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MC grid hall welcomes four

August 22, 2018

About a decade ago, when Craig Buzea was Michigan City’s football coach, he approached Phil Freese on the idea of recognizing past gridiron greats.

“He said, you’ve been around here for a while, what do you know about Michigan City football?” Freese said. “I said, what are you looking for? He said he wanted to start a wall of fame.”

The idea took flight in 2009 with a who’s who inaugural class of Abe Gibron, Dick Tomey, Tom Nowatzke, Tony Cline and Donny Thomas.

“It was so well received, there was interest in continuing the concept,” Freese said. “Well, then ‘Buz’ left.”

The following year, Buzea took the football job Homewood-Flossmoor and the future of the fledlging undertaking was in limbo. Fortunately for everyone involved, Freese, as he readily admits, isn’t someone who can easily say no.

“Bruce Hirsch came up to me at the teacher appreciation day and asked me if I was interested in getting a committee together to keep it going,” Freese said.

Freese now heads a group with deep Michigan City roots — Hirsch, Warren Jones, Don Arndt, Warren Foster, Rich Leonard and Drew White — that collaborates on the selection of honorees for the Michigan City High School Football Hall of Fame. Criteria is: contributions to Michigan City football; outstanding character; and a minimum of 10 years since graduation. There is no set number annually.

“We’ve got some pretty good people,” Freese said.

This year’s group of four is no different with Brian Allen, Jerry Cripe, Dave Liebig and Chris Raia.

“I’d say Brian is one of the top 10 athletes to come through Michigan City,” said Freese, who had Allen as a pitcher on the Rogers baseball team.

Allen played two years of football at Kentucky and another season at Cal State-Fullerton before a brief stint of Arena League ball. He went into acting and worked as a stunt double for the likes of Mr. T. He’s currently in China and will be represented at Thursday’s dinner and Friday’s game by a cousin.

Cripe, a three-year player at Elston, went to the University of Illinois, where he was moved to defense. He later started the wrestling program at Quincy West (Ill.) High School.

Liebig, an all-state selection as a senior, excelled in a variety of sports with the Red Devils. Freese and Liebig were teammates and Freese, the quarterback his senior year, recalled Liebig racing 64 yards for a touchdown on his first carry.

“He was the kind of athlete who, no matter what he tried, he was good at it, football, basketball, tennis,” Freese said of Liebig, a 33-year Michigan City firefighter.

Raia was an honorable mention All-American and a North All-Star as a linebacker his senior year and also starred in baseball for the Raiders. He is now an FBI agent based in Texas.

The 2017 and ’18 inductees will attend a dinner Thursday — time constraints precluded a dinner being held last year — and the 2018 honorees will be introduced at halftime of Friday’s football game. City plays Buzea’s H-F team and the former Wolves coach has agreed to help present trophies to the recipients.

Michigan City H.S. Football Hall of Fame Class of 2018

Brian Allen, Rogers, WR-DB, 1975-77

Jerry Cripe, Elston, C, 1955-57

Dave Liebig, Elston, RB-LB, 1957-59

Chris Raia, Rogers, LB, 1991-93

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