Atwood-Hammond High School “Rajahs”/ “Rajenes”

Atwood-Hammond High School Building 2014
Submitted by Dennis Downey
Atwood-Hamond HS Front Walk View
Photo by Dennis Downey

The History of Atwood-Hammond High School

Atwood (population 1,290) is located in lower-eastern Illinois about 25 miles east of Decatur.  Atwood is unique in that it stradles the county lines of Piatt (western Atwood) and Douglas (eastern Atwood) counties.U.S. Route 36 passes by the south side of town.  The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad travels through the center of town.  The Lake Fork Creek passes by the western edge of Atwood.

Atwood was officially recognized as a town in 1874. It’s name is likely taken from a town of a similar name in the eastern USA. However, some say the town name is derived from statements made by early settlers who would often meet “at the wood” or that the original town was described as “one at the wood.”

Hammond (population 518) is located in east-central Illinois about 17 miles east of Decatur.  This places Hammond in south-central Piatt County.  U.S. Route 36 is the main roadway to and from Hammond and runs by the south side of town.  The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad runs through the north side of town.  According to Map Quest ( the Hammond Mutual Ditch flows by the east side of town.

The village was established in 1873. Its original names included Shumway and Unity. It was decided eventually to name the village after the president of the newly erected Indianapolis-Decatur- Springfield Railroad line which passed through town. His name was Charles Hammond.

Both Atwood and Hammond supported their own high schools from the early 1900s (possibly even the late 1800s) through the late 1940s. It was in 1948 that the two communities agreed to consolidate their educational efforts. Atwood-Hammond High School was formed in the summer of 1948.

Atwood-Hammond HS Sign 2014
Photo by Dennis Downey
Atwood-Hammond HS Side View With Gymnasium
Photo by Dennis Downey

Atwood- Hammond High School served the two communities and surrounding farm kids very well for 64 years. The school survived consolidation talks as early as the late 1980s. In 2011 studies were conducted concerning the feasibility of consolidating the Atwood-Hammond School District with the nearby Arthur School District. In the spring of 2013 voters of both school districts passed resolutions to allow for the merger. The Atwood-Hammond voters passed the initiative by a vote of 456-327.

The 2013-14 school year was the final one for Atwood-Hammond High School. The final senior class graduated in May of 2014. In the fall of 2014 high school students from the Atwood-Hammond area will attend Arthur High School. The Atwood-Hammond High School building is projected to be torn down in the summer of 2014.

Atwood-Hammond High School Quick Facts

Year established:       1948

Year closed:               2014

Consolidated to:         Arthur High School

A-H HS nickname:      “Rajahs” (boys) / “Rajenes” (girls)

A-H HS team colors:   Black & Gold

A-H HS Fight Song:


The Atwood-Hammond High School sports teams have enjoyed many successful seasons over the years. The most successful was the IHSA Class 1A State Championship won in football in 1980. Below are listed all of the athletic accomplishments and season records as found on the IHSA website ( . The teams competed in the Little Okaw Valley Conference. We are seeking more information and photos of these and other great teams in Atwood-Hammond High School history.

**From the Atwood-Hammond High School website (2014) :

Atwood-Hammond High School Mascot

History of the RAJAH”

“Atwood-Hammond High School was the first of two schools to own the Rajah nickname. There is not a specific date that the Rajah nickname became effective, but it occurred sometime in the late 1920s. It was by accident that Atwood-Hammond High School became the Rajahs. Coach Clarence Edward Rogers, better known as “Rog” by his close friends, was a longtime Atwood coach.

Eddie Jacquin, a sports editor of a local newspaper, devised the nickname after Coach “Rog” while he was speaking with some officials prior to a football game. One of those officials explained that “Rog” meant prince of a fellow. Eddie Jacquin then stated “Rog is a Rajah”, which Rajah means an Indian prince or chief. Newspapers in the area began referring to Atwood as the Rajahs when writing about the Atwood teams.

Two schools, Atwood-Hammond High School in Atwood, IL and Indio High School in Indio, CA, are over 1800 miles apart and are the only two schools to have the Rajah mascot. For approximately 30 years, Atwood was the only school with the Rajah nickname, because Indio High School wasn’t built until 1958.”

