Rockford, Illinois is the second largest city in the Land of Lincoln, whose high school athletic roots are very, very rich. Dating back to 1885, Rockford’s athletics and extra-curriculars have always been among the best in the state.
Rockford West was built in 1940 after the original High School was too small for the growing community. It was located on North Rockton Avenue on the Northwest side of the city.
The school served the city for 48 years until it was deactivated after the 1988-89 school year due to district budget problems. However, the legacy of the school still lives on and it is now served as a Middle School for the Rockford Public School System. High school-aged students attend their choice of either East, Jefferson, Auburn and Guilford public High Schools.
There have been many organizations involved in keeping the West spirit alive. One of the noteworthy ones is called “Friends of West”, is run by Alice Saudargas, the wife of the late great Warrior coach Alex Saudargas.
Rockford West is also one of only a handful of schools that are deactivated taking an IHSA State Championship with them.
West High School “Quick Facts”:
Year opened: 1940
Year closed: 1989
Building used for now: West Middle School
School Nickname: “Warriors”
School Colors: Red & Black (Silver added in 1974)
School Song: “Three Cheers for Rockford High School”
To the tune of “Our Director”
Courtesy of Stan Sullinger
Three cheers for Rockford High School.
Cheer Rah Rah Rah !!
We’ve got a team boys
Cheer them Rah Rah Rah!
Faithful loyal fellows
They shall not lack
Cheer them they fight
For the red and the black
R o c k f o r d W a r r i o r s
WEST HIGH SCHOOL HAS HAD A RICH TRADITION OF HIGH SCHOOL ATHLETICS.
They also had a traditional East vs. West rivalry that lasted for 48 years. The Warriors won four state championships, in Boys Basketball in back-to-back years: 1954-55 and 1955-56, Boys Golf and Girls Field Hockey.
West was a member of the “Big 8” Conference with other member schools being Rockford East, Joliet HS, Aurora East, Aurora West, Elgin, Freeport and LaSalle-Peru. The list has teams have changed from 1962 to 1988 but the conference was renamed the “Big 9” in 1971 and the “NIC-10” in 1985. When West closed, the name changed to it’s present name, the “NIC-9”.
According to the IHSA Website (www.ihsa.org), West had a cumulative Boys Basketball record of 667-383. Their first team was formed in 1940 and had a 5-17 record under Coach Sam Tracy. Two years later, Coach Ed Willett’s 16-5 squad made it to the State Tournament. One year after that, they went to state once again under a Coach Willson and had a record of only 6-4.
Mr. Alex Saudagras came to West in 1947 and took over the program, finishing 20-5 in his first year. With an 18-8 record in 1948-49, West went to state once again.
Article on the “Six Points in One Second” Game
Submitted by Mike Fahy (“left click” on photo for enlarged version)
In 1955, Rockford West won the IHSA State Championship, defeating Elgin by the score of 61-59 and finished the season at 28-1 overall. They were ranked #1 in the final Associated Press polls and was led by Nolden Gentry’s 64 points. Gentry was named to the All-Tournament team for his efforts.
This game was listed as the most memorable event ever covered by sportswriting legend Bill Gleason. Gleason’s story is pictured to your right. “Left click” on the photo to view the enlarged version to read this gem!!
Mike Fahy provided the following information regarding this game:
“The 1955 contest was played between members of the same conference, the Big Eight. At that time, the Big Eight Conference was considered by many sportswriters to be the best basketball conference in the nation. This contest may be the only time that conference rivals squared off in the championship game of the IHSA playoffs. During this battle two of Rockford West’s players drew their fourth fouls in the third quarter, but were left in the game. With two minutes and nineteen seconds to play in the game, Elgin led by six points. However at this point, West scored an incredible SIX POINTS in ONE SECOND!! Nolden Gentry hit a 17 foot jump shot and then was fouled and made both ends of his one-and-one. Rex Parker was then fouled and received a one-and-one opportunity, making good on both attempts thus knotting up the score at 57-57. West would go on to win the championship by two points.”
Again in 1956, West won another IHSA State Championship, defeating Edwardsville 67-65 and finished at 28-1 overall. They were again ranked #1 in the state and were led by John Wessels, who scored a tournament-leading 107 points in the tournament. Wessels, Gentry and Don Slaughter were three of the five All-Tournament team members.
