, forward progress.
At most schools, Friday night in the Fall is for football. A good football team typically gets more publicity, which brings more fans to the game and fans spend money – especially on concessions.
It’s also an opportunity for the school’s band to showcase its talents in front of the community. But at Lake Central, a Friday night home game is a band event first, a sporting event second. The band even keeps the concessions profit – all of it – and when needed, the band can dictate the pregame routine.
They are called priorities and if you want to be successful, the bottom line is this; a football program needs to be put on a pedestal. Why? Because football can give a school an identity and a spirit that other sports can’t match, which is why it’s considered first among equals at so many schools – specifically the better ones in the state.
Saint did what he could with the resources available. He wasn’t perfect nor was he the first LC football coach in the 21st century to deal with these issues, but he was the first to overcome them. Things got better. Football matters again and making that happen was no easy task. The person most responsible for that is Brett St. Germain. End of story.