La Porte High School has seen a number of successes in its athletic program in recent years, but this success is not new to the Slicers. The school has bred an abundance of extremely talented athletes throughout the years. Five of those outstanding athletes and one extraordinary coach, who has developed many talented athletes himself, were honored on February 6 with an induction into the school’s Norman J. Hubner Athletic Hall of Fame to join the other thirty-six members. The inductees were Karen Day, Chip Jones, Rich Lenard, Joe Otis, Mark Scott, and Irv Swanson. All were present except the late Irv Swanson, whose son Tom accepted the award on his father’s behalf. The induction took place right before the boys’ varsity basketball game against Valparaiso High School, in which the Slicers lost by a final score of 57-37.
Swanson was known for his superb basketball skills, especially for his long-range shooting. After graduating from LPHS, he went on to play basketball at Indiana University, and he was named to the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame Silver Anniversary team in 1964. His son Tom, along with his grandsons Bret and Matt later followed in his footsteps to play basketball as Slicers. 1980 graduate Mark Scott was a phenomenal wrestler for LPHS. During his senior year, he won the state championship at a weight of 132 pounds, and he finished his high school career with a 50-17-2 overall record.
“It’s been an awesome experience,” he stated. “It’s nice that the accomplishments that we had back in those days are being recognized now. It’s an honor.”
Scott is happily working at Muncie Central High School currently; he has been teaching for twenty-eight years and coaching wrestling for twenty-six. He believes that being involved in athletics has changed his life for the better.
He said, “Being an athlete helps with life lessons. You learn to set goals and dedicate yourself to your sport. And that helps you in every aspect that you have in life. If I wouldn’t have been in athletics, I probably wouldn’t be as successful as I am today.”
Karen Day, Scott’s classmate, remains the school record-holder of two records in girls’ tennis: most career singles victories and most victories in one season. In addition to her tennis abilities, she also played Slicer volleyball for a year and baseball when she was younger. She played on one of the earliest girls’ teams at the school.
“There was a sense of newness about us,” she remarked. “The first year I played, the coach’s wife made our uniforms.”
Day now lives in Boston where she writes books and teaches adults and kids about writing. She enjoyed coming back to La Porte for a visit, allowing her to remember her time as a Slicer athlete and her favorite moments, including the camaraderie and fun times she shared with her team.
She said, “I just think that the sense of community in La Porte is so wonderful. It’s not quite like that at the high school where I live in Boston, so it’s really refreshing to come back here.”
Being a La Porte High School Slicer athlete means much more than just wearing a jersey or a uniform, in the same way as being a La Porte High School Slicer coach means much more than just carrying around a clipboard and creating plays. Former La Porte basketball coach Joe Otis knows this all too well, and he had to have felt some nostalgia accepting the honor in the gymnasium in which he dedicated so much time, in front of two of his schools that he had coached. He was greeted with vivacious applause from both teams as he entered, and the Valparaiso coaches offered him a flower arrangement.
“This is great,” Otis shared. “Twenty-nine years of my life were invested here. I came in twenty-eight years old and had no coaching experience. My first and third seasons here, we lost our best player to injury a week before the sectional, but they were patient with me, and I’m really grateful for that. Because it took us eight years to win a sectional, and then people expected us to win.”
Another person who understands the expectation to win is Rich Lenard, whose inner-competitiveness always told him that his team was going to win the game they were playing. Graduate of the LPHS class of 1968, Lenard was best known for his tremendous talent as both a baseball pitcher and a multi-position football player. He owes his success not just to his abilities, but also to his teammates.
He said, “This is my greatest honor. I’m very thankful for this, and to La Porte High School, and particularly to my two coaches I had in high school, Coach Klimczak and Coach Schreiber. To play baseball and football for them was great. I think when you play a team sport like baseball or football, you don’t do it yourself; it takes a team. So I’m also grateful to the players and my teammates over the years and what they did to help me achieve what I achieved.“
Sports have changed Lenard’s life in an important way. Aside from offering him a great time and a lifetime of memories and learning how to mature and work with others, sports also opened many doors for him.
“Sports gave me many opportunities,” he shared. “I’ve met a wonderful group of people as a result of this. And it’s helped me go to college; I was the first person in my family who graduated from college.”
Chip Jones, another baseball legend, graduated from La Porte High School in 1974. As well as with baseball, Jones was also a phenomenal basketball player. He appreciated the honor of being inducted into the Hall of Fame along with many people whom he has known for a long time.
“It’s a great honor,” he stated. “Really, it’s a thrill. It’s neat, because I’m really good friends with Joe and Mr. Rich Lenard, and everybody respects Mr. Swanson. And Karen was my one of my sisters’ best friends and she was around a lot growing up, so it’s a really nice group to go in with.”
Chip still lives in La Porte and commentates for many LPHS sports on the WLOI/WCOE radio station. He enjoys reflecting on the memories and friendships that he made as a Slicer athlete and the lessons that it taught him.
As LPHS Principal Ben Tonagel likes to say, “Once a Slicer, Always a Slicer.” Nothing could describe the atmosphere of the night any better than this concept does. These former members of the LPHS athletic program have moved on to pursue other parts of their lives, but they will never forget the time that they spent as Slicers.