Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Catholics vs. Convicts

“Save Jimmy Johnson’s ass for me.” Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz at halftime of “Catholics vs. Convicts” 1988 “brawl” game against Miami

On October 15, 1988, when the number 1 ranked Miami Hurricanes visited Notre Dame Stadium, many students wore “Catholics vs. Convicts” and “Hate Miami” t-shirts. Miami had won 36 straight regular season games but had a reputation for sleazy recruitment practices and tolerating questionable off-the-field behavior from its players.  Prior to the opening kickoff a brawl broke out between the players in the entrance tunnel.  Living up to their nickname “Fighting Irish,” Notre Dame won the contest 31-30 after Miami coach Jimmy Johnson elected to try a two-point conversion with 45 seconds left in the game rather than settle for a tie.

Under the headline “Catholics vs. Convicts?” NWI Times reporter Steve Hanlon reported on a press conference where Guerin Catholic coach Pete Smith badmouthed opponent Griffith in the upcoming 3A state championship game.  Last month Griffith’s season appeared over after a 45-second brawl that ensued after a Hammond player shoved Anthony Murphy, who was going up for a dunk, into a wall.  When twin brother Tremell Murphy went to his aid, someone allegedly punched him in the back of the head.  Judge Pera overturned the IHSAA ruling, citing other cases where the penalty was much less severe.  The main difference: footage of those didn’t go viral on social media.

Coach Smith claimed Golden Eagles fans had taken up the chant “Catholics vs. Convicts” and that, while he doesn’t agree with such a characterization, he believes Griffith does not belong in the tournament.  Speaking out of both sides of his mouth, Smith claimed that it was unfair for Griffith to have had three weeks off to get “rejuvenated” but then surmised that the team had still continued to practice.  He said, “We hope to get into their bench,” a veiled invitation for referees to call fouls on Griffith’s star players the twins Anthony and Tremell Murphy (below).  Downstate refs frequently show bias toward Region teams, so it would not be far-fetched since officials are somewhat beholden to the IHSAA.
Guerin Catholic’s best player, Matt Holba, is from Chesterton.  One wonders if Coach Smith recruited him illegally.  Gary Hayes, the Griffith coach, told Al Hamnik that the Murphy twins, who have lived in Griffith throughout their years in school, have resisted agents trying to lure them to a private school.  Hamnik wrote: “The Murphys, at 6-foot-5 with guard skills, can turn a game around quick as a hiccup.”  In a column entitled “Guerin must lose its elitist attitude,” the veteran Times reporter lit into Coach Pete Smith for his whining and poor sportsmanship and praised Griffith coach Gary Hayes for not getting “into a hissy fit with Smith.” Hamnik added:

How many Guerin fans actually made the ‘Catholics vs. Convicts comments to his face?  Was here a sign-waving, torch-carrying crowd chanting “Catholics vs. Convicts’ through the streets of Noblesville?  Was it that unanimous?
  Or did Pete Smith hear it secondhand, from a few, then pass it on as water-cooler gossip?
  Smith owes the Griffith School Corporation an apology.

Under intense scrutiny the Griffith players, coaches, administrators, and attorneys who took the case to court have been great.   As the headline of Indianapolis Star reporter Gregg Doyle’s column put it, “Griffith kids acting like adults; can IHSAA?”  Doyle wrote:

The kids at Griffith have done everything they can do to make amends.  They were barred from ‘The Region’s’ annual sportsmanship dinner, a petty move by the adults up there, so the kids at Griffith had their own sportsmanship dinner.  They invited the kids from Hammond.  Both teams sat together, ate together, grew together.

They practiced on their own at the YMCA, just in case.  Folks around town were down on them, the whole country was mocking them online, but the kids from Griffith kept it together.  They met every day at the public library because they’d been suspended from school for a week and wanted to keep their grades up – doing homework, studying for tests – just in case they were allowed back onto the court.
East Chicago State Representative Earl Harris (above), stricken with cancer, passed away at age 73. House Democratic leader Scott Pelath (my state rep) called him a true gentleman, “one of the finest and most visionary lawmakers I ever knew” and “a tireless advocate for the future of Northwest Indiana.”  Denzel Smith wrote: [He was] my Dad's best friend and an awesome man. I am honored to have known him and I'm grateful that he served his community well as State Rep. Mr. Earl always was encouraging and always willing to lend a hand. He wanted me to follow in his footsteps. God bless you and rest in peace.”
The Black Student Union and Office of Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs sponsored a screening of “The Trials of Muhammad Ali,” which brought back a flood of memories, including watching the first Sonny Liston fight in 1964 on cable TV in Williamsport at the home of a fraternity brother.  Ali was certainly a trailblazer who suffered mightily for his outspokenness and becoming a Black Muslim.  Many reporters, in fact, continued to call him Cassius Clay long after he took the name Muhammad Ali.

