Onarga High School “Indians”

Onarga High School Building as it was in the 1940s
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Courtesy of Mary Tilstra
Onarga HS Building 2010 (Now IW Grade School)
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Submitted by James Horaz

The History of Onarga High School

Onarga (population 1,438) is located in upper eastern Illinois in west-central Iroquois County. U.S. Route 45 cuts nicely through Onarga and meets up with Illinois Route 54. Interstate Highway 57 lies to the west of town and has exit ramps leading to Route 54. The Illinois Central Gulf Railroad lays some tracks through Onarga as well. Onarga lies about 30 miles southwest of Kankakee. Onarga was being settled in the early 1800’s and became incorporated as a town in llinois in 1853. In the early 1860’s, Onarga had a population of 273.

The history of the educational opportunities for the kids of Onarga is long and very storied. The first school building was a wooden structure construted in 1858. The growing town realized the need for a larger structure and constructed a brick school building in 1867. The growing student population forced the addition of rooms to the building in 1872. This original building served Onarga for many years until its replacement by a newer building in the 1920’s (pictured above).

Onarga Grade School – Built 1864-67
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Now a Private Residence

The original building of 1867 (listed at the very top of the page) still survives in Onarga and is used as a private residence. According to class of 1968 Onarga graduate Gloria Scott, this building used for a grade school (grades one thru five) after the high school moved out in the 1920’s, which remained that way until the 1980’s

Onarga residents supported their own high school until the early 1980’s, when in 1983, the residents of Onarga, Gilman, and Danforth agreed to pool their resources. Their consolidation effort led to the creation of the Iroquois West School District. The high school for the new school district was located in Gilman.

The Onarga school building from the 1920’s (pictured at the top of the page) is now used as a junior high school for the Iroquois West School District.

Onarga High School Quick Facts

Year 1st school opened:      1858

Year 1st brick bldg. built:     1867

Year 2nd brick bldg. built:    1920’s

Year HS closed:                 1983

Onarga HS nickname:         Indians

Onarga HS colors:              Maroon & White

School Fight Song:             “On Onarga” (sung to the tune of “On Wisconsin”)

Onarga High School Gymnasium 2010
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Courtesy of James Horaz


Onarga High School definitely offered the boys’ sports of basketball, football, and track. Baseball may have also been offered at the school. The girls competed in basketball and track for sure, possibly volleyball as well. We are missing some information on the Onarga athletic program, such conference affiliations, names of great players, ect. If you have any of these items, please let us know..

Boys’ Basketball

The boys basketball program has a very comprehensive listing on the IHSA website (www.ihsa.org). Over the years, the Onarga boys won a total of five District titles and one Regional title. Some of the early season records are not available. The best of the seasons for Onarga HS are listed below.

1926-27 through 1935-36 coached by                                    Coach Rex Benoit

1936-37              District Champions                                  Coach Lyle Hutton

1937-38                                                                              Coach Lyle Hutton

1939-40                                                                              Coach Art Baker Ross

1942-43                                                                              Coach Woodrow Baker

1949-50  17- 9                                                                     Coach Earl Elmer “Cab” Callaway

1951-52  13-12                                                                    Coach Earl Elmer “Cab” Callaway

1955-56              2ND Place – Iroquois County Tourney      Coach Earl Elmer “Cab” Calloway

1956-57  13-  8                                                                    Coach Earl Elmer “Cab” Callaway
1957-58  21-  6    District Champions                                  Coach Earl Elmer “Cab” Callaway

                          Champs – Iroquois County Tourney
1958-59    7-16    District Champions                                  Coach Earl Elmer “Cab” Callaway

1963-64  12-11                                                                    Coach Melvin Huffman

1964-65  17-  9    District Champions                                  Coach Melvin Huffman

1965-66  15-10                                                                    Coach Tom McGhee

1966-67  23-  4    District Champions                                  Coach Tom McGhee

1967-68  18-10                                                                    Coach John Kuntz

1968-69  17-  8                                                                    Coach John Kuntz

1970-71  13-12                                                                    Coach John Kuntz

1972-73  12-13    Regional Champions                               Coach Don Bates

1973-74  19-  7                                                                    Coach Don Bates

1976-77  14-  8                                                                    Coach Steve Swartz

1982-83              School’s Last Season                                 Coach Bob Cottrell

Girls’ Basketball

The ladies of Onarga High School won a Regional title of their own in their very short history. The girls of the 1976-77 season pulled off this feat in the original one-class system. Unfortunately, the team record is not available.