As Rockford West alum Mike Fahy points out, this season marked a momentous game in the Super-Sectional:
“Rockford West’s 66-64 double-overtime sudden-death win over Galesburg was the FIRST Super-Sectional game ever played in Illinois, and it was played in Illinois’ most historic high school venue: Wharton Field House in Moline. Each team had four chances to win in the sudden-death overtime. West won when a John Wessels hook shot bounced high off the rim, and was gracefully tipped in by Nolden Gentry. West’s super hero of that game was a reserve guard, Jack Flynn, who came into the game late, drew many fouls, and made nine of eleven free throw attempts to allow West to be tied 57–57 at the end of the fourth period.”
In a January 20, 1955 game against East, the Warriors made 46 free throws in winning the game. This ranks 7th in the state and is published in the National Federation Record Book for High School Sports Records. Also in 1955 in state tournament play, the Warriors came from a 40-27 deficit at halftime to defeat Elgin by the final score of 61-59.
The season records, as listed on the IHSA website (www.ihsa.org) are listed below.
1940-41 5 – 14 Coach Tracy
1941-42 12 – 3 Coach John Wyeth
1942-43 16 – 5 Sweet 16 Qualifier Coach Ed Willett
1973-74 13 – 9 Regional Champions Coach Alex Saudargas
1974-76 Coach Alex Saudargas
1976-77 (no team)
1977-79 Coach Harold Anderson
1979-80 12 – 14 Regional Champions Coach Harold Anderson
1980-81 17 – 8 Regional Champions Coach Harold Anderson
1981-82 14 – 11 Coach Harold Anderson
1982-83 11 – 11 Coach Harold Anderson
1983-84 Coach Harold Anderson
1984-85 19 – 8 Coach Harold Anderson
1985-86 12 – 6 Coach Harold Anderson
1986-87 18 – 7 Coach Harold Anderson
* John McCrudden – one of West’s first basketball stars, earned all-state honorable mention honors in 1941-42.
* Jim Allen – 1949 Centralia Tournament All-Tourney Team
* Jim Sallas – 1966 and 1967 All-State Team
* Mark Sibley – member of 1967, 68, and 69 teams who went on to star at Northwestern and earned All Big Ten honors his senior year.
* Ernie Kent – Earned all-state honors, played at the University of Oregon and has been Oregon’s head coach for many years. Kent has led Oregon into the NCAA basketball tournament several times.
Football was not one of West’s premier sports, however, the program did have their bright moments. In 1964, Coach Brodie Westen’s team went a perfect 9-0. In 1986, West qualified for the IHSA State Playoffs for the first time, finishing with a 7-4 record.
What was probably more memorable than anything for the Warrior athletic program in general was their run at the 4A State Championship in 1988. They made it to the semi-finals before falling to eventual state champions, Oak Lawn Richards. The kids knew it would be their last year together as a Warrior Football team.
‘Left click’ on Photo for Enlarged View
On Nov. 10 1967, the Warriors had a great game against Machesney Park Harlem, not allowing a single yard of offense, in fact, allowing -50 yards against the Huskies, which is fourth best in the state. That season, they only gave up 381 total yards, which is 10th best in the state.
A great defensive player and offensive lineman for the Warriors was Veto Santini, who had 196 total solo tackles in a three year career from 1965-67. In a game against Evanston in November of 1967, he had 17 of those – 11th best in the state. Veto also had 14 tackles against East that season. Veto was named a Prep All-American in 1967 and would continue his football career at the University of Illinois after being heavily recruited to play there by, among others, Dick Butkus.
Veto Santini – Prep All-American Football 1967
Dick Butkus with Veto Santini
Coach Tom Schwalbach led the Rockford West football program from 1966-67 through 1988-89, the school’s final season. Coach Schwalbach’s teams earned 124 victories (124-74-1) during his 22 year stay as head coach. Included were 3 NIC Championships and 3 trips to the IHSA State Finals. The 1980-81 team finished in the season at 9-3 making it to the IHSA Class 5A semi-finals. The 1986-87 team advanced to the Sweet 16 in Class 4A. Coach Schwalbach’s Warriors closed out the history of Rockford West High School football in grand fashion. The boys finished the season with the school record for wins (10) and advanced to the Class 4A semi-finals before bowing to Oak Lawn Richards who would go on to win the State Championship. Overall Coach Schwalbach’s teams went 124-74-1. An amazing run for a school located in a strong area for big larger school football.
