Cook County High School League
Cook County High School League, a pioneering secondary school athletic conference that served Chicago and surrounding suburbs from 1890 to 1913. The league sponsored basketball from 1900 to 1913. Basketball arrived in the Chicago area early, but it took eight years before a high school league for boys would form. The sport was invented in December of 1891 by Dr. James Naismith at the YMCA's International School for Christian Workers (Springfield College) in Springfield, Massachusetts, and within a couple of months the game was rapidly spreading across the country through a network of YMCAs. By the summer of 1892 YMCAs in the Chicago area were taking up the game, and by February of 1893 they had formed into a league.
Stagg Brings The Game to Chicago
On the collegiate level there was also a pipeline to Chicago from Springfield College, Amos Alonzo Stagg, who had been one of the members of the teachers' team that competed against a students' team in the first public basketball contest. He left Springfield for the University of Chicago in the summer of 1892 to become the school's faculty coach. Intramural basketball games began at the university in March of 1893, but only one outside game was played, against the university's affiliate secondary school, Morgan Park Academy. In early 1894 Stagg formed the university's first varsity squad to compete in the YMCA league. At this time basketball filled the gym with bodies, as nine men played per side—1 goalkeeper, 2 guards, 3 centers, and 3 forwards. The first intercollegiate contest involving five-man squads was that between the University of Chicago and the University of Iowa in January 1896.
Morgan Park Academy Pioneers High School Basketball in Illinois
The earliest schoolboy basketball in Illinois thus was played by Morgan Park Academy, but it competed only against its parent school and YMCAs, and only during 1893 and 1894. Its enthusiasm for the game did not last, and by 1896 when the Morgan Park Academy helped form the Academic League the only sports played were football, baseball, tennis, and track and field.
In December of 1895 delegates of ten Cook County high schools got together to form a league around a winter sport. The question to the delegates was whether they wanted the sport to be basketball or indoor baseball. Both sports were fast growing in popularity of the time, but indoor baseball was growing faster, and the delegates chose indoor baseball by a vote 7 to 2 (one delegate did not vote). North Division attended the meeting, and undoubtedly the school was one of the two votes in the minority. The school decided to opt out of the league, and instead joined the Y.M.C.A. league, becoming the first public school in the area to adopt basketball for boys. The North Division team’s debut into basketball was inauspicious, losing 22 to 0 to the Central Y.M.C.A. team, and fared poorly in the league. The boys published a notice in the Chicago Tribune in March asking for competition with the University of Chicago or the “Elgin team.” North Division did not continue the basketball experiment beyond the single year.
Girls Develop the Game First
In the fall of 1895, Austin High School pioneered girls basketball in Illinois high schools by starting up a team that in the first months of 1896 played against the University of Chicago, Lake Forest University (later Lake Forest College), and Hull House. Around the same time,Lake Forest University, the college girls, or Mitchell Hall, played several games against the academy girls, or Ferry Hall.
In the fall of 1896 Oak Park High organized a girls team, and the first interscholastic girls' game in Illinois was played on December 18 between Oak Park and Austin. Englewood and Evanston also joined in interscholastic competition that year. In their first year of competition, the Oak Park girls got ready for the Austin game by practicing against a boys' team. The girls took to the game avidly and with the spirit of the new athletic girl.
The 1898 Cook County League Constitution had recognized girls' basketball as one of the league's sports, but it was not until February 1900 that league competition leading to a championship was established. The teams competing in the league the first year were Austin, Englewood, Hyde Park, and West Division, and Englewood came away with the title. The occasion of its formation elicited a long article in the Chicago Tribune by Francis A. Kellor, a graduate sociology student at the University of Chicago and a future social reformer of some note. She told her readers that there had been tremendous growth in basketball in the previous five years, and that it had grown so much in women’s organizations that basketball is now often viewed as a woman’s game. She noted that the local high schools had showed the “most systematic work” in development of the game. At this stage of development Kellor described three kinds of games that were then prevalent—interference, noninterference, and line basketball. She noted that interference rules “ensures swift, snappy playing and quickness in securing the disposing of the ball,” but that there is a tendency towards roughness and mass plays. Noninterference rules, she commented, results in a throwing and running game, and more batting of the ball. She also said more teamwork is often the result, but the game is slower. With regard to line ball, she had little good to say about the game, notably commenting that nine players on a squad can produce little teamwork. Kellor said that in the Chicago area, only the University of Chicago used noninterference rules, and the rest used interference rules.
