Legislators lace up their sneakers, show support for cancer awareness

STATEHOUSE — Area lawmakers laced up their sneakers with their suits Tuesday at the Statehouse to help raise cancer awareness.

State Reps. Sharon Negele (R-Attica), Sally Siegrist (R-West Lafayette), Tim Brown (R-Crawfordsville) and Don Lehe (R-Brookston) participated in the annual event. The Suits and Sneakers challenge is an annual event sponsored by the American Cancer Society and the National Association of Basketball Coaches to help raise cancer awareness and support those affected by the disease.

“Almost 2.4 million Hoosiers, or two in five people now living in Indiana, will develop cancer in their lifetime,” Negele said. “Suits and Sneakers day provides an opportunity for lawmakers to show our support for the individuals affected by this terrible disease.”

“More than 32,000 Hoosiers are diagnosed with cancer annually,” Brown said. “Every year when we hold this event, I’m inspired by the number of legislators and staff members who lace up their sneakers to raise cancer awareness. Hoosiers struggling with this disease should know they are not alone in their fight.”

Area legislators said participating in Suits and Sneakers is a Statehouse tradition that members look forward to every year.

“As elected officials, it’s important we continue to support the Hoosier families who have struggled with cancer,” Lehe said. “By wearing sneakers for the day, we can come together to raise cancer awareness and show the members of our community affected by this disease that we are here for them.”

“As a new lawmaker, I’m excited to wear my sneakers for the first time on Suits and Sneakers day,” Siegrist said. “Many families in our community have felt the impact of cancer and today’s event shows that we stand with them in support.”

Cancer is the second most common cause of death in the U.S. — exceeded only by heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Siegrist said the event is an opportunity to remind people about all the ways they can reduce their risk of cancer; like eating correctly, exercising, making healthy lifestyle choices and following the American Cancer Society’s recommended cancer screening guidelines.

Visit www.cancer.org for more information on how to help spread awareness and fight back against cancer.

Food insecurity a ‘hidden issue’

It was middle school when Emily Mesaros first realized some of her classmates didn’t have enough to eat.

Working in the guidance office, she watched students pick up backpacks of food to take home on weekends.

“And so that just kind of opened your eyes,” said Mesaros, now a junior at Crawfordsville High School.

Mesaros and other members of the school’s Ceramic Club are raising awareness of food insecurity in Montgomery County, planning a community dinner to benefit the FISH Food Pantry. The Empty Bowls Event is set for 6 p.m. March 17 at Stone Creek Lodge south of Crawfordsville.

Students have spent the past two school years crafting nearly 250 ceramic bowls while researching the realities of not having reliable access to enough affordable, nutritious food.

An estimated 5,140 Montgomery County residents were food insecure in 2014, according to Feeding America, a national food bank network that tracks data on the issue. That represents 13.5 percent of the population.

Reasons run the gamut from the loss of a job to medical crises. Nearly half of food insecure people locally earn too much income to qualify for benefits.

That’s a gap Food Finders Food Bank, which supports local food pantries, wants to close. The organization says education is key to solving the problem.

Representatives from partner agencies set up at Food Finders’ mobile pantries, offering information about job training, education and other resources. The mobile pantry will stop at First Christian Church, 211 S. Walnut St., from 4-5:30 p.m. from 4-5:30 p.m. March 30.

“We know it’s no longer enough to just distribute food,” said chief operating officer Kier Crites Scherger.

As the Great Recession took hold in west central Indiana, advocates noticed more clients relying on food pantries, even in non-emergencies.

At FISH, the number of clients climbs each year, pantry manager Tami Musche said. So far, the pantry is averaging 10 more clients this year compared to 2016. FISH serves 320 families each month, on average.

Musche agrees education is the best way to combat hunger.

“We, as the community, tend to hand out the food, which is only putting a Band-Aid over the problem,” she said, as opposed to addressing root causes.

Montgomery County ranks as average compared to neighboring counties in food insecurity. Boone County had the lowest rate at 10.6 percent in 2014, while Tippecanoe County’s was highest at 16.4 percent, according to Feeding America.

Statewide, an estimated 1 million — 15.3 percent — of Hoosiers are food insecure, the data show.

For the Ceramics Club students, the statistics helped drive home the impact of hunger in the area.

Sophomore Mackenzie Fairfield said she realized parents often don’t have enough money to feed their children.

“They just barely have enough to give them a home,” she said.

Of the more than 5,000 Montgomery County residents who were food insecure in 2014, 2,030 were under age 18, Feeding America found.

Sophomore Madison Greer said it was a reminder of how many students may be coming to school hungry.

“And if they eat a lot at school and go for seconds, it might be because they don’t have food at home,” she said.

Club adviser Morgan Monnett remembered the students’ surprise when studying the numbers.

“Because it’s not really talked about a whole lot,” she said. “It’s kind of a hidden issue.”

‘Big Fish’ Lands on Stage

North Montgomery High School’s drama and musical departments will present the musical “Big Fish” at 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday in the school auditorium. More than 70 students will take part in the large production.

“Big Fish” revolves around the relationship between Edward Bloom, a traveling salesman, and his adult son Will, who looks for what is behind his father’s tall stories. The modern musical closed on Broadway in 2013 and is considered a drama with pop music, which is a step away from the normal musical from the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Director Kelly Cassady chose the newer musical because she wanted her students to experience a more modern production. Furthermore, she made the selection because every high school student has studied the “Big Fish” movie while in their freshman English class taught by the show’s technical director, Andrew Quintero.

