I've visited communities from Cobden to Waukegan, from Warsaw to Paris, during my 50-year career of covering high school sports in Illinois. And I've often wondered why more schools don't construct Halls of Fame to honor their distinguished coaches, athletes and teams of yesteryear.
There are a few noteworthy exceptions. Centralia hung the retired jerseys of Lowell Spurgeon, Dike Eddleman and Bobby Joe Mason amid dozens of trophies, plaques and team pictures in the hallway of old Trout Gym. Quincy and Collinsville have recognized their great traditions. Even old West Rockford, now a middle school, has a room devoted to coach Alex Saudargas' state championship years of 1955 and 1956.
But nothing compares to the Lou Boudreau Room at Thornton in Harvey.
The curious thing about Thornton is that, despite the decades of tradition and legacy of great coaches and athletes and teams that date to the 1930s, the basketball arena, the football stadium, the baseball field or any other athletic facility is named in honor of any of them...Lou Boudreau, Jack Lipe, Tiny Huddlestun, Betty Robinson.
Established in the 1950s on the second floor of the basketball arena, which today remains a state-of-the-art facility compared to most high school gyms, the Lou Boudreau Room contains championship trophies and plaques and pictures of the great athletes and coaches and teams of the past. There is a copy of Boudreau's plaque that hangs in baseball's Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., and Betty Robinson's gold medal from the 1924 Olympics.
"You can feel the history and tradition when you walk in the room," said Bill Mosel, Thornton's athletic director and football coach. "Every time you come here, you find something new."
Thornton's tradition dates to the 1930s, when Lou Boudreau led the Flying Clouds to one state championship and two runnerup finishes in successive years. It was the beginning of a legend that followed him all the way to Cooperstown.
Every year, Mosel brings freshmen athletes to the room to "get a feel for the tradition." The room is open to adults only on basketball game nights.
"The kids love to see the old pictures and trophies (that date to 1900)," Mosel said. "They don't realize the magnitude of it, the history and the tradition. But once they've been there, they ask to come back more than once."
In May of 2010, the school added a Thornton Wall of Fame in the main building that honors some of the great athletes and student leaders of the past--Boudreau, Robinson, comedian Tom Dreesen, actors Bill Hayes, Michael Boatman and Melvin Van Peebles, industrialist Dan Ustian and athletes Tai Streets, Melvin Ely, Napoleon Harris and Antwaan Randle El.
The Wildcats' spirit was rekindled in recent years when Dreesen and former Thornton legend LaMarr Thomas formed a legacy group that sponsors an annual golf outing to raise funds to support the school. Streets, Harris, Randle El and Rod Higgins helped with the effort. Now there is talk of a reunion dinner to bring back the Hall of Famers.