While Kellor deplored some of the roughness of the game, particularly for high school girls, she thought the benefits of basketball were great, saying that the girls “learn to control the body, to avoid injuries, to coordinate the physical actions,” and says, “basket ball develops grace of movement by reason of the freedom of movement which it necessitates.” And to appeal to critics who cautioned how physical activity for girls might affect their roles as future mothers, Kellor said, “The game keeps alive the play instinct as essential to continued inspirational or original work and so essential in the home with children.” Kellor made no mention about the issue of girls playing before a public, either in high school or in college, where the strictures were greater on public contests. Some authorities in the Chicago high schools had such qualms about girls playing basketball before audiences, as evidenced by the experiences of the Hyde Park girls’ team in the 1901 season. The team was scheduled to play the Englewood girls as part of the sports program at a giant fish and wildlife exhibition being held in the Coliseum. The Hyde Park principal barred his girls from playing the game, saying that “it was a too public a place for the young women, who are of the best families in the communities.” The reporter noted that the girls were “charmed by silver medals and a banner” offered by the exhibit officials, and that the Englewood team had met no opposition from authorities. In 1901, Austin High won the Cook County High School League title.
Another benefit to the Chicago high school girls that went unmentioned by Kellor was that it was empowering for the girls—to use a modern term—to take on the responsibilities of organizing and managing a league. The students had to bring together teams throughout the vast Cook County area, find a coach (usually a faculty member), determine rules, draw up schedules, rent halls for contests, make travel arrangements, collect admission fees, purchase uniforms, and be responsible for a treasury and general administration of the league. Even after the assumption of faculty control of the league by 1904, the student managers still had considerable responsibilities with scheduling and travel arrangements.
Boys Form a League in 1901
The year 1900 also saw the Chicago area begin to organize boys teams. The first interscholastic boys game on record in Illinois was that between Englewood and Elgin on March 2, 1900, and the very next year the game had mushroomed so much that a league of eight schools was formed--Englewood, English High, Evanston, Hyde Park, Marshall, Medill, North Division, and West Division--divided into Eastern and Western divisions. The first league season was short, with games played from mid-January to the second week of March. Hyde Park, with pioneering African American player Sam Ransom on the team, won the league's first championship. However, the schoolboys played a passel of extra games in early March at a tournament held at the Coliseum at the annual game show of the International Forest, Fish, and Game Association. Hyde Park won the Game Association tournament as well. The early boys games were exceedingly rough, and disputes were common.
The league grew rapidly and the season became progressively longer, with twelve teams in league in 1902 with the title game being determined on March 29. Medill beat Lake High for the title, 16 to 13, but the newspapers gave the game a paragraph at most. The following year, the Cook County league grew to fifteen teams with a longer seasong ending on April 26; North Division swamped Medill 41 to 14 for the title. The team featured a number of football players, one of which was future Hall of Famer Walter Steffen. Coverage during the year was fairly extensive by the press, with writeups on the prospects of each of the teams, By this time, boys’ basketball had surpassed girls’ basketball in popularity and had transcended the idea that the game was essentially a “girls game.”
North Division repeated as Cook County champion in 1904, largely with a squad of football players--notably Walter Steffen, Leo DeTray, and Roy Rennacker--who had won a spectacular intersectional victory the previous fall, beating Brooklyn Boys 75 to 0 in New York City. The 1905 season saw a complicated league organization, with two divisions, called Southern League and North and West League, each of which were divided into two sections, A and B--basically four division of three to four teams each. In all there were fifteen schools participating, which included two suburban schools, Oak Park and LaGrange; and one private school, University High. The season began in December and ended in late February. Austin won the league title, overwhelming Lake High 62 to 22.
The 1906 season saw the league organized more rationally, with fifteen teams equally divided among three sections--Southern, Northern, and Western. At the end of February, Oak Park was crowned as the first suburban champion of the Cook County League, beating Austin, 21 to 14.
While the Cook County League ostensibly served all schools in Cook County not all the schools chose to join. While such schools in the western suburbs as Oak Park and LaGrange were active members in the league, most of the schools north of the city along the North Shore played informally against each. However in a basketball dispute, the north suburban school Evanston, which had been one of the founding members of the Cook County High School League in 1889, withdrew in 1907. Evanston refused to replay a disputed game with Austin as ordered by the Board of Control, and preferred leaving the league. Lake View edged Austin 24 to 21 for the title in early February.
Evanston almost immediately helped organize among the public and private north suburban schools an athletic conference the called North Shore League, to play not only basketball but a full schedule of sports. Initial members were Evanston High, Evanston Academy, Lake Forest Academy, Deerfield-Shields, New Trier, and Highland Park Military Academy. This same year the Academic League belatedly added basketball to the schedule. Boys basketball had spread all over the Chicago area.