Atwood-Hammond entered into a co-op agreement with Bement High School beginning in the 1994-95 school year. The sports of football, girls basketball, baseball, and track were all a part of the agreement. The uniform colors were black, yellow, purple, and white. This agreement lasted until the 2011-2012 school year ended. Thank you to Andrew Brown for this bit of information.

A-H HS Football Bleachers – Fred Boll Field
Photo by Dennis Downey


The Atwood-Hammond High School “Rajahs” won the IHSA State Class 1A Championship in the Fall of 1980. This was an incredible accomplishment for what was probably one of the smaller schools in the field of teams. The Atwood-Hammond boys continued competing on their own for many years. It is believed to have been in the mid-1990s that the school began a cooperative agreement with nearby Arthur regarding it’s football program. However, the Rajahs may have competing on their own well into the 2000’s. If you have this information please contact us.

1950-51       1 – 6 – 1                                          Coach Les Gadbury

1951-52       7 – 2                                               Coach Les Gadbury

1952-53       5 – 3                                               Coach Les Gadbury

1953-54       1 – 7                                               Coach Les Gadbury

1954-55       5 – 3                                               Coach Les Gadbury


1955-56       7 – 0      Undefeated Season!      Coach Les Gadbury

1956-57       5 – 2 – 1                                          Coach Les Gadbury

1957-58       5 – 2                                               Coach Les Gadbury

1958-59       4 – 2 – 2                                          Coach Les Gadbury

1959-60       2 – 6                                               Coach Don Magee

1960-61       3 – 5                                               Coach Don Magee

1961-62       5 – 3                                               Coach Don Magee

1962-63       4 – 3 – 1                                          Coach Don Magee

1963-64       2 – 6                                               Coach Bob Williams

1964-65       2 – 6                                               Coach Bob Williams

1965-66       7 – 1                                               Coach Larry Higgins

1966-67       1 – 6                                               Coach Lynn Strack

1967-68       4 – 4                                               Coach Lynn Strack


1968-69       8 – 0      Undefeated Season!      Coach Lynn Strack

1969-70       1 – 5 – 2                                          Coach John Ganley

1970-71       4 – 3 – 1                                          Coach John Ganley

1971-72       2 – 6                                               Coach Willie Wellhausen

1972-73       1 – 6 – 1                                          Coach Willie Wellhausen

1973-74       4 – 4                                               Coach John Lyons

1974-75       6 – 3                                               Coach John Lyons

1975-76       3 – 6                                               Coach John Lyons

1976-77       0 – 9                                               Coach John Lyons

1977-78       6 – 3                                               Coach John Lyons

1978-79       3 – 6                                               Coach John Lyons


1979-80       9 – 1    IHSA Class 1A Playoffs   Coach John Lyons

                               Undeafeated Regular Season

                               1st Rd – Lost to Caitlin 35-8

Caitlin lost in semi-final round to Chenoa

Chenoa placed 2nd

1980-81     14 – 0    IHSA Class 1A Champs!  Coach John Lyons

                               Undefeated Season!

                               1st Rd Beat Jacksonville Routt 18-12

                               2nd Rd Beat Martinsville 14-0

                               Semi-final Beat Roseville 35-34 (O/T)

                               Title Game Beat Lexington 17-16

*Atwood-Hammond scored on a safety in the title game tying an IHSA record for number of safety’s recorded in a title game!


1981-82       4 – 5                                               Coach John Lyons

1982-83       1 – 8                                               Coach John Lyons

1983-84       3 – 6                                               Coach John Lyons

1984-85       1 – 8                                               Coach John Lyons

1985-86       3 – 6                                               Coach Bill Estes

1986-87       4 – 5                                               Coach Tim Burk

1987-88       5 – 4                                               Coach Tim Burk

1988-89       6 – 3                                               Coach Tim Burk


1989-90       7 – 3  IHSA Class 1A Playoffs     Coach Tim Burk

                             1st Rd lost to Rossville-Alvin 36-6

Rossville lost to Arcola in Elite 8

Arcola lost to Lexington in semi-finals

Lexington lost to Orangeville in title game

1990-91       5 – 4                                               Coach Tim Burk

1991-92       3 – 6                                               Coach Scott Bales

1992-93       3 – 6                                               Coach Scott Bales

1993-94       5 – 4                                               Coach John Lyons


*The 1993-94 season is the last season as a solo school for Atwood-Hammond High School.  ( )

As the South Piatt “Wildcats”

Atwood-Hammond entered into a co-op agreement with Bement High School beginning in the 1994-95 school year.

