Likas | Recognizes the kind of history in the IHSA boys basketball state tournament | Sport

I’m lucky I never had to consider being banned from doing anything because of my skin color. I would guess that some of our readers might say the same thing.

But there are far too many people – that’s more than zero – who can not say the same thing.

And that’s a topic included in the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association calendar for 2022, which was sent to me recently along with a handwritten note.

Steve Daniels saved that note in the October section of the calendar. Over the actual days of the week is a feature titled “ALL BLACK TEAMS CARRIED FROM STATE TOURNAMENT TO 1946.”

He asked if I could write a column on the subject. That’s what you’re reading here.

It’s part of the story we’ll strive to never return to.

A time when the Southern Illinois Conference of Colored Schools existed simply so black athletes had a chance to compete in an event somewhat comparable to the IHSA boys basketball state tournament.

Teams fighting for and winning IHSA boys’ basketball state titles before 1946 had black athletes in the fold. But not teams made up entirely of black individuals.

The aforementioned SICCS, at its highest, presented teams from Brooklyn Lovejoy, Edwardsville Lincoln, East St. Louis, Madison Dunbar, Venice Lincoln, Cairo Sumner, Mound City Lovejoy, Mounds Douglass, Sandusky Young, DuQuoin Lincoln, Colp, Murphysboro Douglass, Brookport Lincoln, Metropolis Dunbar and Carbondale Attucks.

The last big imprint of SICCS on IHSA basketball came when East St. Louis Lincoln, led by coach Bennie Louis, won the IHSA Class AA Championships in 1982, 1987, 1988 and 1989. The school was consolidated into East St. Louis. Louis High in 1998.

‘Most of the state did not know’

According to the IBCA calendar function, the SICCS programs would have a conference tournament that essentially served as their state series. The league tournament title fight eventually took place at the Huff Gym on the University of Illinois campus in Champaign “between sessions of the IHSA State Tournament.”

Bruce Firchau is president of the Basketball Museum of Illinois. He has worked with others to compile oral stories that, among other things, touch on the separate period of high school basketball in Illinois.

Among those Firchau has spoken to over the years is the now-deceased John McDougal, a former coach of Northern Illinois and West Aurora who played for Salem in the 1940s.

“He played on the Salem High School team that went to the Final Four in 1943,” Firchau said. “John remembers watching a bit of the (SICCS) championship game before they left to get on the bus from their match. He had no idea (what it was) and I’m sure most of the state did not know it. or probably did not care.

Stories like this can also be found in the book “100 Years of Madness: The Illinois High School Association Boys’ Basketball State Tournament.” It was released in 2006 and co-authored by a quintet of writers including Pat Heston.

Heston, a 1968 Greenville graduate, acknowledges that “most of my information is limited to southern Illinois,” but that allows him to be in line with the SICCS.

“It was just a tough time for these schools,” Heston said. “Some of the amazing coaches, players, teams were separated and isolated from the rest of Illinois because the kids’ skin happened to have a different color. They were even relegated to their own state championship games between (IHSA) quarterfinals.

“Interviewing some of those people makes you wish you could have seen the matches, seen the players.”

‘It was a sad time’

David Hodges is a black man who was born and raised in Madison, a town in southern Illinois, just a few miles north of St. Louis. Louis.

Hodges graduated from Madison High in 1957. Although all-black teams were allowed to fight for an IHSA state trophy at this time, more work needed to be done in terms of race relations in the state’s high school basketball scene.

“I was a pretty good basketball player, but at the time, we had a rule about the number of black players that could be on the floor at a time,” Hodges said. “We had another unit consisting of four black and one white guy and I never think we lost a game to start five. But we still could not get into games.”

While Hodges was in high school, Chicago’s DuSable boys basketball team nearly won the 1954 IHSA state title under Jim Brown. But Mt. Vernon eventually won 76-70 in the championship game.

Firchau said “it would have been the first all-black school anywhere in the United States to win the state championship.”

“Mt. Vernon, it should never be overlooked, played a great game,” Firchau said. “We have the feature films about it plus the radio feed from Mt. Vernon Radio Station. … There are some controversial calls. There is no doubt about that. “

Before DuSable made that splash, the Mounds Douglass boys basketball team from 1945-46 had its own significant effect on the IHSA landscape.

Now able to compete in the IHSA State Tournament, Mounds Douglass won his district to qualify for a regional.

“They were rejected by two regional places down there. They would not take the winner of that district into their region,” Firchau said. “So Benton did. … Sure enough, in the regional semifinals, the fourth-ranked West Frankfort High School is beaten by Mounds Douglass.

“To me, this is a game that resonated all over Illinois. It’s a message, an arrival, that ‘We can compete.’

“Even after integration, it still did not mean you had to play,” Heston added. “Usually if you felt you had a really, really good team, you would be more than happy to invite the black school up so you could put them in their place. It was a sad time.”

