|Downs Community High School|
|Downs Kickapoo Union HS Building 1895-1919|
|Now a Private Residence (Kev Varney Photo)|
The History of Downs High School
Downs (population 776) is located in east-central Illinois in the south-central portion of McLean County. The nearest town of note for location sake might be Bloomington which is located about eight miles to the northwest of Downs. The “main drag” through Downs is U.S. Route 150. County Highways 27 and 36 also converge on Downs. Interstate Highway 74 runs just to the south of Downs and has exit ramps allowing you access to and from the town. The Kickapoo Creek flows by the north side of town and the Conrail Railroad lays tracks through Downs as well.
The history of the town of Downs was founded in 1829 as Delta, west of Kickapoo Creek from where a tribe of Kickapoo Indians lived. The village thrived in that location until 1869 when a railroad from Bloomington to Indianapolis was built and the village moved closer to the rails. The name changed to Priceville in honor of John Price, who had platted the land. Another name change came in 1902 when the postal service complained that Priceville was close to Princeville (north of Peoria), so the name Downs comes from Lawson Downs, who was an influential settler of the area from the 1830’s.
|Downs Community High School Building 1920-1963|
|Courtesy of Brittany Myers|
The earliest known history of education in the area began with a subscription school in 1842, and in 1869, the Kickapoo Union district was formed. It wasn’t until 1895 that a three-year high school opened (hence, the picture posted of the school front that is now a private residence – above to your right – was that first high school in Downs). Downs moved into another building in 1920 (photo to your immediate right) because the 1895 building was overcrowded. The name of the school was changed to Downs Community High School, offering four years of education.
The new location was right across the street from where the Tri-Valley Grade and High Schools are today. The second building served Downs preps until 1963 when Ellsworth and Downs (under one school board) merged the schools together to form Tri-Valley, located at Ellsworth. The district received its name due to the three tributaries in the district…Money Creek, the Sangamon River, and the Kickapoo Creek.
With the exception of the ag shop, which are the current administrative offices of the Tri-Valley District, the building was torn down in 1980 after Tri-Valley moved into its new home across the street (photos of the ag shop building can be viewed below).
Downs Kickapoo Union High School Quick Facts
Year Kickapoo Union opened: 1895 (as a three-year school)
Year Downs HS opened: 1920 (as a four-year school)
Year closed: 1963
Consolidated to: Tri-Valley School District (Downs)
Kickapoo Union nickname: Warriors
Downs HS team nickname: Demons
School colors: Blue & Gold
School Fight Song: Downs High School Loyalty
We’re loyal to you, Downs High School
We’re gold and blue, Downs High School
We’ll back you to stand
‘Gainst the best in the land
For we know you have sand, Downs High School
So crack out that ball, Downs High School
We’re backing you all, Downs High School
Our team is our fame protector
On boys, for we expect a
Victory from you Downs High School.
Che-he! Che-Ha! Che-ha-ha-ha!
Downs! Downs! Rah! Rah! Rah!
Cropsey High School “Bulldogs”Athletics
Downs Kickapoo Union & Community High School’s “Warriors” and “Demons” did compete in baseball, basketball, and football. The school was a member of the Tri-Valley Conference up to 1948 with other schools in the eastern half of McLean County, such as Anchor, Cropsey, Towanda, Bellflower, Cooksville, Colfax, Ellsworth, Saybrook, and Arrowsmith. After that, it joined the Kickapoo Conference until the conference closed up shop in 1985. Some of the members of that conference were Saybrook-Arrowsmith, Deland-Weldon, Wapella, Danvers, McLean-Waynesville, Stanford, and Ellsworth.
An interesting note about both conferences: they had travelling trophies that were used to build school pride among the conference members during basketball season. The Tri-Valley called theirs the Little Brown Jug, and the Kickapoo had a tomahawk. Any time a school got possession of the trophy, they tied a long ribbon onto the trophy in their school colors with the name of the school on it, and in some cases, would list the date they took possession of the trophy with the names of the players and coaches from the team.
This is still a common practice today among the schools from the Heart of Illnois Conference between conference members. Regardless of what part of the season (conference play, holiday tournaments, the conference’s tournament, or in the state tournament) HOIC members face each other, the current trophy holder will display the hardware in the center tip circle at mid-court during warmups as a sign that the winner will take possesion of the gold-plated basketball when the game is over. (The tradition was started by the Bloomington Pantagraph sometime around WWII when they provided the trophy.)