1994-95     2 – 7                                                   Coach John Erwin

1995-96     2 – 7                                                   Coach John Erwin

1996-97     3 – 6                                                   Coach Jerry Smalling


1997-98     6 – 4    IHSA Class 1A Playoffs       Coach Jerry Smalling

1st Rd lost to Lexington 29-28

Lexington lost in 2nd Rd.

1998-99     5 – 4                                                    Coach John Hayden

1999-00     2 – 7                                                    Coach John Hayden


2000-01     6 – 4    IHSA Class 1A Playoffs        Coach John Hayden

                             1st Rd lost to Lexington 41-8

Lexington lost in Elite 8 Rd

2001-02     3 – 6                                                    Coach John Hayden

2002-03     5 – 5    IHSA Class 2A Playoffs        Coach John Hayden

                             1st Rd lost to Tremont 49-8

Tremont lost in Elite 8 Rd


2003-04     7 – 4    IHSA Class 1A Playoffs        Coach John Hayden

                             1st Rd Beat Fisher 35-13

                             2nd Rd lost to Leroy 33-0

Leroy lost to Galena in State Championship game

2004-05     4 – 5                                                    Coach John Hayden

2005-06     4 – 5                                                    Coach John Hayden

2006-07     2 – 7                                                    Coach John Hayden

2007-08     3 – 6                                                    Coach John Hayden

2008-09     3 – 6                                                    Coach John Hayden


2009-10     5 – 5    IHSA Class 1A Playoffs        Coach David Elder

                             1st Rd lost to Brown County 34-0

Brown County lost in 2nd Rd to Tuscola

Tuscola won IHSA State Title

2010-11     4 – 5                                                    Coach David Elder 

*2011-12    2 – 7                                                    Coach David Elder

*Last season for the South Piatt Wildcats



The Atwood-Hammond boys basketball program competed through the very final season of the school’s existence. Following their football team’s amazing season, and likely with nearly all of the same athletes, the team of 1980-81 had the largest amount of success in the IHSA State Tournament, making it all the way to the Sweet 16 in a two-class system. All of the seasons from 1950-51 through 2007-08 are listed on the IHSA website. Season records for the teams of 2008-09 through 2013-14 are needed. Several scores involving Atwood-Hammond in the IHSA State Tournament were located on a website titled “Illinois Postseason Basketball Scores.” These scores are listed below as well.

1948-49 (need record)Bethany District Tournament     Coach’s name needed

1st Rd Beat Arthur 44-35

                                    Semi-final lost to Neoga 39-29

Neoga beat Findlay in title game

1949-50 (need record)Arthur District Tournament         Coach’s name needed

Semi-final lost to Lovington 56-20

Lovington lost to Windsor in title game 

1950-51        3 – 18      Atwood District Tournament      Coach Les Gadbury

1st Rd lost to Arcola 58-43

Arcola lost to Arthur in semi-final

Arthur lost to Bethany in title game

1951-52        4 – 17      Bethany District Tournament     Coach Les Gadbury

1st Rd lost to Lovington 48-46

Lovington lost to Arthur in semi-final

Arthur beat Bethany in title game

1952-53        1 – 20    Postseason scores unavailable   Coach Les Gadbury

1953-54        4 – 18    Postseason scores unavailable   Coach Les Gadbury

1954-55        6 – 16    Postseason scores unavailable   Coach Les Gadbury

1955-56        4 – 16    Postseason scores unavailable   Coach Ed Noffke

1956-57        8 – 17    Postseason scores unavailable   Coach Ed Noffke

1957-58        9 – 15    Findlay District Runner-Up       Coach Ed Noffke

Title game lost to Windsor 60-53

1958-59        3 – 18    Lovington District Tournament     Coach Les Gadbury

1st Rd lost to Lovington 56-52

Lovington lost to Windsor in semi-final

Windsor beat Arthur in title game

1959-60        3 – 17    Postseason scores unavailable   Coach Joe Rockford

1960-61        9 – 12    Postseason scores unavailable   Coach Joe Rockford

1961-62      18 – 9      Lovington District Tournament     Coach Wayne Hammerton

Semi-final lost to Arthur 67-53

Arthur lost to Bethany in title game

1962-63      12 – 10    Lovington District Tournament     Coach Wayne Hammerton

Semi-final lost to Bethany 50-47

Bethany lost to Windsor in title game

1963-64      11 – 12    Postseason scores unavailable   Coach Wayne Hammerton

1964-65        5 – 15    Postseason scores unavailable   Coach Dean Stroble

1965-66      15 – 8      Postseason scores unavailable   Coach Dean Stroble

1966-67        9 – 13    Postseason scores unavailable   Coach Dean Stroble


1967-68      16 – 11    Lovington District Runner-Up  Coach Dean Stroble

                                   1st Rd Beat Findlay 75-65

                                   Semi-final Beat Windsor 65-64 (O/T)

