Former Chesterton star Lewis takes over MC boys soccer
Back when Jordan Lewis was in fourth grade, his dad John started soccer and basketball teams that the boys nicknamed the Cheesetown Rats. The group played together for five years, some of its members going on to play for the Chesterton High School soccer team that reached the state finals in 2007.
"He's my role model," Lewis said of his dad. "I was so blessed. I guess coaching runs in the family."
While it remains to be seen if there is an ambitious, talented core of 10-year olds in Michigan City, Lewis knows that one of the keys to long-term success as Wolves coach will be developing interest and talent at the youth levels.
"There's no feeder program," Lewis said. "We've got to start from the the bottom up."
After resigning from his position with Indiana University Northwest, where he coached the school's first men's team, Lewis was looking at getting involved at the club level with Millennium. Club president Vangel Nacovski, a former Merrillville/IUPUI standout, gave him a heads up about the vacancy at Michigan City.
"He was like, what do you think?" Lewis said. "I'm extremely thankful for his help in getting this vision going."
With the season right around the corner, Michigan City hired the former Loyola/Valparaiso player to be its coach.
"We couldn't be happier to bring a coach of Jordan's capacity on board," MC Athletic Director Craig Shaman said. "Given his experience and his upbringing in the Region, he's a perfect fit. He impressed with his character-focused approach and his passion for the game and for working with the kids. I couldn't be more excited for our student athletes."
Lewis coached for a year at Lowell, where he was also part of the girls basketball program. In retrospect, he's disappointed he left Lowell after a year for IUN, but the chance to start the sport at a college seemed like an opportunity he couldn't let slide. While it didn't pan out as hoped, Lewis now looks to get the ball rolling at Michigan City, where soccer has perennially struggled. Its sole sectional title came in 2007, when, by coincidence, it lost to Lewis and Chesterton 3-1 in the Valparaiso Regional semifinals.
"Talking to the A.D., it's the idea that getting a great education, being a great student and being a great player will lead to being great in life," Lewis said. "That's something I want to be a part of. I want to be somewhere where they believe in the people. Michigan City's a great place. The coaches I talked to, they take care of their student-athletes as far as life. It's not just the record. I talked to the parents at the initial meeting, the A.D., and we see eye to eye on the enthusiasm to build a program. That's what I'm there for."
For Lewis, being successful isn't solely a reflection of wins and losses, a philosophy he developed through his reflections of legendary UCLA men's basketball coach John Wooden and Ken Carter, the subject of the movie Coach Carter, who emphasized academics in the athletics setting. Lewis also recognized his high school coach, Jamie Sensibaugh, in showing him the importance of building strong player-coach relationships, and Mike Avery, his coach at VU, for his tactical approach.
"Jamie's a great man," Lewis said. "Mike has a great way with words. He knows how to get you to work harder. Our assistant coaches want to be there, they understand the community and understand how to bring it all together. It doesn't matter if we're undefeated. There's only one person who graduates. You can win 5-0 and be unsuccessful. I want everyone to be successful, to have the life they want to have."
Lewis' staff, three of whom are former Wolves players, must be formally approved for hire, but they still attended Monday's first voluntary practice, which saw 26 players turn out. Four more had parents come to tell Lewis they were sick and taking precautions due to COVID-19.
"I told them thank you for letting me know," he said. "I'd rather have them healthy in August than sick in July. (The coaches) had their masks on all the time. We were washing our hands, checking temperatures. They have to use their own water bottles. Those are all small things, but small things can save a life. We even social distanced at the end of practice. It was the biggest circle I've ever seen, but I'd rather stay six feet apart and play in August than put our hands together and have someone who can't breathe in 12 days. I love that they're here, but I told them all I'd be happy to have them go home if they feel sick. No one's judging you. I'll think you're a better person than you think you are for telling us."
Matches are still a long way off, but in a process that will literally be measured one day at a time, Lewis liked the starting point.
"Everything I heard, they're great kids who are willing to work and, on first impression, they showed that," he said. "They already seem to have bought in to everything I said. It was amazing to see on the first day. Even (Shaman) said it looked like a team that wants to be here. Before my first speech, they were ready to work. The kids knew where I was coming from. I didn't have to scream at anyone. It's a team sport and they fought for each other. They believe they can grow to be great. With the work ethic, the desire I saw, I firmly believe they can be successful."