Girls League Prospers
Generally, the girls managed their basketball league smoothly, but the league suffered two years of disarray during the 1902 and 1903 seasons over disputes over the kind of rules the girls would play under. The league split into two factions—those schools that favored playing under interference rules and those who favored noninterference rules. There was no league in 1902, in the following year the schools playing under the interference rules formed a conference. The schools playing noninterference rules made arrangements to play each other informally and to play out-of-town teams. For example, West Division, which opted for noninterference, in 1902 traveled to Moline to play a game under noninterference rules, and also scheduled a game with Joliet. This suggests that outside the Chicago area noninterference rules were more popular.
In 1904, the Cook County girls’ league reunited all the schools under interference rules, but this time the girls found themselves in dispute with school authorities. Superintendent Edwin Cooley, who was not a fan of girls playing interscholastic basketball, wanted the girls to play under noninterference rules. Acting under Cooley’s wishes, school authorities in the league tried to impose noninterference rules. But according to the Chicago Tribune, “the plan failed, as the members from the schools which have teams in the league protested, and stated that their teams would probably refuse to play according to the milder rules. A motion to lay the mater on the table was carried, and the girls will be permitted to play by their favorite rules.” At the end of the season, the champion Oak Park team went on a barnstorming trip to play other Illinois teams to cement its claim as state champion, and promptly met defeat in its first game at the hands of Belvidere.
The 1905 season saw the largest participation in girls’ basketball, with eleven teams in the league. The girl managers arranged a round robin schedule in two divisions—a Southern Section of six schools and a Western Section of five schools. The top two teams in each section at the end of the season would enter a playoff for the championship. When a champion was finally crowned on April 19, it ended one of the longest seasons in the league.
Chicago educators continued to cast a wary eye on the girls’ game, particularly over the lengthy season. When the student managers got together in January 1906 to again draw up a league schedule, the Chicago Tribune speculated that several school principals were considering prevailing upon Superintendent Cooley to “rule the league out of existence.” Some girl teams from schools headed by objecting principals were forced to disband, but the managers after a month of fighting school authorities finally launched a league in mid-February. Only five schools participated—Austin, Englewood, Hyde Park, Phillips, and Oak Park. The schedule was completed in one month, with the league crowning its champion in mid-March.
While the much shortened season might have assuaged some concerns, the girls’ habit of extending the league season by post and pre season games with long road trips was hardly gratifying to school authorities. For example, the Hyde Park 1905 champs traveled to Dwight to play a game, and Phillips in December 1905 went to St. Joseph, Michigan, to play a practice game. Notwithstanding the concerns of school authorities, the girls’ basketballers met with a great deal of acceptance in their communities and in the press. The big city newspapers reported on the girl basketball games as regular sports events, which was dramatically different from their approach when girls’ basketball first started and was still a novelty. There was none of the qualifying remarks to remind readers they were reading about female players. The only difference in their treatment was that the papers referred to each player with the title “Miss.” The newspapers regularly presented photos of the girl teams and write-ups. Local community newspapers, such as Oak Park’s Oak Leaves, treated their champion girls teams as hometown heroines, writing extensive profiles on the girls and their successes.
Girls League Curtailed and Closed
In the 1907 season Cook County League’s Board of Control severely shortened the season, limiting each school to just four competitors during the season. But a school could play their competitor more than once, so the schedules were larger than four games. Such schools as Hyde Park, Calumet, Phillips, Medill, and University High competed against each other, but no league-championship schedule was permitted. The downfall of girls’ basketball in Illinois seemed to come partly from the girls' adherence to the more athletic boys' game.
In November 1907, the Illinois High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) banned girl’s basketball, saying "the game is altogether too masculine and has met with much opposition on the part of parents...and that the exercise in public is immodest and not altogether ladylike." To add insult to injury, in the very same article, there was a notice that the association planned a state tournament for boys for the following March. With some 300 schools affected, the chilling effect of the ban put an end to competition, even though schools in Chicago were not members of the association. Oak Park, which belonged to the IHSAA, immediately terminated its interscholastic girls’ basketball program.
For the next several years a number of schools continued interscholastic competition for girls basketball. Several of the city schools and suburban LaGrange and Waukegan continued interschool contests to at least 1910; West Side schools Marshall and Austin continued to at least 1911. In the fall of 1911, two suburban schools, Batavia and Wheaton, played a match, which garnered much notice because a Batavia girl collapsed during game, presumably roughed up. That was the nail in the coffin for the continuation of interscholastic contests. The yearbooks at this time show an increasing direction towards intramural contests, usually between class year teams. At the same time there was a widespread changeover to the adoption of girls’ rules. By 1914, Hyde Park had the only intramural program in the city where the girls played by boys’ rules.