                                   Title Game lost to Arthur 57-48

1968-69      18 – 10     Findlay District Champs          Coach Dean Stroble

Semi-final Beat Bethany 72-68

                                   Title Game Beat Windsor 71-52

                                   Arcola Regional Tournament

1st Rd lost to Arcola 64-62

Arcola lost to Mattoon in title game

1969-70         9 – 14    Lovington District Tournament   Coach Earl Avenatti

Semi-final lost to Windsor 50-42

Windsor lost to Findlay in title game

1970-71         8 – 16    Findlay District Tournament       Coach Earl Avenatti

                                   1st Rd Beat Windsor 62-56

                                   Semi-final lost to Findlay 96-50

Findlay beat Bethany in title game

1971-72       10 – 14    Arcola Class ‘A’ Regional           Coach Jack Sunderlik

                                   1st Rd Beat Arcola 78-67

                                   Semi-final lost to Lovington 72-69

Lovington lost to Sullivan in title game

1972-73       10 – 14  Postseason scores unavailable   Coach John Conklin

1973-74       17 – 7    Postseason scores unavailable   Coach John Conklin

1974-75       16 – 10  Postseason scores unavailable   Coach Leonard McKean

1975-76         3 – 21  Postseason scores unavailable   Coach Leonard McKean

1976-77       18 – 8    Postseason scores unavailable   Coach Leonard McKean

1977-78         8 – 16  Postseason scores unavailable   Coach Tim Burk

1978-79       10 – 16  Postseason scores unavailable   Coach Tim Burk

1979-80       10 – 13  Postseason scores unavailable   Coach Tim Burk

1980-81       26 – 4  IHSA Class A Sweet 16 Finalist  Coach Tim Burk

                                  IHSA Regional Champions

                                  Regional Scores Needed

                                  Tuscola Sectional Tournament

                                  Semi-final Beat St. Joe-Ogden 52-40

                                  Title Game Beat Chrisman 53-39

                                  IHSA Super-Sectional Finalist

                                  Title Game lost to Pana 46-45

Pana lost to Liberty in Elite 8 round

Liberty lost to Dunlap in semi-final

Liberty placed 4th in tourney

Dunlap lost to Madison in title game

1981-82        9 – 14    Postseason scores unavailable  Coach Skip Romine

1982-83        5 – 18    Postseason scores unavailable  Coach Skip Romine

1983-84        2 – 22    Postseason scores unavailable  Coach Bill Carpenter

1984-85        1 – 21    Postseason scores unavailable  Coach Bill Carpenter

1985-86        2 – 20    Postseason scores unavailable  Coach Bill Carpenter

1986-87        9 – 15    Postseason scores unavailable  Coach Tim Burk

1987-88      11 – 14    Postseason scores unavailable  Coach Tim Burk

1988-89        1 – 22    Postseason scores unavailable  Coach Harry Kunsch

1989-90      13 – 13    Postseason scores unavailable  Coach Harry Kunsch

1990-91      17 – 9      Postseason scores unavailable  Coach Harry Kunsch

1991-92        1 – 22    Postseason scores unavailable  Coach Scott Bales

1992-93        1 – 22    Postseason scores unavailable  Coach Scott Bales

1993-94        0 – 23    Postseason scores unavailable  Coach Scott Bales

1994-95        1 – 21    Postseason scores unavailable  Coach Ray Lamb

1995-96        2 – 21    Postseason scores unavailable  Coach Ray Lamb

1996-97        1 – 22    Postseason scores unavailable  Coach Toby Whiteman

1997-98        2 – 22    Postseason scores unavailable  Coach Toby Whiteman

1998-99        7 – 18    Postseason scores unavailable  Coach Toby Whiteman

1999-00      17 – 10    Postseason scores unavailable  Coach Toby Whiteman

2000-01        4 – 22    Postseason scores unavailable  Coach Shane Smith

2001-02        9 – 18    Postseason scores unavailable  Coach Ed Coller

2002-03      11 – 19    Postseason scores unavailable  Coach Cory Whitt

2003-04      11 – 21    Postseason scores unavailable  Coach Ed Coller

