Peoria Spalding Institute “Fighting Irish”

Spalding Institute Building
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Peoria, Illinois
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Bishop Spalding

           The History of  Peoria Spalding Institute

Peoria is one of Illinois’ biggest core cities. With a population of approximately 116,000 people, Peoria is a hub of the central part of the state. Spalding Institure was located at the corner of Madison Avenue and Jackson Street.

Peoria Spalding Institute was established as a Catholic high school in 1899. It was named by the founder of the Peoria Diosece, Bishop John L. Spalding, for his late brother, the Reverend Ben J. Spalding. In 1950, an addition was made consisting of an additional school building, the Schlarman annex, and a Catholic Youth Center. At that time also, the old administration building was moved from its place on Madison Avenue, next to Spalding Institute, to a new place a block away, facing Byran Street. In 1953, the Spalding Gymnasium was built. The Fighting Irish had a rich tradition of academics and athletics during their existence. One former student described his time at Spalding this way:

It was great fun going to the football games, where the cheering and chanting would drown out our award-winning cheerleading squad!  Following the games, dances or “jams” would be held in the Student Center.”

Dan G.    submitted February 03, 2005

The Spalding Institute was administered by three different religious communities over the years: The Brothers of Mary, from 1901 until 1935, The Benedictine Fathers, from 1935 until 1950, and the Viatorian Fathers, beginning in 1950. The structures of the Institute through history housed three gyms, which gradually were enlarged, as the role of physical fitness and sports activity expanded in the consciousness of education. The lower gym of the main school structure was built in 1908, and measured 44 x 40 feet. Seating accommodated 150 fans, and was elevated above the playing floor. The ceiling was just 15 feet high. The baskets were removed in 1946. The upper gym was outfitted in 1928, with small seating capacity. The playing floor measured 77 x 52 feet, with six fan shaped baskets. The Spalding Gymnasium at 50 x 84, with a capacity at 3200 seating, was dedicated in 1953, with a game between Spalding and Rock Island Alleman. The ceiling of the gym was also outfitted with a series of pulleys and hooks, so the gymnasium could be completely transformed into an auditorium, complete with a full set of curtains, so that the floor could be used for stage productions.

Slowly, like many dioceses in Illinois, the funds to operate the Catholic schools began to diminish starting in the 1960’s. In 1973, Spalding and an all-girls school, Peoria Academy of Our Lady, merged under one administrative and academic structure. Both schools were still open under their names until 1988. The school closed its doors under a suggestion by Bishop Edward O’Rourke, when it and Academy of Our Lady consolidated with Peoria’s other Catholic high school, Peoria Bergan. The two schools form what is now known as Peoria Notre Dame High School which is housed on the former Bergan campus.

The Spalding building is still in use under the Spalding name as the Spalding Renewal Center and retreat house. The street on which the Spalding Institute main building sites, Jackson, was renamed Spalding by the city of Peoria in honor of the founding of that august institution.

After the closure of Spalding, the gym hosted Peoria Notre Dame basketball games. The 2005-06 athletic season was the final year of use for the Spalding Gymnasium and was soon razed. The final basketball game played there took place on Friday, February 24, 2006 when Notre Dame fell to Peoria Manual 57-48. More than 2,000 people, including many alumni of the Spalding Institute, showed up for this game. At the conclusion of the game, former Peoria mayor Jim Maloof, a 1937 graduate of Spalding, led the crowd in a postgame sing of the school fight song.

Administration Building Inscription
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Spalding Institute
Peoria Spalding Institute “Quick Facts”

Established:            1899

Closed:                   1988

Conference:             Various over the years. Listed in 1958 program as “City League”

Nickname:              The “Fighting Irish”

School colors:         Purple, Yellow, and White

School Building:      Still in use as a Catholic Diocese retreat center and as a Children’s home.

Spalding Gymnasium Dedicated:  February 8, 1953

School Fight Song:  Tune is that of Notre Dame University (click above and sing along):

Cheer, Cheer for old Spalding High!

                              Our Alma Mater, will do or die!

                              Fighting Irish is our name,

                              Purple and White have brought us fame!

                              Whether the odds be great or small,

                              Old Spalding High will win over all!

                              While our loyal sons go marching

                              Onward to VICTORY!

                              Rah Rah Rah! 