Coach Schwalbach was inducted int the Rockford Public Schools Champions Ball & Athletic Hall of Fame on February 26, 2022. A well deserved honor! Here is the article from RPS Hall of Fame: Coach was also a great player at Northern Michigan University (1956 – 1960) in his day. He was named 3 times to the First Team All-State (NAIA-Michigan), was the leading scorer in all Michigan Colleges in 1956 (103 pts). Coach’s jersey was retired by Northern Michigan University (#17) becoming the first player in school history to receive that honor. Upon graduation from college Coach was signed by the Boston Patriots. To date Coach Schwalbach has been inducted into the Northern Michigan University Hall of Fame, Upper Peninsula of Michigan Hall of Fame, Escanaba (Michigan) Hall of Fame, University of Illinois Coaches Hall of Fame, Rockford West High School Hall of Fame, and recently (2022) into the Rockford Public Schools Hall of Fame.
“Coach Tom Schwalbach coached the West Warriors football team from 1966 to 1988, compiling a 124-74-1 record. Schwalbach led the team as Big 8 Conference co-champions in 1968, Big 9 Conference co-champions in 1971, and NIC-9 Conference champions in 1980.
He led the Warriors to the playoffs three times, and to the semifinals twice. He continued his coaching career at Guilford High School, taking the Vikings to the playoffs twice between 1989 and 1993.
Some of the better season records and accomplishments are provided below by our own Tom Sikorski.
1940 4-4 Coach Milo Willson
1941 4-2 Coach Milo Willson
1942 7-1-1 Big 8 Co-Champions Coach Milo Willson
1943 6-0-1 Big 8 Conference Champions Coach Milo Willson
1944 6-3-1 Coach Milo Willson
1946 8-2 2nd Place in Big 8 Conference Coach Milo Willson
1949 6-3-1 Coach Milo Willson
1953 5-3-1 Coach Alex Saudargas
1955 4-4-1 Coach Don Kriechbaum
1958 4-4-1 Coach Robert Koehler
1962 5-3-1 Coach Brodie Westen
1963 7-1-1 2nd place Big 8 Conference Coach Brodie Westen
1964 9-0 Big 8 Conference Champs Coach Brodie Westen
1965 7-2 Big 8 Conference Co-Champs Coach Brodie Westen
1966 7-2 Coach Tom Schwalbach
1967 6-3 Coach Tom Schwalbach
1968 7-2 Big 8 Conference Co-Champs Coach Tom Schwalbach
1971 7-2 Big 9 Conference Co-Champs Coach Tom Schwalbach
1972 6-3 3rd place Big 9 conference Coach Tom Schwalbach
1973 7-2 3rd place Big 9 conference Coach Tom Schwalbach
1979 7-2 3rd place Big 9 conference Coach Tom Schwalbach
1980 9-3 NIC-9 Conference Champs Coach Tom Schwalbach
IHSA Playoffs – Class 5A Semi-Finalist!
Beat St. Viator 14 – 6
Beat Rockford Boylan 7 – 6
Final Four Finalist
Lost to Hinsdale South 18 – 6
South finished 2ND
1982 6-3 4th place NIC-10 Conference Coach Tom Schwalbach
1983 6-3 3rd place (tie) NIC-10 Conference Coach Tom Schwalbach
1986 7-4 IHSA Class 4A Playoff QualifierCoach Tom Schwalbach
Sweet 16 Finalist
Beat Crystal Lake Central 26 – 6
Lost to Crystal Lake South 12 – 6
1988 10-3 2nd place NIC-10 Coach Tom Schwalbach
IHSA Playoffs – Class 4A semi-finalist
Beat Geneseo 21 – 16
Beat Sterling 38 – 6
Beat Morris 13 – 6
Final Four Finalist
Lost to Oak Lawn Richards 28 – 8
Richards won State Championship
1988 was the last season for Rockford West. Also to be noted is that Rockford West’s sophomores won the Big 8 title in 1947, 1950, 1962, 1963, & 1965.
Golfing has been a tradition in the Rockford area for quite some time. Coach Tracey led his golfers to the 1940 IHSA State Championship, back when the tournament was held in the spring.The team had other great state placings in the early 1950’s, as they took third in 1950 and second in 1952 and 1953. They qualified for state for the last time in 1960.
In 1941, Bob Rosecrans won the State Championship winning off of a playoff shot finishing the tournament with a 154. In 1945, a Mr. Anderson finished in sixth place with a 163.