Dissension and Conflict
Meanwhile, the boys game in the Cook County League grew and thrived, but the league was subject to much dissention and conflict. The Evanston High dispute of 1907 was just one of many conflicts that plagued the league in its early years. Dissension and fights at the games throughout the history of the league was a problem. Conflict came to a boil in 1908 that put the existence of the league in peril. Early in the season, in January, four teams lodged protests to the basketball committee, which were forwarded to the Board of Control. The protests included charges of professionalism, slugging, and unfair and incompetent officiating. The Chicago Tribune noted that “squabbles of the high school athletes in the last year have been numerous and frequent.” President of the Board of Control and principal at North Division High, C. Edgar Boynton, threatened ‘dissension among the teams in the Cook County High School Athletic League must cease, or eventually athletics in the Chicago high schools with be done away with.”
The threat was idle, and despite continued dissension, the number of schools steadily increased each year until the demise of the league in 1913. In the 1908-09 season, the league consisted of four sections, Northern, Western, South Central, and Southern, with sixteen schools competing. The teams were resorted in January for playoff competition in A and B classes. The season was a shortened one, with the title game being played at the end of January. Lake View creamed Oak Park, 54 to 15, to take the championship, and beat Englewood, 25 to 23 for the third place game, called "secondary" championship.
In the 1909-10 season, a record seventeen teams played in the league, until three weeks into the season when Curtis dropped out. The league was divided into four sections again, and resorted for playoffs in January. Englewood beat Calumet for the league title, 30 to 18, before 1,000 fans at the Central YMCA gymnasium.
In the 1910-1911 season, the Cook County League created heavyweight and lightweight divisions. There were 17 schools in the heavyweight division and 9 schools in the lightweight division, which made for a schedule of 26 teams. The league was divided into four heavyweight sections (northern, southern, western, and southwestern) and three lightweight sections (northern, southern, and western). The league had 14 Chicago public schools, two suburban schools (Oak Park and LaGrange), and one Chicago private school (University High). Lane Tech beat LaGrange 26 to 11 to win the lightweight title, which was determined mid-January. A week later the heavyweight Lane Tech team beat Hyde Park for the conference title, 34 to 29. The Chicago Tribune report gives the flavor of excessive fan enthusiasm of the day:
"Lane's victory was featured by the overenthusiastic actions of several hundred rooters who journeyed to the Midway gymnasium. When the pistol was fired denoting the end of the game the Lane rooters celebrated their victory by hurling taunts at the Hyde Park constituents and at one time a free for all fight seemed imminent.
Nothing serious happened until the Lane rooters reached the corner of Fifty-fifth street and Lexington avenue to catch street cars for the city. Those who were fortunate enough to board the first car pulled off the trolley, and when another car came along the rooters cut the rope on the rear trolley and then bent it so that it was put out of commission. Lights inside the car were broken and several dollars worth of fare rung up. Pins were stuck in the bells used for stopping signals and the headlight was smashed with a brick."
The last two years of the league, 1911-12 and 1912-13, saw the league expanded to 33 lightweight and heavyweight teams, representing 21 schools. Three of the schools were suburban (Oak Park, LaGrange, Clyde), and one was a Chicago private school (University High). The 1912 heavyweight championship was won by Hyde Park, which nipped LaGrange 19 to 18 for the title, while the lightweight championship was again won by Lane, which beat Bowen 17 to 15. The last championships in the Cook County league was determined at the end of January, when Hyde Park beat Englewood, 11 to 9, in the heavyweight division, and Phillips beat Hyde Park, 15 to 6, in the lightweight division.
The Cook County League was clearly becoming unwieldy—particularly in basketball--and in the spring of 1913 the Chicago schools decided to break up the league and create a conference that would only have Chicago public high schools as members, the Chicago Public High School League. The suburban schools with University High formed their own league, the Suburban League.
Cook County High School League Champions--Boys
|1901||Hyde Park (Chicago, IL)|
|1902||Medill (Chicago, IL)|
|1903||North Division (Chicago, IL)|
|1904||North Division (Chicago, IL)|
|1905||Austin (Chicago, IL)|
|1906||Oak Park (IL)|
|1907||Lake View (Chicago, IL)|
|1908||Lake (Chicago, IL)|
|1909||Lake View (Chicago, IL)|
|1910||Englewood (Chicago, IL)|
|1911||Lane Tech (Chicago, IL)||Lane Tech (Chicago, IL)|
|1912||Hyde Park (Chicago, IL)||Lane Tech (Chicago (IL)|
|1913||Hyde Park (Chicago, IL)||Phillips (Chicago (IL)|
Cook County High School League Champions--Girls
|1900||Englewood (Chicago, IL)|
|1901||Austin (Chicago, IL)|
|1903||Lake (Chicago, IL)|
|1904||Oak Park (IL)|
|1905||Hyde Park (Chicago, IL)|
|1906||Oak Park (IL)|