The Northwest Indiana region is, without a doubt, an area fully engaged in sport contests of many kinds.

There are numerous examples of this keen interest. This time of year, we find ourselves at a full high school football stadium on Friday night, listening to our favorite team on the radio or monitoring the live stream via the internet or Facebook Live. Whether we are part of the crowds cheering in the stadium far to the west in Munster, or viewing the banners of individual players proudly displayed in downtown La Porte to the east, to live in Northwest Indiana is to become engulfed in a culture that thrives on its sports.

The local papers dedicate pages of print to athletic events in local high schools across all of Northwest Indiana. Not surprisingly, the sports section far exceeds the op-ed section of the newspaper. Is it only because parents and grandparents hope to see a picture of their daughter, son or grandchild, or a mention of their name? I think it goes far beyond that in “The Region.”

Where else could you tune in to local radio and find the host interviewing a retiring basketball referee just before he moves to Florida? And the following day, you could listen to the next generation referee who got his start by working with the retiree.

Growing interest in sports

At a time when some think interest in participation in athletics is dying, it appears to be growing with many of our youth. It is important to note that the media has given our youth a realistic preview: only one percent will ever be able to take this moment of history from a high school event and turn it into a career. Moreover, for females, the percentage is virtually non-existent and the salaries of the successful are rarely worthy of being called a career.

Yet our youth and their families still engage in and follow sports. Could it possibly be simply for the excitement, socialization and physical exercise for the players?

A family with a teen will tell you that it is hard to see a face – that is, unless it is a reflection in their smartphone. Could the emphasis on sports be one part of parents’ attempt to get their young people away from the screens and into a more active lifestyle?

From high school to college

Here in the Region, where we are fortunate to have multiple well-known institutions of higher learning, it seems particularly important to embrace sport as a university. Clearly, the people of Northwest Indiana care immensely about sport. Can we be a viable destination for youth without athletic teams? A college experience is more than books and classes. The social component of college is significant. And sports teams add to this perception of a university.

Also on college campuses today we hear many faculty members wondering why athletics is so important to the institution. Most presidents and chancellors will tell you that sports help define the reputation of the university and provide instant marketing that can span miles. Students embrace athletics as part of the fabric of the university, which in turn helps recruitment and retention of students.

Who does your university play? Who are your peers? Finding the “right’ fit is important and will certainly, in the minds of some, define who you are as an institution. Not only must you want to be with your peers, they must want you, too!

Thus, we at Purdue University Northwest (PNW) have moved from the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division II and have joined the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Conference. Over this first year, we are hosting schools like Wayne State University, Grand Valley State University, Saginaw Valley State University, Ferris State University (all of Michigan), and others.

Previously Northwest Indiana had just one NCAA school, in Division I – Valparaiso University. Now the Region has one DI school, and one DII school, PNW. It seems only sensible with the love of sport in Northwest Indiana that our universities should aspire to be the best in academics and in athletics.

Come to a sporting event and meet our mascot, Leo! Go PNW PRIDE!

Thomas L. Keon is Chancellor of Purdue University Northwest.

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