In 1951, Ken Scott finished sixth with a 161. The next year, he would win the State Championship with a 161, winning off of a playoff shot against Conference foe Roger Rubendall of Freeport; teammate Bob Reitsch finished in fifth place with a 169. Scott was third in 1953 with a 160; teammate Bill Brick finished ninth with a 164. In 1954, Tom Olson finished third with a 157.
The first Warrior soccer team was formed in 1981. However, the team had a cumulative record of 27-42-6 with three winning seasons: 1981 (7-3), 1983 (7-4) and 1984 (7-3).
RON MARRIOT, 1978 graduate, was an OLYMPIC BRONZE MEDALIST in Diving, competing against US gold medalist, Greg Louganis.
Take a look at this incredible record of West Boys Swimming at State over a 21-year span:
1940-41 – 5th place
1942-43 – 7th place
1943-44 – 9th place
1944-45 – 5th place
1945-46 – 5th place
1946-47 – 4th place
1947-48 – 4th place
1948-49 – 5th place
1949-50 – 5th place
1950-51 – 4th place
1951-52 – 5th place
1952-53 – 8th place
1953-54 – 4th place
1954-55 – 3rd place
1957-58 – 4th place
1958-59 – 5th place
1959-60 – 4th place
1960-61 – 5th place (Dist. Champs)
1961-62 – 7th place
*200 Free Relay team – 1959
*Pat Mattison – 200 Freestyle – 1951
*Jay Muntz – 150 Individual Medley – 1955
*Stanton “Kinnie” Smith – 100 Breaststroke – 1948
*Byron Ware – 100 Breaststroke – 1958
1941 – Mallory Mitchell
1944 – Clyde Carpenter
1948 – Kinnie Smith
1950 – Pat Mattison, Vince Verde, Bob Hill, Ted Crowell
1951 – Bruno Wilinski, Pat Mattison, Bob Hill, Ted Crowell
1952 – Bruno Wilinski, Jim Canfield
1954 – Jay Muntz
1955 – Jay Muntz, Jay Sandwick
1958 – Tom Dewing, Byron Ware, Don Allen, Curt Washburn
1959 – Charles Ogilby, Chuck Wright, Mike Messman, Curt Washburn
1960 – Charles Ogilby, Chuck Wright, Dave Hamlin, Ernie Shafer, Chuck Schultz
1961 – Charles Ogilby, Chuck Schultz
1962 – Chuck Schultz, Tom Henbest, Ed Mulford, Don Behr
The Warriors had some fine Boys Tennis teams as well. They won a total of 11 District Championships, coming in the following years: 1941, 1946, 1947, 1949, 1950, 1953, 1959, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1970 and 1972. In 1947, they qualified for state and finished seventh. In 1950, 10th. 1964 – sixth. 1970 – ninth.
In 1965, Dan Wikse won the IHSA Boys Tennis singles championship. He was also the Big 8 Conference Singles Champion in 1963, 1964, & 1965.
BOYS TRACK AND FIELD
In all, there were 17 IHSA District Championships won by Warrior Boys Track and Field Teams. Those years were: 1941, 1944, 1945, 1946, 1952-1958, 1960, 1963, 1966-69 and 1972. They won a Sectional Championship (under the present-day tournament format) in 1987.
The 1957 Warrior team placed sixth at state. James Davis was a member of the 1957 squad, and he took first place in the 120 Yard Hurdles at the IHSA State Tournament.
Dave Northrup won the IHSA State Championship in the 120 Yard Hurdles in 1954.
Baseball was one of the premier sports offered at Rockford West. The program was started in 1947 with John Wyeth (for whom Wyeth Stadium at Rockford Auburn is named after) as their first coach; the team had a 5-1 record. Their first District Championship came in 1949 with a 12-2 season. They would win the District Championship in the next three years with a 12-3 record in 1950, a 9-4 record in 1951, and a 10-4 record in 1952 under coach Chuck Wild. Wild would coach for another 21 years, winning back-to-back Districts in 1954 and 1955 and Regional Championships in 1959, 1961, 1965, 1966 and 1973.