1976-77            Regional Champions               Coach Vicki Killus

Boys’ Track & Field

The Onarga thinclads had some great success in the early 1920s. One athlete, E. Morgan, led the team of 1921-22 to an eighth place finish in the 1922 ‘B’ Track meet. Two boys of the 1932 team, Charters and Kanosky, also medaled in the one-class system. The medals earned and final team standings of the 1922 meet are listed below.

1921-22B    Team Finished EIGHTH in STATE ‘B’ Track Meet

                  Individual Medalist

                  E. Morgan                       50 Yard Dash              2ND Place

                                                       100 Yard Dash              2ND Place

                  Final Team Standings – 1922B Meet

                  1.)  Forrest HS                             19½

2.)  Elmwood HS                          15 1/5

3.)  Greenfield HS                         12

4.)  Toluca HS                              10

5.)  Monticello HS                          9

5.)  Wheaton HS                            9

7.)  Carlinville HS                           8

8.)  ONARGA HIGH SCHOOL         6

                  8.)  Berwyn-Cicero (Morton) HS       6

8.)  Illiopolis HS                              6

1931-32      Individual Medalists

?? Charters                    Javelin                          2ND Place

                 ?? Kanosky                    High Jump                     5TH Place


Onarga had a remarkable run in the late 1950’s. They won 29 consecutive Vermillion Valley conference games in a row between 1953 and 1958. They also notched 3 consecutive overall undefeated seasons with 21 overall wins in a row.  Thanks to Tom Sikorski for this information.

1951  4-3-1   3rd Place Vermillion Valley Conf.

1954  7-1      Vermillion Valley Conf. Champs          Coach Ray Hosington

1955  7-0-1   Vermillion Valley Conf. Champs          Coach Elmer “Cab” Calloway

1956  9-0      Vermillion Valley Conf. Champs          Coach Elmer “Cab” Calloway 

1957  8-0      Vermillion Valley Conf. Champs          Coach Elmer “Cab” Calloway

1963  9-0      Vermillion Valley Conf. Champs          Coach Mel Huffman

1964  5-3      3rd place Vermillion Valley Conf.             Coach Mel Huffman

1965  8-0      Vermillion Valley Conf. Co-Champs     Coach Tom McGhee

1966  7-1      Vermillion Valley Conf. Champs          Coach Tom McGhee

1968  4-3-2   3rd place Vermillion Valley Conf.              Coach John Kuntz

1969  6-3      2nd place (tie) Vermillion Valley Conf.      Coach John Kuntz

1970  6-1      Vermillion Valley Conf. Co-Champs    Coach John Kuntz

1973  5-3      2nd place Vermillion Valley Conf.            Coach John Kuntz

1979  7-2      2nd place (tie) Vermillion Valley Conf.      Coach Buddy Velasko

Onarga last independently fielded a football team in 1979. Their last game was a 28-0 win over Cullom Tri-Point.

Drama Program

The thespians of Onarga High also left their mark. The team of 1942-43 won their Sectional competition and qualified for the State Competition. John Uphoff led the team with a medal at the State Finals!

1942-43     Sectional Champions / State Competition Qualifier

                 Individual Medalist

                 John Uphoff                Original Oratory           4TH Place

Speech Individual Events

One student at Onarga High School brought home a State Champion trophy and led the team to a SIXTH Place overall finish! Great job William Whitlow!!   

1949-50     Team Finished SIXTH in STATE Competition!!

                 Individual Medalist   

                 William Whitlow          Comedy            STATE CHAMPION!!

                 Final Team Standings

1.)  Freeport HS                          14

2.)  Elgin HS                                 9

3.)  Rock Island HS                       7

4.)  West Frankfort (Frankfort) HS   6

4.)  Evanston (Twp.) HS                 6

6.)  Peoria (Woodruff) HS               5

                 6.)  ONARGA HIGH SCHOOL        5

6.)  Chicago (Phillips) HS               5

9.)  Harrisburg HS                          4

9.)  Barry HS                                 4

Need Your Help

We could still use more information to make this page complete. If you have anything to help fill in the gaps, or would like to add to the information already on the page, please e-mail us at ihsgdwebsite@comcast.net.. You can also write to us at:

Illinois HS Glory Days

6439 N. Neva St.

Chicago, Il.      60631

Onarga High School Building Rear 2010
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Photo By James Horaz
Onarga Grade School – Now a Private Residence
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Built in 1864 – Front View – Possibly Used as High School Building at One Time

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