2004-05      19 – 11    Postseason scores unavailable  Coach Ed Coller

2005-06        8 – 19    Postseason scores unavailable  Coach Ed Coller

2006-07      19 – 10    Postseason scores unavailable  Coach Ed Coller

2007-08      11 – 18    Postseason scores unavailable  Coach Rich Wilson

2008-09   Postseason scores, record, and coach’s name needed.

2009-10   Postseason scores, record, and coach’s name needed.

2010-11   Postseason scores, record, and coach’s name needed.

2011-12 (need record)         IHSA Regional                  Coach’s name needed

1st Rd lost to Arcola 67-45

Arcola lost to Windsor in semi-final

Windsor lost in Sweet 16 Rd

2012-13 (need record)         IHSA Regional                  Coach’s name needed

1st Rd lost to Lovington 68-33

Lovington lost in Sweet 16 Rd.

2013-14   Postseason scores, record, and coach’s name needed.



Three members of the “Rajene” track & field program earned medals in the IHSA State Meet. The names, events, and medals won by these athletes are listed below.

1994-95        Melissa McMillan    Class ‘A’ 400 Meter Dash     3rd Place

1997-98        Tosha Stevens        Class ‘A’ 1600 Meter Run     6th Place

2004-05        Lacy Mitsdarffer      Class ‘A’ 400 Meter Dash     8th Place




The “Rajah” track & field program produced four boys who earned a total of seven medals in the IHSA State Meet. The names, events, and medals won by these athletes are listed below.

1975-76       Randy Cherry      Class ‘A’ Pole Vault       6th Place

1976-77       Randy Cherry      Class ‘A’ Pole Vault       4th Place

2001-02       Andy Hendrix      Class ‘A’ Long Jump     3rd Place

2002-03       Andy Hendrix      Class ‘A’ Long Jump     7th Place

2003-04       Justin Wierman   Class ‘A’ Discus             6th Place

2004-05       Justin Wierman   Class ‘A’ Discus             5th Place

2009-10       Steve Bryan         Class ‘1A’ Triple Jump  9th Place


Atwood-Hammond HS Track Conf. Champs 1958
Submitted by Larry West

First row: Steve Rahn, Delbert McDivitt, Joe Daugherty, Gerald Alexander, Timmy Behrend, John Pourchot, Bob Dallas

Second row: John Swartz, John Martin, Frank Andrews, Joe Sanders, Larry Harshbarger, Larry Sawyer, David Behrend, Dennis Behrend

Third row: Bill Beatty, Eddie Mosely, Jim Daugherty, Roy Dallas, Coach Les Gadbury, Larry West, David Schmidt, Jim Brown, Bill Austin

1958 Track “Bests”

High Hurdles         Roy Dallas          16.0           1st Place in Conference Meet

100 Yard Dash      Bill Austin           10.4           Tied School Record, 2nd in Conference Meet/4th @ District

Mile Run               Larry West          4:42           School Record/3rd in Conference Meet

Frank Andrews    5:01           F/S School Record

440 Yard Dash      Bill Beatty           56.5

880 Yard Run        Larry West          2:10           Tied School Record/3rd in Conference Meet

180 Low Hurdles    Roy Dallas          22.9           2nd in Conference Meet

220 Yard Dash      Bill Austin            22.6           School Record/Conference Champ/District 2nd Place

High Jump             Roy Dallas          5’11.5″        Conference Champion

Dave Schmidt      5’08.5″        F/S School Record

Broad Jump           Bill Austin           19′ 3″          3rd in Conference Meet

Pole Vault             Dennis Behrend   10’3″

Shot Put               David Behrend      49’2.5″        Conference Champion

John Swartz         44’10”         4th in Conference Meet

Discus                  Joe Sanders        140’9″          School Record/4th in Conference Meet

David Behrend      131′            Conference Meet Champ

*Results reprinted from 1958 school yearbook.



The girls basketball program had some nice seasons on the hardwood court. We currently only have three seasons available to list here. We know that the girls basketball program formed a cooperative agreement with Arthur High School at some point. Season records, coach’s names, and any other information is welcome regarding Atwood-Hammond High School “Rajene” basketball.