In 1971, the Warriors qualified for the IHSA State Tournament and would finish the year with a record of 27-6. Leading the team was their pitcher, Dan Domski. He had a perfect 15-0 record, which was the best in the state at that time. He also had 113 innings pitched, 196 strikeouts, leading the state in both of those categories, a 0.43 ERA, two shotouts and two consectutive no-hitters (vs. Belvidere 4/12 and Rockford Jefferson 4/19). Domski was drafted by the Washington Senators (now Texas Rangers) that summer.
Their last state hardware came in 1974 with a 25-5 record under coach Ken MacKenzie.
Another great player for the West HS Warriors was Brad Kawell. Kawell received a scholarship to Northern Illinois University where he played and started all four years and was voted MVP of both the 1979 baseball team at West High and the 1982 baseball team at Northern Illinois University. Kawell also played in the Central Illinois Collegiate League earning MVP honors of that league while playing for the Twin CIty Stars.
1946-47 5 – 1 Coach John Wyeth
1947-48 6 – 5 Coach John Wyeth
1948-49 12 – 2 District Champs Coach John Wyeth
1949-50 12 – 3 District Champs Coach John Wyeth
1950-51 9 – 4 District Champs Coach John Wyeth
1951-52 10 – 4 District Champs Coach Chuck Wild
1952-53 7 – 6 Coach Chuck Wild
1953-54 13 – 4 District Champs Coach Chuck Wild
Rock Valley Conference Champs
1954-55 11 – 4 District Champs Coach Chuck Wild
1955-56 9 – 6 Rock Valley Co-Champs Coach Chuck Wild
The Warrior Wrestling program had many coaches since 1958 and the program’s success was minimal. However, in 1966, they won a District Championship with a 10-3-1 record. In 1967, they had a record of 6-6. Both teams were coached by Tom Schwalbach.
Andra Roberston placed second in the Class AA Individual State Tournament at 155 pounds.
The Girls Basketball program at West didn’t flourish they way they wanted to; they had a cumulative record of 64-150 with three winning seasons: 1978-79 (13-9), 1979-80 (12-9) and 1980-81 (11-10). These teams were coached by Mr. James Smith.
GIRLS FIELD HOCKEY
In 1975, West put together a Girls Field Hockey team and lo’ and behold, later they would figure out that there were the best team in the state. Pam Hayes’ team finished the season with a perfect 14-0 record winning the 1st EVER IHSA Girls Field Hockey State Championship defeating Deerfield by the score of 1-0. This was truely a special feat for the group of girls.
In 1979 and 1980, they would win Sectional championships under Coach Lucy Hayes.
In 1977, the Lady Warrior Golf team won a District Championship and qualified for the State Tournament.
The Girls Soccer program was only around for three seasons, cumulating a record of 10-18-4 in the process. The best of those three years was Coach Frank Bothe’s 6-4-2 team.
In 1975, the Lady Warrior Tennis team won a District Championship.
The first year of Volleyball at West was a very successfull one. In 1974, Coach Judy Wells guilded her team to a 19-3 season, winning a District, Sectional, Super-Sectional Championships and qualifying for the state tournament. They followed with a District Championship in 1980.
BOYS CROSS COUNTRY
Although there are no team records pertaining to West H.S. XC available, there was one athlete who made his mark with the program earning two medals in competetion in the State Meet:
1952-53 David Stern State 8th Place
1953-54 State 6th Place
West High School also had their fair share of Activity successes as well. West High School activity clubs were able to win two state championships in Debate in 1946-47 and 1959-60.
1946-47 – State Champions
Team members: Elizabeth Bartlett, Dolores Strong, Hunter Cutting and Alfred Makulec
1948-49 – 2nd Place
1950-51 – 3rd Place
1959-60 – State Champions
1949-50 – 4th Place
1954-55 – 3rd Place
1947-48 – 8th Place
1952-53 – 7th Place
1966-67 – 8th Place
In 1963, Doug Adams won 1st place in Extempore Speaking at the IHSA Ind. Events State Tournament. The year before, he placed fifth. Darol Blanck won 1st place in Original Comedy in 1953.
1946-47 – 4th Place
1948-49 – 5th Place
1959-60 – 4th Place
1966-67 – 10th Place
Mr. Alex Saudagras coached for 26 years at Rockford West High School winning 421 of his 435 career wins before ending his career at Poplar Grove North Boone.
Brody Westen only manned the Warrior sidelines for five years, but compiled a record of 30-11-3 from 1961-65, winning two conference titles and finishing second once. His undefeated 1964 team (9-0) outscored the opposition 219-68.
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