I learned that the unanimous Supreme Court decision that overturned Ali’s conviction of draft evasion and upheld his claim to be a conscientious objector was all set to go the other way when Justice John Marshall Harlan switched his position after a clerk pointed out that the Black Muslim position was identical to the Jehovah Witnesses, a religious group that had been granted conscientious objector status.  Other justices, fearful that all Black Muslims could refuse military service, then found a way to base the ruling on very narrow grounds, namely that his draft board had claimed he was insincere but during oral argument the Solicitor General conceded that Ali was sincere in his belief.  The scene of Ali, suffering from Parkinson’s, lighting the Olympic torch at the Atlanta Games Opening Ceremony caused tears to stream down my face.
I spoke to Steve McShane’s class about Thyra J. Edwards (above), who between 1920 and 1931 was a Gary teacher, social worker, and director of Lake County Children’s Home for orphans.  Thyra was the subject of historian Gregg Andrews’ biography, subtitled “Black Activist in the Global Freedom Struggle.”  In 1925, optimistic over the possibilities for racial progress in the Steel City, Edwards declared: “I am inclined to call Gary the eighth wonder of the world.  A barren, uninhabited waste of sand dunes and thistles has in 20 years developed into one of the largest industrial centers in America.”  She was appointed to several interracial commissions, served on the board of Stewart Settlement House, and was friends with Judge E. Miles Norton.  Moreover, through a circle of Chicago friends, she met the leading social workers and black leaders of that day.

Thyra soon became disillusioned, however, at the possibilities for racial progress in Gary because of the pernicious influence of the Ku Klux Klan, the increasingly segregated housing patterns, and the decision of Mercy and Methodist hospital boards to deny black patients access to their facilities.  In 1934, well on her way to becoming a radical, feminist, and human rights activist, she wrote in the Pittsburgh Courier:

We played childish games, ate rich cake, tea and jelly, and tried to be awfully nice to each other.  Having no common base of interest we had no real conversation – but we chatted and smiled and it might have been Gary, Indiana, or any one of a number of race-Relations fiascos of which I have been guilty.

Beautiful, adventurous, and intellectually curious, Edwards developed an intimate friendship with union leader A. Philip Randolph, who praised her “keen analytical mind, fine poise, modes charm and a fluency of presentation that will capture the admiration of the most critical.”  Biographer Andrews wrote:

She rejected orthodox religion and conventional marriage.  She was a theater critic, passionate lover of the arts, excellent cook, and fashion-conscious beauty writer known for her impeccable taste and collection of peasant blouses.  She led educational travel seminars to northern and western Europe, Scandinavia, Mexico, and the Soviet Union.

The same person who as a young girl was warned by her father to stick to the same street on her way to school every day and never to take a different route later walked down the street to the Kremlin, thrilled when she marched in Red Square in a May 1st celebration.  Edwards visited Napoleon’s tomb, wined, dined, and danced with European politicians and dignitaries; took lovers in a number of countries; and enjoyed nude sunbathing on the Soviet Black Sea Riviera.

Thyra Edwards supported anti-Fascist forces in Spain and Germany, was active in the wartime Double-V campaign, and due to her radical connections came under FBI scrutiny during the Red Scare.  She died in 1953, on the eve, Gregg Andrews concluded, of the civil rights movement she helped nurture.

In the memoir “The Imaginary Girlfriend,” John Irving wrote about being the butt of novelist Nelson’s Algren’s disdainful humor while a participant in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop during the mid-1960s.  Irving suspected that Algren thought him too soft since he was a small-town, prep school brat who didn’t play poker and wrestled rather than boxed.  Years later, when Kurt Vonnegut brought them together, Algren acted like he couldn’t remember meeting Irving at Iowa and pretended to confuse him with Clifford Irving, who had produced a bogus autobiography of recluse Howard Hughes.  Algren said he appreciated a good scam and then winked.
Reacting with disdain to Ted Cruz’s plans to run for president, both Anne Balay and Steve Pickert posted a Dr. Seuss “Green Eggs and Ham” parody.   The frigging Indiana legislature passed a “religious objection” law that will allow businesses to discriminate against gays.  Anne Balay posted: “Indiana, I’m leaving you anyway, you don’t have to pile on the reasons.”  John D’Emilio responded: “Yes, observing its current politics does put your denial of tenure in its true context, doesn’t it?”

Closer to home, Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson wants the land where the Sheraton Hotel once stood converted into a park and ice skating.  Samuel A. Love posed in front of the Memorial Auditorium façade, all that’s left off that important landmark.

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