“They have dissected the story in class and have a good understanding of its message as well,” Cassady said.

Seasoned performer and senior Andrew Samuelson plays the part of Edward Bloom. He said learning a modern musical has been enjoyable because the music gives him the ability to develop his own style of delivery.

“Learning the music was fun,” Samuelson said. “Since I really did not know the music, I have found I could interpret it my way.”

Samuelson, also a Vanity Theater veterans, said “Big Fish” is his 10th production at the high school.

Junior Oliver Valle plays the part of Will. He appreciates that the show’s plot is a little deeper than a lot of musicals he has been involved in.

“I think ‘Big Fish’ is a wonderful story with a deep meaning,” Valle said. “People who come should do so with an open mind. I like the fact my character is a realist and he is trying to understand his dad.”

Bloom’s wife is played by junior Hadyn Allen. This is her ninth high school production. She said there are advantages by not doing a more traditional show.

“I like this show because it is more from my era and has pop music,” Allen said. “With people not knowing the show that well, it gives us more latitude to make changes. It is a good show that is fun and upbeat.”

As is the tradition at the high school, the production will include a pit orchestra under the direction of band director Andy Simpkins. Even the orchestra takes a more untraditional role in “Big Fish.” Instead of sitting in the orchestra pit, members are on stage behind a sheer scrim. The audience will be able to see the silhouettes of the 21 musicians, which adds another modern visual to the production.

Music and lyrics were written by Andrew Lippa. It is based on Daniel Wallace’s 1998 novel, “Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions,” and the 2003 film “Big Fish.”

Tickets are $8 for adults and $5 for students. Tickets for reserved seats are now available online at www.nm.k12.in.us. Remaining seats will be available at the door beginning at 6:30 p.m.

Indoor track begins today

The indoor track season will begin today with the Little Giant-Charger Classic at Wabash College. 

Today’s meet and Friday’s Conference Meet are to qualify for the Hoosier State Relays at Indiana University later this month. 

“The indoor meets offer competition for the athletes before we get to the outdoor meets,” North Montgomery coach Josh Thompson said. “After a few weeks of practice it is good for them to get out and compete. The athletes have been putting in good work at practice. We have been able to get outside a few days but we are fortunate in that we can use our field house when the weather is no cooperating.”

The Hoosier State Relays will take place on March 25 at Indiana University and will be broken up into two divisions — large schools and small schools according to the IHSAA’s classes for football — and will include both running and field events. 

“We hope be able to qualify a few individuals or teams for the HSR Finals,” Southmont coach Desson Hannum said. “Also I think it is important to get some times on our kids so we can figure out what we have and see where we can best use our personnel.”

For Crawfordsville, the Athenians use the two meets this week, not just to qualify for the Hoosier State Relays, but also to gear up for the upcoming outdoor season, which will begin later this month.

“The indoor season serves two purposes,” Crawfordsville coach Sean Gerold “First, it gives the kids a chance to see where they are compared to other schools at this point of the season, an early season measuring stick. It gives them motivation going into the outdoor season.”

School mourns loss of teacher

Sheri Switzer was looking forward to Pi Day next week with her sixth graders at Northridge Middle School. The globally-recognized celebration of math was a yearly tradition in Switzer’s classroom, with students making T-shirts to mark the occasion.

Over the weekend, some of them made special Pi Day shirts in her memory.

Switzer, 47, died Friday from injuries sustained in a head-on vehicle collision east of Crawfordsville. She was a 10-year veteran of Northridge, where she chaired the math department.

A team of counselors, local clergy and youth ministers greeted students as they arrived at school Monday. Teachers read a statement from principal Benjamin Moore about Switzer’s death.

Additional counseling was available in the media center, where North Montgomery Community School Corp. Superintendent Dr. Colleen Moran spent the morning comforting students. Children were writing letters to Switzer and posting them on her classroom door.

“For one of the worst mornings I can remember at Northridge Middle School, there was a lot of care and love happening in that building this morning,” Moran said.

This is the second time in less than a year Northridge is grieving the loss of a teacher. In August, before the school year began, reading teacher Linda Grabowski died from cancer. Grabowski had resigned while undergoing treatment.

Switzer was in the classroom just hours before her death Friday, Moran said.

A Boone County native, Switzer left a career in business to become a teacher. She joined Northridge in 2007. Her children, Justin and Megan, attended North Montgomery schools.

Moran remembered Switzer as a “phenomenal” teacher whose lessons went beyond numbers and equations, educating her students about responsibility and caring for one another.

“It looks like a castle in her room, and the kids say to be with Mrs. Switzer was to be in ‘Switzer-land,’” Moran said.

After sponsoring the student council, National Junior Honor Society and yearbook, Switzer had cut back on extracurricular activities to concentrate on youth programs at St. Bernard Catholic Church. She taught some of her students in Sunday school.

Moore and other staff spent the day with Switzer’s students Monday. Retired Northridge teacher Margie Staton is stepping in to cover the math classes today.

Counseling will be provided throughout the week and services are also available at the high school.

“We’ll have continued support for the students as long as they require it or need, and we’ll have that for the staff, as well,” Moran said.

Obituary information for Switzer appears today on page 2A.