Spalding Gym Entrance
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Spalding Institute Gymnasium
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Peoria Spalding Basketball Team – 1923-24
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National Catholic High School Champions

Fighting Irish Athletics

Spalding Institute had many seasons of great success in many different sports.  The most successful of which was Boys’ Basketball. The Fighting Irish won three State Tournament trophies. They competed in the Mid-State Conference, which ranged from 6-10 teams at different points. They also had an area-wide weightlifting program. Their most successful seasons in these respective sports are listed below:

Boys’ Basketball

1923-24               National Catholic HS Champs

1949-50     23 – 5  Elite Eight   Coach John J. Goonen

1954-55     22 – 6  Elite Eight   Coach Don Sullivan

1955-56     N.R.A.      Regional Champs                            Coach James Smarjesse (in his first year)

1957-1958            2nd Place- Diocesan Tourney 

1957-58     28 – 6       3rd Place – State                              Coach James Smarjesse

and the students chanted “Spalding to State in ’58” 

1963-64                    Team finished 3rd in Macomb Western

Holiday Tourney.  Bob Swirgis named

MVP of the tournament!

1968-69     28 – 4       2nd Place – State                             Coach Ron Patterson

(lost to Proviso East in the championship game 58 – 51)

1969-70     24 – 10     4th Place – State                              Coach Ron Patterson

According to the student newspaper “The Institute,” in March 1958, the 23-5 regular season record for the Fighting Irish was the best since team won the National Catholic Championship in 1924. Indeed, since that 1924 team played fewer games, the 1958 record could be called “the best record in the history of Spalding.” 

For many years, the Spalding Gymnasium hosted the Diocese of Peoria’s High School Basketball tournament. Closed High Schools which were involved at various times include Odell St. Paul, Rock Island St. Joseph, Galesburg Corpus Christi, Bloomington Holy Trinity and Moline St. Mary.  Spalding took 2nd Place in the Diocesan Tourney in 1958, losing to Rock Island Alleman 59-51.

Notable Roundball Athlete

Art Slik – Helped lead the Cyclones on the court during the early 1940s, eventually garnering All-State honorable mention honors in 1941-42.

Spalding Baseball Team
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Early 1910s

Boys Baseball


1944-45     R.N.A.      District Champs

1945-46     R.N.A.      District Champs

1946-47     19 – 3       2nd Place – State    

                                Coach:  Father Sylvester

1953-54     R.N.A.      District Champs

1986-87     R.N.A.      Regional Champs

1987-88     R.N.A.      Regional Champs

1994-95     R.N.A.      Regional Champs

One famous alum from the Fighting Irish baseball program…..ever hear of Joe Girardi ! 

Boys Football

Ed Dwyer (Class of 1944) provided the following information on Spalding High School football:

“On a poll taken recently of old, older and oldest Spalding football players, the top five all-time ball carriers at Spalding were: Artie SilkBob Flanagan, Bobby JuddBill Kelly and Tim Ardis, with Flanagan named the best. Ennio Arboit came out on top as the top coach with Merv Haycock a close second.”

Some of the season football records at Spalding High are listed below.

1930-31     9 – 0 – 1                                                Coach Noppenberger

1938-39     7 – 0 – 1                                                Coach Arboit

1942-43     8 – 0                                                     Coach Arboit

1944-45     9 – 0                                                     Coach Arboit

1952-53                     City Football Champions

The following teams participated in the IHSA Football Playoffs

1982-83    R.N.A.      IHSA Elite 8 Finalist             Coach Thomas Kahn

                               Beat Peoria Manual 29 – 6

                               Lost to Geneseo 26 – 3

Geneseo won State Championship

1985-86    9 – 2          IHSA Class 4A Sweet 16      Coach Jerry McMahon

                                Beat Kewanee  28 – 20

                                Lost to Geneseo  14 – 7

**The 1956 Football Squad set a record for the most points scored by an Institute team in a single game, beating Canton 62-12. A few weeks later Spalding was trounced by Rock Island Alleman, 41-0. The team finished the season 4-4-1.

**On October 30, 1985 in Spalding’s first round playoff game against Kewanee, Bill Kelly set a school record for most rushes attempted in a game with 45. Spalding would go on to win that game, but would fall in the second round that year. Bill Kelly also led IHSA in rushing yardage for this season!

(Thank you to Ron Dwyer for this information on the team of 1985.)

Boys Track 

One athlete that excelled in Track and Field was Jim Haungs. Haungs placed 5th in the Long Jump in 1961 at the State Track Meet.

