Terre Haute Tribune-Star. Jan. 6, 2021.

Editorial: Indiana up to the NCAA challenge. No state better equipped to handle college tourneys

March Madness is no stranger to Indiana. Actually, college basketball’s “big dance” feels quite at home in the Hoosier state.

The hoops sport, at every level, holds a significant spot in the state’s heritage, and yet another niche is about to be added.

The high school game’s “Milan Miracle” happened here in 1954, along with Oscar Robertson and the legendary Crispus Attucks state champs in 1955, and Damon Bailey’s heroics in 1990. Hoosier colleges produced five NCAA titles by the Indiana Hoosiers, John Wooden’s career at Purdue, Larry Bird and the Indiana State Sycamores’ amazing 33-1 NCAA finalist season, and Butler’s back-to-back runner-up finishes. Among the pros, the Indiana Pacers won three ABA championships under Coach Bobby “Slick” Leonard, and an NBA Finals appearance in 2000 under Bird, the coach.

So, as the raging COVID-19 pandemic forces the NCAA to take extraordinary steps to conduct its postseason men’s basketball tourneys, no state is better suited than Indiana to take on the challenge of serving as the lone site of the games.

NCAA officials announced their decision Monday to play the tournaments entirely on Hoosier courts. The usual 68-team field will begin competition on March 16 and 17, whittling down to two teams vying for the national championship on April 5. Instead of regional brackets unfolding at spots across the country, the host venues will be Lucas Oil Stadium, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Hinkle Fieldhouse and Indiana Farmers Coliseum in Indianapolis, Assembly Hall in Bloomington and Mackey Arena in West Lafayette. Fort Wayne will host the full NCAA Division II tourney, while Evansville will host the Division III games.

Alas, Terre Haute’s newly renovated Hulman Center — the site of NCAA Mideast Regional games in 1974, just months after the facility opened — was not chosen as a tourney site. Perhaps it could be considered for future tourneys, especially after the new convention center and hotel open.

Of course, as the world well knows, no plans are certain in this pandemic. The grim course of the coronavirus could derail March Madness this year, just as it did in 2020. Any excitement and anticipation over this all-Indiana opportunity is tempered by the physical, emotional and economic toll of the virus that has claimed 354,000 lives in the U.S. and is filling hospitals to capacity.

Hope is important, though. The incredible development of vaccines by medical scientists offers a beam of hope as the inoculations roll out this winter, albeit slowly. Spirits need a shot in the arm, too, and a well-planned, safety-first basketball tournament could brighten the landscape.

The NCAA does not yet know if fans will be able to attend the games. Audiences could be limited to the participants, their families, and the tournaments’ essential workers. Regardless, the participants are expected to fill 2,500 hotel rooms and generate $100 million for the central-Indiana economy, the Indianapolis Star reported Tuesday.

Even if the games remain fan-less, the televised sight of the teams competing in Hoosier arenas, and crews from Indiana entities and universities conducting the operations should inspire residents.

To accomplish such a feat, Indiana needs to fully embrace the public-health experts’ well-known, proven guidelines to suppress COVID-19′s spread. Lackadaisical approaches to masking and social distancing will not only impede the NCAA tournaments’ chances of becoming a reality, but also could worsen the loss of life and further spread the sickness, compounding the struggles of our courageous and exhausted health care workers. So mask up, space apart and help the cause.

Nobody wanted such a beloved event to occur in such a strange, restricted format. This plan is a make-the-best-of-it situation. It is encouraging to know that a national tradition has placed its confidence in Indiana to pull it off.


Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. Jan. 8, 2021

Editorial: Death knell. Report sheds light on preventable child fatalities

At close to 5 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, state officials released the latest child fatality report, placing a fitting punctuation mark on a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year.

While the deaths reported all occurred before 2020, they emphasize a concern for what happened under the COVID-19 lockdown last year. Consider the observation of the Indiana Department of Child Services that “caregiver stressors were determined to play” a role in some of the 61 deaths attributed to abuse or neglect in 2019.

“Income, unemployment and substance abuse were frequently cited as stress factors among caregivers,” according to the report. That’s without the added stress of a pandemic.

Dee Szyndrowski, CEO of Scan Inc., the region’s child abuse prevention agency, said she’s worried about how children have been affected over the past year. Substance abuse and economic struggle were issues noted in the families SCAN serves, she said in an email.

The 2019 fatality report reveals those issues were a problem even before COVID-related stresses, with multiple deaths linked to drug and alcohol abuse. One case, described in heartbreaking detail, reports the death of a month-old girl: “On the night prior to the child’s death, the mother placed the child to sleep on an adult bed and then went downstairs with the father. The mother and father drank alcohol and smoked marijuana until the early morning hours before falling asleep downstairs. When the mother woke up, she found the child face down on a plastic bag on the floor of the parents’ bedroom. The parents reported the child must have fallen off of the adult bed, which was over a foot off the ground, and then crawled over to the plastic bag, which was 11 feet away. The parents submitted to drug screens and tested positive for THC.”