2002-03        6 – 17             Coach Lynn Farmer

2005-06        8 – 20             Coach Bill Lyons

2006-07        5 – 22             Coach Bill Lyons



The softball program was involved in a cooperative agreement with Bement High School at some point however the following records are listed on the IHSA website for Atwood-Hammond High School.

2002-03         10 – 10 – 1             Coach John Strack

2003-04           9 – 13                  Coach John Strack

2004-05         10 – 13                  Coach John Strack

2005-06           9 – 13                  Coach John Strack

2006-07         15 – 9                    Coach John Strack

2007-08         12 – 8                    Coach John Strack



Currently only two season records are listed on the IHSA website regarding the A-H HS volleyball program. If you have further information to add please contact us via the means listed at the bottom of this page.

2007-08         9 – 19             Coach Bill Lyons

2008-09       10 – 19             Coach Bill Lyons




Atwood-Hammond HS also competed in the sport of Bass Fishing, qualifying for the IHSA State Finals in 2009-10!

2009-10      IHSA State Qualifier        Coach Brian Fay




We know the experience at Atwood-Hammond High School was a very well-rounded one. We are confident that Band, Choir, Student Government, and other activities were offered. In addition clubs such as FFA, FHA, NHS, and many others were available for the students as well. If you have additional information regarding the activities at A-H HS please contact us.


If you have any further information to share regarding Atwood-Hammond High School please contact us via e-mail at IHSGDWEBSITE@COMCAST.NET or via USPS at the following address:

IHSGD Website

6439 N. Neva Ave.

Chicago, Il.  60631

Atwood-Hammond School District Offices
Photo by Dennis Downey
Atwood-Hammond HS Events Sign 2014
Photo by Dennis Downey

Small towns lovingly tug home their daughters and sons

Sun, 11/24/2013 – 7:00am | John Foreman

Approach the little burg of Atwood through the country — and there is, frankly, no other way to approach — and the first thing you see are the lights. They glow high in the pitch black of an autumn evening, higher than anything in town save perhaps the big grain elevator that once gave places like Atwood their reason to exist.

By the time you depart the car and test your jacket against the night air, the very atmosphere seems charged with the current of those lights. I’ve experienced those sensations perhaps a hundred times, felt that tingle of the electricity. I remembered it instantly.

Friday night offers the full week’s entertainment in thousands of places like Atwood. That’s not a complaint. People don’t seek such places in search of excitement. But an evening’s diversion under those big lights seems welcome by nearly everyone.

They’ll have it no more, not in Atwood, one more town now dark the whole week long.

These are the Friday night lights — storied in Texas, perhaps, but instantly recognizable in communities from Southern California to upstate New York. In villages, they mark the social center of the week, not for athletes and adolescents, but for everyone still able to board a pickup truck or minivan and make it to the school.

(I used to marvel that my late mother-in-law, who raised three boys, would decades later still drive herself to a spot facing the end zone and roll down her car windows. Severe arthritis kept her in the car, and milling fans on foot blocked the view from the seat. But she could see the scoreboard, hear the P.A., feel the airborne electricity and still make it home in time to see if the highlights she missed had somehow found their way to the TV news. If that seems odd, you’ve never lived in a place like Atwood.)

This night — this particular night — they were calling the game at Fred Boll Field in Atwood “the last homecoming.” It would be the final opportunity for those who graduated from Atwood-Hammond High School (or from Atwood Township High School before that) to see the lights, climb the noisy bleachers or cling to the surrounding fence.

And they came. Came from all over. Came from Arizona and Georgia and California. Came in numbers no one really expected, I think, to watch a game none of them particularly cared about. Mostly, like me, they just wanted to be there — maybe to feel the electricity they’d forgotten, maybe to bathe for a few minutes in the warm water of nostalgia, maybe just to see who else would come. But they came. And it had almost nothing to do with football.

Homecoming everywhere is the designated event to welcome back alumni. They rarely indulge. I hadn’t been to a homecoming game since I reached the age of majority. It’s really for the kids — a time to build floats and to wear flowers and fancy dresses and ride convertibles.