Boys Cross-Country

The Fighting Irish Cross Country Team of 1975-76 enjoyed the school’s best success in this sport. The team won their sectional and qualified for the State meet.                                      

Girls Softball

The only season recorded on the IHSA web site ( was the 1987-88 season in which the team, coached by Cindy Clark, finished the year at 21 – 6.    

Girls Volleyball

There are five seasons recorded on the IHSA web site. The best of which was the 1987-88 season with a record of 18-5. The team was coached by Cindy Clark. In the five seasons (1983-88) available, Coach Clark’s teams won 76 games and lost 42.

More on Athletics

Other Spalding Institute sports, as listed in a 1950’s student newspapers included golf, and intramural Boxing, Swimming and Bowling. More academic involvements were shown in a Current Event’s Quiz, sponsored by the National Journalism Society Quill and Scroll, and a Choral Festival, at East Peoria HS, the first of many forseen in the “newly created ‘Mid-State Eight’ Conference.” Also noted was the performance of the Spalding Band at the Chicago Stadium, playing during halftime of a Kentucky-Loyola Basketball Game. A popular event for many Springs was the C.Y.C. Field Days, sponsored by the Catholic Youth Center

Famous Alumni

**General Wayne A. Downing

This United States Army General has an incredible resume’, and he is a graduate of Spalding High School.  Check out a brief biography of General Downing at the Wikipedia address of .

Thank you for Tom O’Brien for this excellent information on General Downing.

From our good friend Mark Jurenga:


**Ray H. LaHood

*B.S. Bradley University

*Member of the Illinois State House of Representatives, 1982-1983.

*Seven-term member of the U.S. House of Representatives, January 3, 1995-present.

*All information as of 12-31-2007

(NOTE: As of 3/21/2010, Congressman LaHood is now the Secretary of Transportation under President Barack Obama.)

**Joe Girardi – Major League Baseball Player / Manager (Submitted by Kathie Bartolo)

Check out Joe was a Spaulding High School graduate who played major league baseball for the Chicago Cubs, Colorado Rockies, New York Yankees, and St. Louis Cardinals. Joe became manager of the Florida Marlins in 2006. He currently serves as Manager of the New York Yankees 2008 – present (2010).

**Reverend Richard Grimm CSC:

“My name is Mollee Dagastino. My uncles and brother attended Spalding Institute. My uncle, Rev. Richard Grimm CSC, was graduate of the class of 1926. That was the year that Spalding attended the first Illinois Catholic State Basketball Tournament. My Uncle Richard, was captain of that basketball team.  Here is the link to that info

Further info about Rev. Richard Grimm. He was the eldest of 7, all of whom attended Spalding or Academy of Our Lady. He studied at the Univ. of Notre Dame where he entered the seminary and became: assistant prefect of religion; superior of Holy Cross Seminary; assistant religious superior of Univ. of Notre Dame; and superior of the infirmary. During that period he was responsible for the planning and building of Holy Cross house for the retired priests of the Congregation for the Holy Cross. He became the first Superior of Holy Cross house. In 1967 he obtained his master’s degree from St. Mary’s College. The only male and at the time, the oldest person to ever obtain a degree there.”

**Archbishop Fulton John Sheen:

Richard Bieth tells us “The venerable and Most Reverend Archbishop Fulton John Sheen earned high school valedictorian honors at Spalding Institute in Peoria in 1913.”

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Spalding Gym
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Greater Peoria Sports Hall of Fame Inductees

Ennio Arboit – Was a standout college athlete for the University of Notre Dame and coached football at Spalding from 1938 to 1945 and 1947 to 1950 after a stint at St. Ambrose University in Davenoprt, IA. His teams went 69-23-8 in his 11 seasons.

Merv Haycock – Coached Spalding Football for 14 seasons, from 1962 to 1976. His teams had a record of 95-34-6 and five Conference titles. He was also the Athletics Director for Spalding, and was one of the many people behind the creation of the IHSA Football State Playoffs. He also coached at Bergan from 1979 to 1985.

Bob Flanagan (’46) – A three-sport star at Spalding who went on to earn Little All-American recognition in football at Bradley University and at St. Ambrose College. He also played basketball and baseball for Spalding.

Bobby Judd (’50) – A three-sport athlete who stood out in football, playing for Xavier University, the U.S. Army team and the Ottawa Rough Riders in Canada. He was a starting guard for the 1950 Spalding basketball team that went to the state tournament. In 1949, he was voted the All-Illinois MVP in football.

