|Dawson High School Building – Built in 1895|
|Submitted by Phil Shadid – 2007|
|Dawson High School Building in 1917|
|1917 “Annual Rpt. of Sangamon Co. Schools” and Phil Shadid|
The History of Dawson High School
The village of Dawson, Illinois, is located on Old Route 36, 10 miles east of Springfield, on the line of the Norfolk Southern Railroad. The town’s population in the 2000 census was 466. Dawson was founded in 1854, having being surveyed and platted by Joseph Ledlie and Thomas Lewis, and was named for John Dawson, a member of the state legislature and the “Long Nine.” That group, with its leader Abraham Lincoln, was primarily responsible for moving the State Capital from Vandalia to Springfield.
In the early days Dawson was a booming mining town with three grocery stores, a church, a school house, a blacksmith shop, barber shop, post office, several taverns and two railroad stations. In 1937, Dawson’s last year as an independent high school, the public could ride 12 trains a day on the Illinois Terminal interurban railroad (powered by overhead electric wire) between Decatur and Springfield. All are gone now except the church, the post office and a tavern.
The first school for Dawson was completed in 1867 and was replaced by a brick building in 1895. Grades 1 through 8 were taught from the beginning and a 3-year high school course was offered in 1886 through the 1938 school year.
The high schools of Dawson, Buffalo and Mechanicsburg merged in September 1937 to become the Tri-City High School District #215 (apparently the very first consolidation in Illinois history). The hamlets of Buffalo Hart and Lanesville were also included in the new district. Dawson was always a 3-year high school, and if students wished to complete their fourth year they would have to attend either Illiopolis or Springfield High.
With the consolidation taking place in 1937, students from the three towns continued to attend school in their own building. The sports teams (basketball and baseball) played under the new name, Tri-City “Tornadoes,” with all home basketball games taking place in the Dawson gymnasium. In September 1938, the new high school and gym were completed in Buffalo and 145 high school students transferred to the 4-year school.
The Dawson Grade School and gym continued to serve the local children until it closed in 1969, and was sold to private individuals who converted the buildings into apartments (both structures are still in use in 2007).
In 1948 the Tri-City Community Unit School District #1 was formed, which included all grade schools and saw the closing of all one-room country schoolhouses. The principal and superintendent of the high school and district, A. Louis Oder, served in that capacity until his retirement in 1957. Mr. Oder had also been principal at Dawson, as well as coach of the first Tri-City teams. His wife, Louise Nicholson Oder, was a long-time teacher in the district.
DAWSON HIGH SCHOOL QUICK FACTS:
Opened as Grade school: 1867
3-year high school began: 1886
New building constructed: 1895
Last time as stand-alone high school: May 1937
Merged to become part of Tri-City HS: Sept. 1937
HS students first attend Tri-City in Buffalo: Sept. 1938
Grade school closed: May 1969
Team nickname: unknown
School colors: unknown
School song: unknown
It is a fact that the Dawson High School boys competed in basketball with other schools in the area. Some excellent research by our good friend Phil Shadid points this out below. It is likely that baseball and track may also have been offered. We are searching for the school’s team nickname, uniform colors, fight song, coach’s names, and season records. Individual accomplishments are also welcome.
BOYS BASKETBALL: (compiled by Phil Shadid)
Members of the Dawson HS basketball team pictured to the right:
Front row, left to right: Junior Kitchen, Maynard Barrow, BurdetteConstant,
Back row, left to right: Coach Thomas Scott, Douglas Simpson, Principal
YEAR WON-LOST COACH
1925-26 8 – 7 Sylvester Long
1926-27 7 – 2 W. R. Cory
1927-28 Did Not Play
1928-29 2 – 11 W. R. Cory
1929-30 7 – 7 W. L. Garrison
1930-31 4 – 11 W. L. Garrison
1931-32 10 – 9 W. L. Garrison
1932-33 3 – 11 W. L. Garrison
1933-34 2 – 14 W. L. Garrison
1934-35 9 – 11 Thomas Scott
1935-36 * Thomas Scott (*all games forfeited, see story at end of this section)
1936-37 18 – 6 Thomas Scott
Researching the basketball teams showed one very good season, 1936-37, which was also the last year Dawson existed on its own. The newspapers of the day did not always report scores of 3-year high schools, so the records for prior years are incomplete. (See the special story “Dawson’s washed out basketball season” at the end of this section.)