‘He must eat in the kitchen’

Both Heston and Firchau talked about the SICCS school Colp, which was a short distance from Herrin in southern Illinois. The Colps program won the SICCS title in 1941, and that season’s team is pictured on the IBCA calendar.

“Most (completely black schools) didn’t have their own gyms,” Heston said, “so it complicated things.”

Heston said Earl Lee, who led Herrin High to the 1957 IHSA state title, would drive the Colps athletes back to their community after basketball practice “because it was too dangerous for them to be on the street (in Herrin).”

“The black kids were great heroes on the floor,” Heston said, “but they were nothing after that.”

Firchau also shared stories about black athletes such as Robert Owens and Al Avant.

The former was the leading goal scorer in the 1947 IHSA State Tournament, where he and his Paris teammates beat Champaign for the crown. Owens was also selected as the team captain prior to that season.

“(A) school board member says, ‘We understand that Robert Owens has been elected team captain and we can not get that,'” Firchau said. “(Coach) Ernie Eveland said, in his honor, ‘No, it’s him they chose’. … Coach Abrams would not strain it.

“They go up and play at Waukegan (during the season). After the game, they eat at a restaurant there. As soon as Robert walks in the door, one of the staff there says, ‘He has to eat in the kitchen.’ And coach Eveland said, “Well, in that case, the whole team will eat in the kitchen.” And that was what they did. “

Avant was Mt. Vernon’s top scorer at the 1954 IHSA state tournament, which ended with the Rams defeating the Chicago DuSable.

“One of the great players ever in Mt. Vernon’s history. Black player,” Firchau said. “Al told me on the phone… even after winning a state championship, he had to walk in the back door of the Mt. Vernon and had to use a separate locker room to try on a pair of pants. “

‘We had several black teams there’

Hodges experienced difficulties within the IHSA basketball realm after his playing days ended.

He worked at Dunbar Junior High in the 1960s when Madison’s best basketball coaching role for boys opened up. Hodges threw his name in the ring.

“I sent an application letter to the school board. They ignored me, ”Hodges said. “My team (in Dunbar) was on about a winning streak of 25 games. We had not lost in a few years. ”

Hodges believes his sponsorship of an eighth-grade exam from Dunbar, “who honored black people, not just in sports,” led to him not being considered for Madison’s coaching role.

“(School board members) took it as an anti-white statement,” Hodges said. “It was just pro-black. I thought they missed the point.”

By chance, however, Hodges played in a YMCA pick-up basketball game with Larry Graham not long after sending the application to Madison.

“He told me he was a coach at Madison High School and asked me to come with him,” Hodges said. “(Later) my principal (in Dunbar) told me I was no longer in middle school as a coach. He said to me, ‘You go to high school.'”

Hodges said he arrived without any preparation time when Madison had a fight the next night.

“Larry assured me he would help me. I got involved in the fight midway through the first quarter (and) I realized I was the only coach on the bench,” Hodges said. “Then we had a conversation about my rules and regulations and my authority there, and he gave me full authority there. He made sure I didn’t make suggestions – that I could make decisions.”

Hodges helped Madison win the Class A championships in 1977 and 1981 as an assistant coach. But he left Champaign frustrated in one respect after the 1981 tournament.

“The top three teams there were New Lenox, then the Cairo team and then the Madison team. They were the three black teams,” Hodges said. “Would you think in the first game New Lenox played against Madison. It was definitely the championship game. And then in the second game we played Cairo and beat them.”

Madison topped Dunlap 58-47 in the final. As Hodges recalls, “they had a player who could have made our team.”

“After the game, we had a press conference, and I had the microphone, and journalists asked questions. And I commented that this tournament was going to be seen at some point,” Hodges said. “A guy named Don Robinson was the director of the tournament and he confronted me with my comments. I just could not see why a much weaker team was guaranteed to play in the state championship game.

“Some people felt I was knocking on Dunlap. I was knocking on politics.… I told him I was aware that attendance had dropped as we had more black teams there, but if people wanted to see good basketball, it should “instead of guaranteeing that a white team would be in the tournament final. We agreed to disagree.”

‘Make sure they stay in the past’

Heston and Firchau both said it is important to hear from people who can talk directly about experiences to ensure that side of IHSA history is not forgotten.

“You would expect many of them would be angry – some were – but most were happy to accept it and be part of the puzzle to overcome this terrible thing,” Heston said. “In honor of the IHSA, they did not even change a punctuation mark (in ‘100 Years of Madness’).… It was a good thing, a great thing, and an important step for them to say, ‘Yes, that’s how it was.’

Hodges responds with “it’s the only way it should be, it should be fair to everyone” when he culminated his thoughts on change that have come to the IHSA boys basketball state tournament through its history.

“The greatest thing in this country and the IHSA, as long as we can say we’re fair to everyone, we need not make any excuses about anything we can do,” Hodges said. “As for things that happened in the past, let’s make sure they remain in the past.”


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