In another neglect case, a 2-year-old boy died of a gunshot wound. The mother left her loaded handgun on top of a toy box near the bed, and the child shot himself while unattended. The handgun did not have a safety mechanism, according to the state report.

Szyndrowski said child abuse and neglect reports to the DCS hotline have decreased during the pandemic.

“My thoughts on this are twofold,” she wrote. “One, our children were not seen in places that tend to make reports to the hotline: schools, aftercare programs, etc. However, the state did provide additional dollars to support their largest prevention program, known as Community Partners. For the regions that SCAN serves, we were able to partner with other community agencies to provide an additional $1 million of emergency support for families. This funding was distributed to assist with the effects of the pandemic.”

Prevention efforts are essential. The fatality report shows 70% of the 2019 deaths occurred in the child’s own home. With schools and child-care settings closed by COVID-19, more children are at home for long, uninterrupted periods – in some cases with parents and caregivers under great stress.

“Parenting is the hardest job on a good day,” Szyndrowski wrote. “Add the stressors of a pandemic, extenuating circumstances of substance abuse, insufficient income, past history of being a victim of abuse and neglect and recovering from illnesses – all of which were cited in the report. Additionally, these are all factors that lead to children being at risk for abuse and neglect.”

The SCAN director praised the Department of Child Services for its responsiveness.

“They have reached out to partner with providers, listened to our needs to support children and families, worked alongside of us,” she wrote. “I hope this continues in the future since we all share the same mission: protect children, prepare parents and strengthen families.

Szyndrowski offers advice for all:

“If you’re a family member of a parent right now, I encourage you to touch base with parents,” she wrote. “Reach out if you see something is ‘off’ in a home, address the situation and call for help! SCAN’s Prevention Programs offer support for families before an instance of abuse or neglect occurs. If someone feels overwhelmed or stressed with their parenting load right now, SCAN can help.”

Next December, the 2020 child fatality report will reveal the pandemic’s saddest outcome. Indiana children need all of us to lend eyes and ears for their protection.


South Bend Tribune. Jan. 10, 2021.

Editorial: Our Opinion: Stepping up to feed the hungry, and creating a bright spot, amid a pandemic

Ever since the pandemic turned life upside down, many have stepped up to help fill a growing need to feed the hungry in this community.

Some of these local efforts have been featured in The Tribune. Among them is Cultivate Food Rescue, which repurposes unserved food for the needy. Before the pandemic, the nonprofit rescued about 30,000 pounds of food a month. But with Cultivate’s suppliers — including caterers, schools and restaurants — needing to empty their refrigerators and freezers, the South Bend nonproft is rescuing 100,000 pounds monthly.

Last year through mid-December, Cultivate had rescued more than 756,000 pounds, about 73% of its four-year total of 1.28 million pounds.

Other worthy undertakings include area schools that have found ways to provide food to students, many of whom were dependent on these meals pre-pandemic. They’re also filling additional needs for families that are struggling due to a parent’s job loss. At Holy Cross School in South Bend, school counselor Debbie Hudak led an effort to ensure that any family that needed lunches would get them. A federal grant allowed several local Catholic Diocese schools to help families, and volunteers helped distribute the food.

The initial plan to run the program from March, when Holy Cross went virtual, to June, when school ended, changed as the need grew. “We started with 50 meals and ended with 175 meals that we were distributing,” Hudak noted in a Tribune column by Howard Dukes. “There were even people on bikes, people would push shopping carts, and sometimes the neighbors and people would bring other community people that were in need and we would help them.”

Marijo Martinec, executive director and CEO of the Food Bank of Northern Indiana, is struck by the generous response by members of the commmunity to “the tremendous amount of need.”

That need has exploded over the last 10 months: The organization, which serves Elkhart, LaPorte, Kosciusko, Marshall, Starke and St. Joseph counties, distributed 11.9 million pounds of food last year from Jan. 1 through Dec. 31 — a record. They also conducted 210 mobile food pantries for an 847% increase in the number of mobile distributions over 2019. And thanks to assistance from National Guard members, although they had a decrease in the number of volunteers, they saw an increase in the number of volunteer hours.

Martinec is concerned about the coming months, with projections for an increasing need through 2021. But she’s also “buoyed” by those who give — like the 10-year-old girl who, along with her younger brother, made a $30 donation — then recruited her parents and grandparents to make their own donations.

She calls it the sort of thing that “kind of keeps you going.”

It’s also the response of a generous and caring community — and a bright spot in bleak times.