Coach and principal W. L. Garrison’s small squad had a tough season, winning only two games. The team had difficulty in scoring throughout the year, scoring in single digits a couple of times and losing all but one game in the Sangamon County Conference in 12 tries. Only six players scored points during the season, with Castleman and Baugh leading the way (unfortunately, their first names remain unknown).
The team, comprised mostly of Freshmen, achieved its first victory over Chatham in 14 years, winning 26-17 on Jan. 16, 1935. Douglas Simpson and Harvey Davis led the charge during the season. The team won the consolation title at the Sangamon County
Conference tournament with a 30-16 win over Rochester. They also managed a split of two games with Springfield Converse, a Freshman-Sophomore team; and lost both games against Springfield Cathedral’s varsity. They were not lucky in the Williamsville District tourney, losing to Auburn to close out the season.
But 1936-37, under coach Scott, saw the Dawson boys fashion a record of 18 wins and 6 losses. They played in the Sangamo Conference (formerly called the Sangamon County Conference) consisting of six teams, five of which were 3-year high schools. The exception was Buffalo, which had 7 seniors in 1936-37. Dawson tied for the conference title, winning one and losing one vs. Riverton.
DAWSON WINS 16 STRAIGHT!
After opening the season at Riverton on Nov. 10, 1936, with a 32-17 loss, the Dawson crew went on a 16 game winning streak. This included nine wins in the conference, culminating with a 29-20 victory over Riverton in the regular season’s finale before a packed house in Dawson on Feb. 2, 1937. Douglas Simpson and Harvey Davis, scoring leaders the entire season, pumped in 11 points each.
1936-37 SANGAMO STANDINGS, ENROLLMENTS & FATE OF 3-YR SCHOOLS:
Dawson……9-1. 34 students; merged w/Buffalo & M’burg to form Tri-City, Sept. 1937.
Riverton…..9-1. 95; became 4-year school in September 1937.
Loami………5-5. 40; consolidated with New Berlin, September 1948.
Buffalo…….3-7. 47; consolidated with Dawson & Mechanicsburg to become Tri-City.
Mech’burg..2-8. 31; same as Buffalo & Dawson.
Chatham…..2-8. 44; merged w/Ball Township to form Ball-Chatham district, Sept. 1948.
The Sangamo Conference conducted its annual tournament at the conclusion of the regular season with Dawson and Riverton meeting for the tourney championship. (3-year schools did not participate in the Sangamon County tournament.) The title game of the Sangamo tourney held in Riverton on Feb. 13, was a disaster for Dawson; they lost 29-10. (It was Dawson’s first loss since the season’s opening day!) Home and away losses to Elkhart in a 3-day span dropped the squad to a record of 16-4.
The Illinois State Journal published a photo of the team in 1937 with the headline ” These Youths Put Dawson On Basketball Map,” and further noted “they aren’t very big and there aren’t very many of them, but these youngsters have given Dawson a prominent spot among the basketball towns of Illinois this season.”
They won their first two games of the (Glenarm) Ball Township postseason District tournament over Edinburg and Divernon before losing to Girard in overtime, 31-29. Dawson stormed back back from a 24-14 deficit to tie the game in the last few seconds, but couldn’t muster enough to triumph. As per Illinois High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) rules in place at the time, the runner-up in the District championship game also advanced to the Regional tourney. Dawson fell to Gillespie in their first game March 3, 1937, closing out their final campaign.
What is remarkable about the team was that they played with only six or seven players. Five players started every game, with two others seeing action from time to time. The players were: Douglas Simpson, Harvey Davis, Maynard Barrow, Burdette Constant and Junior Kitchen. James Caldwell and Robert Sauers played in a few games each. Simpson and Davis averaged in double figures and Simpson scored the most points in one game: 29 in an 83-17 win over Mechanicsburg on Jan.13, 1937.
The five starters for Dawson for the 1936-37 season also played on the very first Tri-City consolidated team of 1937-38. That team, coached by Louis Oder, also had two players from Buffalo and three from Mechanicsburg. (Tri-City played its home games in the Dawson gym.) The “Tornadoes” had a 21-9 record, won the Niantic District, were runners-up in the Regional to the host school Decatur, and lost their first game in the Decatur Sectional to Monticello. (Runnerup in Regional also went to the Sectional.)