Tony Lawless (’24) – A standout athlete for Spalding who played on their 1924 state championship team and would later coach in that tournament. After playing football and basketball at Loyola, Lawless coached many sports at Oak Park Fenwick High School, back when it was an all-boys school. From 1929 to 1976, Lawless served as coach and Athletics Director for Fenwick, which went 177-43-8 in football under his tenure. He coached five Catholic League football titles and the 1935 Catholic State Basketball Championship. He also guided the Friars to the 1937 National Catholic Basketball Tournament.

Tony Van Dyke – Coached Spalding football in 1935 and coached at Peoria Junior High Schools for 27 years.

Mike LaHood (’64) – Was a Mid-State 10 honorable mention football lineman his junior year and was a first team all-conference choice the following year. He played with the University of Wyoming and played on their 1968 Sugar Bowl team. He later played with the Los Angeles Rams and St. Louis Cardinals of the NFL and the British Columbia Lions of the CFL.

Don Mathews (’50) – A standout football and basketball player for Spalding. For the 1950 basketball team, he led the Mid-State 10 conference in scoring, was a second team all-stater, first team all-conference and a few months before that a first team all-conference end in football. His high school coaching tenure lasted from 1959 to 1976 with Peoria Woodruff, Peoria Bergan, Spring Valley Hall, Brimfield and Peoria Heights.

Ron Maestri – Was an assistant coach at Spalding in the early to mid 1960’s before taking to Bradley University and New Orleans University.

Bill Dempsey (’43) – Was a standout player for the Peoria Caterpillar Disels AAU team and a graduate of Spalding having not played basketball for the Irish. He was also a U.S. Olympic Basketball team alternate for the 1952 games in Helsinki.

Harold Lintz – Played Baseball for Spalding Institute and coached various baseball leagues in the Peoria area for over 50 years.


as noted in the dedication program of the Spalding Gymnasium, February 8, 1953: titled “Do you Remember:”

1.  When Spalding had two box-ball bowling alleys up on the third floor of the Institute. This was in the early 1900’s.

2.  When Spalding had the Century Club in the lower gym (Cracker Box), 40 laps made a mile, 100 miles and you received your “S” monogram. This was back in 1910-1911.

3.  When the Spalding Varsity gridiron team scrimmaged against Bradley Poly (Varsity), not the Academy, and here is a little secret- used to come out on top.

4.  When Dan Cleary, first sacker for the Purple 1908, was supposed to have hit a ball in the middle of the Illinois River at the Water Works Diamond.

5.  When Spalding used to play members of the Little 19 Conference including teams such as Lincoln College, Eureka, and others, also more than holding their own.

6.  When the Irish surprised St. Viator College on their home floor taking the verdict by the high score of 16 to 12. This was back in 1911-1912.

7.  When hand ball was quite a sport in the lower gym and a full schedule was played by an eight-team league.

8.  When Spalding basketball team defeated the New York Nationals in the much disputed final score, 42 to 41. The Nationals were on par of today’s Minneapolis Lakers

9.  When Coach “Sport” McGrath’s Irish won the National Catholic Championship in the ’20’s.

10.  When Spalding played several ball games in the old YMCA in the 100 block of North Jefferson Street.

11.  Who is the only Spalding athlete to be elected captain by his teammates for football, basketball, and baseball in the same year? Bob Manning  (1948-49)


From Martin T.Takeuchi (almost Class or ’62):

“I attended to Spalding High from 1959 through 1961…coming to Spalding after graduating from St. Mary’s Cathedral School. I was supposed to graduate with the Class of 1962, but unfortunately my family moved to California at the end of the 1961 school year. Lots of good memories while I was there..the football and basketball games on Fridays … going to Sandy’s (was supposed to be a McDonalds but I guess the deal fell through). Going to the “Center” after the football games..I was in the Choir and was supposed to be on the Summa Staff (yearbook) in my senior year.

A couple of teachers I remember were Fr. Gillgallon (hope that’s the right spelling) in Choir…and the terror of biology…Br. Schoffman (also hope that’s the right spelling}. I dreaded his daily quizzes, but managed to scrape out a “B” in his class.

The choir put on a production of the musical “Showboat”with some of the girls from the Academy of Our Lady across the street. It was in their theater if I remember right. I found out during my search for Spalding on the internet, that there’s a Spalding High School in England..but it’s an all girls school!  Anyway..those are some memories I have of good old Spalding……”


If you would like to share further information regarding Spalding Institute, please e-mail this web site at Or you can write to us at:

Illinois High School Glory Days

6439 North Neva

Chicago, IL  60631

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