Tonight, the alumni came by the hundreds, someone thought maybe a thousand of them. At a school that graduated maybe 50 or 60 youngsters a year at its peak and far fewer now, a thousand is a lot. But the word had been sent and the welcome set out. In the west end zone, a tent awaited each decade of grads, each stocked with homemade cookies and jugs of lemonade and festooned with memorabilia from their era — pictures, old sweaters and football jerseys. Someone knew they would come.

There, beneath the lights, the decades all merged. The carefully managed high school cliques dissolved faster than the lemonade mix. Old classmates who may rarely have spoken as kids greeted each other with open-armed embraces. Age melted like ice cubes. Extended conversations arose between people who’d never even met before.

And at halftime, they toured the old school — now physically much smaller than it once was, as if it had sometime since been left in the dryer too long. Could the halls really have been so short? The rooms so very small? Everything was otherwise unchanged. The English room was still where the English room belonged. Biology was still in its appointed place.

And casual eavesdropping suggested that the inhabitants of the place maybe didn’t change so much over the years. A 60-year-old can be heard excitedly: “Do you remember that one time when we …?” as she passed through the library. A few minutes later, someone else — maybe 30 years her junior, giggles: “Do you remember that one time when we …?”

But as small as the old place has become, it is way too big for the current occupancy. The pictures of each graduating class on the wall tell the story. My own class of baby boomers was one of the largest, it turns out. Come next year, the handful remaining will make the trip to school at Arthur, a nice little town not really all that different.

Little Atwood will grow quieter still in the absence of school plays and Friday lights and boys in cars on gravel parking lots. Who knows what will become of the old brick building and Boll Field.

But I think I now know something that will remain. There are bonds, you see — long, strong and invisible — that tie people together against great differences of time, station and space.

This came back to me last week as I listened to people talk about Gifford. Those from there, but no longer of there, spoke of the need — not just the desire — to go back and help. “Those are my people,” one told an interviewer.

Maybe small towns are just that way. People grouped so closely for 10 or 20 years become like the ingredients in a long-simmering soup. They may seem as different as cabbage and carrots. But take one away, even far away, and it nonetheless retains the taste of all the others.

We live in a world where everything must be big. Big fish eat little fish. Big stores eat little stores. Big towns eat little towns. “Global” is almost a synonym for good. “Universal” is better.

But small isn’t bad. Good things, my mother told me, come in small packages.

People must be tightly bound to fit in small places. Some of us chafed at those bonds. We were far more alike than we knew, and we so wanted to be different. But the tethers stretch over great time and great space and great change without ever fully loosing their pull — be the occasion a great community maelstrom or no more than one last chance to happily share the lights.

John Foreman, publisher of The News-Gazette, can be reached by email at or by mail at P.O. Box 677 in Champaign.

Atwood-Hammond merges with Arthur school district

Tue, 04/09/2013 – 10:25pm | Tim Mitchell

ATWOOD — Residents of two school districts have voted to be combined into a single district.

Voters in the Atwood-Hammond school district voted 456 to 327 on Tuesday to be annexed to the Arthur school district, while voters in the Arthur school district voted 967 to 242 to approve the annexation.

Atwood-Hammond Superintendent Kenny Schwengel said the merger will take effect for the 2014-15 school year.

“This is a sad and emotional time,” Schwengel said. “Any time you look at possibly closing down a school building, it is sad.

“But, overall for the students and taxpayers it is going to be a better situation.”

Schwengel said Atwood-Hammond students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade will continue to attend classes at their current school in Atwood.

But Atwood-Hammond High School will be closed, and the students in grades nine through 12 will attend classes at Arthur-Lovington High School, which will have a combined enrollment of about 300 students.

Schwengel said the issue was put on the ballot because of declining enrollment and shrinking fund reserves.

“This started four years ago when we were looking at possible cuts,” he said. “We tried to pass a tax increase, but it failed by a 2 to 1 margin.”

He said having a larger combined tax base and combined resources will help the larger district stave off severe tax increases and also hold the line the possible budget cuts that some school districts are considering.

“Had this ballot question failed, we were looking to have a 90-cent to dollar increase per $100 assessed valuation next year,” he said.

He said the two school districts will spend the 2013-14 school year getting ready for the merger.

“We will coordinate the school calendars and have groups meet on scheduling, curriculum and other issues,” he said.

Starting in the fall of 2014, the whole district will be known as Arthur District 305. The future name for the high school is yet to be determined.

“Atwood-Hammond District 39 will no longer exist,” he said.

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