As Downs Community High School, the basketball program won two McLean County Tournaments in 1923 and 1930. However, there is no evidence of state tournament trophies or plaques won by Downs Kickapoo Union or Downs Community High School.
In basketball, the Demons won the two county tournament titles as mentioned above, and were competitive up until their merger with Ellsworth.
1922-23 22-2 McLean Co. Tournament Champions Coach A.C. Ostiguy
1929-31 McLean Co. Tournament Champions Coach Edwin Drome
1930-31 22-8-1 Coach Lowell Rissor
1956-57 14-10 (good record!) Coach Winfield Bates
1962-63 12-10 Last year as Downs HS Coach Ray Lane
According to a 1908 school manual and guide book on the Downs Public Schools, they played football against Leroy in 1907 contest on the gridiron, and won 11-10.
Boys Track & Field
According to the IHSA website (www.ihsa.org), only one athlete from Downs medalled at the state track meet. One male athlete (Fred Grafft) brought home a medal in consectuve seasons in the late 1920’s. This was accomplished in old one-class system.
1927-28 Fred Grafft Javelin 5TH Place
1928-29 Fred Grafft Javelin 4TH Place
The Demons were also known on the baseball diamond, having won the McLean County title in the fall of 1930. They were competitive up thru the end of the school’s operation.
1930 6-0 McLean County Champions Coach Lowell Rissor
1956 6-8-1 Coach Winfield Bates
1958 4-2 (2nd in Kickapoo Conference play) Coach Philip Somers
1963 7-4 (good record–last season as Downs HS) Coach Ray Lane
One native of Downs that went on to make a name for himself was Edward O’Rourke (1917-1999). He became a Roman Catholic priest, and then was Bishop of the Peoria Diocese in 1971 before retiring in 1990.
A set of triplets served as cheerleaders for the Demons during their four years at the school. Marilyn, Margaret, and Mary Clark manned the sidelines for the Blue and Gold of Downs from 1955 to 1959.
(from Mary Dawson) “The Union School was also used as a grade school, I would assume after the Downs Community High School was built. My oldest brother was a 1st grader in 1952, and I think he started out at that school. I started school in 1960 and it was at the original part of the current Tri-Valley Grade School across the street from the Downs Community High School.”
(from Mike Larkin) “Around 1946, the Grade School team of Jim Tervin, Ralph Davis, Larry Larkin, “Bud” Daniels, “Teep” Reynolds, Bob Larkin and Danny Rhodes won the McLean County Basketball Championship.
“I attended the Grade School from 1944 until 1950, then they moved the 7th and 8th grades to the high school. Fern Downs was the Grade School Principal..she lived in a trailer house behind the grade school.
“Alvera (Wrench) Chrisman was my first and second grade teacher, Grace Weaver in third grade, Lucille Simpson for 4th grade, Mrs. Warshied in fifth, Duncan ???? in sixth.
“Mr. Ohmart was the high school principal and taught General Science, Biology, Chemistry and Physics. He died a few years ago in Farmer City.”
(from Bob Larkin) “I think Dick Hoover was on that team, rather than Teep, and Ralph Bustle was a sub along with Danny Rhodes and I. Five 8th graders and three 4th graders who played very little. We all traveled in Mrs Downs’ ’34 Ford, along with three Cheerleaders. (Rhodes may have also driven to some of the games.) We ended up 4th, not first in the county tournament, as I recall.
“In 1950, both the Downs grade school lightweight and heavyweight teams won the “Little Six” conference championships in the Downs High School Gym. I remember Waldo Tinsley sitting in the balcony and pulling so hard on it you could see it move.
“In 1951, many of the same players won the Fresh-Soph conference tournament in Ellsworth. The coach only took five players to the tournament (Dave Roop, Dan Rhodes, Bob Reeves, Richard Blaine and I). In the second of three games, one player fouled out so we finished with four on the floor. I had my 15 seconds of fame when I made two free throws with a couple seconds left to win 35-34. In the third and final game, two players fouled out and we finished with three on the floor. Bob Reeves came through with a couple long set shots and we won the championship by one point. I think Jackie Webb, Nadine Romine, and Margaret Ketner were our cheerleaders.”
Seeking Your Help
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