By Dr. Paige McNulty
Four years ago, the Boys’ Varsity basketball team at West Side Leadership Academy didn’t have a winning record. The Gary Community School Corporation (GCSC), which is known for producing athletic legends, now faced the monumental task of rebuilding a sports program plagued with antiquated equipment and inadequate practice facilities.
The situation of the school district mirrored many of the problems faced by its athletic department. GCSC was running a deficit of more than $20 million, and most of its facilities were long overdue for even basic maintenance. Testing irregularities were being investigated and ultimately, students would have their results invalidated. A school corporation known for producing accomplished professionals such as educators, musicians, physicians, astronauts and the like seemed to be losing its way.
Fast forward a few short years, and things are much different. Our Gary schools are on the rise!
The West Side Cougars basketball team just completed an extraordinary season, winning sectionals and regionals and making it all the way to Semi-State. Along the way, the players represented Gary as model student-athletes on and off the court. Supported by athletic director Robert Lee and Head Coach Chris Buggs, every member of the basketball team made the honor roll. What’s more, the team was selected to receive a $2,000 scholarship for demonstrating great sportsmanship during the sectional tournament, which Gary Schools hosted for the first time in many years.
Similarly, the school district has demonstrated great improvement. The deficit has dropped from $22 million to less than $2 million. Enrollment has increased for the first time in more than 10 years, and our students are getting the opportunities they deserve in the classroom as well as career pathway programs. A prime example is West Side senior Cammay Brown, who was recently selected as a 2021 Lilly Scholar, earning full college tuition, an internship, and book stipend for four years.
In both cases, teamwork has laid the foundation for success, and a groundswell of community support has made progress possible. I can’t help but smile as I think of how at the Cougar basketball games, both in Gary and on the road, community members came out to cheer on our student-athletes. They even joined in a community parade to recognize their hard work on the way to semi-state.
For the school district, residents lined up at the polls and voted overwhelmingly to approve the November referendum that will help balance the budget, provide more opportunities for arts, athletics, and extracurricular activities, enhance safety and student supports, and offer teachers their first raise in 10 years.
These gains are hard-earned and are the result of intentional choices made by students, families, community members, staff members, and elected officials to create something better for the children of the Gary schools.
The mother of student athlete Quimari Peterson recently told a reporter that he was recruited by private schools after attending a non-GCSC middle school.
“But,” she said, “He begged to go to West Side to put them on the map.”
Without question, both the athletic program and our school district have more work ahead. But the last few years have shown that — through hard work, strategic decisions, and a great deal of community support — progress is possible.