Coach Oder, who was bringing three groups of players together who were rivals on the court the previous year, decided that no one would have to give up their jersey number to another player. He assigned new numbers to the first Tri-City team: 68, 86, 89, 98, etc.
The Dawson boys helped carry the load of Tri-City during its first season, 1937-38, with Davis, Simpson and Constant starting most games and leading in average points per game. Barrow of Dawson and Stanley Ketchum of Mechanicsburg were the other two starters. Kitchen of Dawson was among the first off the bench.
The final home game of the 1937-38 season, and the last high school game played in the Dawson gym, was a loss to Cowden 29-28. Davis, Simpson and Barrow scored 21 of the team’s points, with Ketchum and Robert Elliott (from Mechanicsburg) getting the other 7, as an overflow crowd watched the end of an era.
1935-36: DAWSON’S WASHED OUT BASKETBALL SEASON
During the 1935-36 season a Sangamon County circuit judge ruled in favor of Dawson in a triangular legal fight with Buffalo and Riverton over establishment of community high school districts, stating “that Dawson had its district legally organized.” Judge L.E. Stone, as reported in the Illinois State Journal (Springfield) Nov. 28, 1935, further said “that organization of the Buffalo and Riverton districts was unlawful.” Part of the Buffalo and Riverton districts had overlapped the Dawson district.
This legal battle turned out to be a mute point, because in the Spring of 1937, the public in the districts of Buffalo (with Buffalo Hart and Lanesville), Mechanicsburg and Dawson voted to establish a community high school to be located in Buffalo. The vote in favor was: Buffalo 165-38, Mechanicsburg 26-2, Dawson 94-10.
But long before the voting took place, the season of 1935-36 produced much controversy.
On Nov. 25, 1935, the Illinois State Journal (daily newspaper) reported: “Because five of its members played in an independent game at Mechanicsburg, Dawson High School has been forced to abandon its basketball slate for the season. The five who made the trip without permission of their principal became ineligible to compete in further high school games for 18 weeks, according to a ruling by C. W. Whitten (IHSAA). With only a dozen boys in school, this left the squad so depleted that it was decided to drop its games for the remainder of the year (1935-36 season).” Ironically, Mechanicsburg did not field a high school team in 1935-36.
Loami High was hit with the same ruling, forfeiting games and scrapping the season. They may have played in the same independent tournament as Dawson’s boys. In addition to the Journal’s report, the infractions were also printed in the Buffalo Tri-City Register (weekly newspaper) in December 1935 and January 1936.
THE GIRLS HAD A BASKETBALL TEAM AT DAWSON:
In the 1926-27 season Dawson High School fielded a girls basketball team which usually played its games just before the boys’ games. Game scores were lacking in the newspapers of the day, so there isn’t a whole lot of information available. But they did take part in the Sangamon County Conference and competed against Chatham, Riverton, Rochester and Mechanicsburg. Dawson also had teams prior to 1926-27.
However, in late 1927, Dawson, along with other conference schools, received a strongly-worded letter from the Illinois High School Athletic Association reminding them that IHSAA rules prohibited girls teams from playing against other schools. The ruling had been passed in 1908, but had not been widely known nor enforced. The association thought basketball was too “rough and unladylike” for girls. (They didn’t prohibit intramural sports, including basketball, they just didn’t want the girls to play the game outside their own school!) Source: article by Scott Johnson of the IHSA, entitled “Not Altogether Ladylike.”
Rather than contesting the edict, Dawson, to be fair to its students, cancelled its basketball seasons for 1927-28, for girls and boys. They never had a girls team after 1927. The IHSA didn’t remove its ban on girls sports until the 1970s.
OTHER SPORTS WERE OFFERED at Dawson, but we have no further information to share at this time.
Information was found in microfilm records of Springfield’s State Journal and Register, Buffalo Tri-City Register and Lincoln Courier, at the A. Lincoln Presidential Library. A history of Dawson is in the Sangamon Valley Collection, Springfield Lincoln Library.
To a great friend of the Glory Days website, Phil Shadid, who conducted the entire research for this excellent history of Dawson HIgh School!!
IF YOU HAVE ANY FURTHER INFORMATION TO SHARE:
…regarding the great history of Mechanicsburg and its former high school please contact us via the following means:
USPS: IHSGD Website
6439 N. Neva St.
Chicago, Il. 60631