Saunemin High School “Eagles”

Saunemin High School 1917-88
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Courtesy of “A Livingston County Scrapbook” from Lucile Goodrich

The History of Saunemin Township High School

Saunemin (population 456) is located in upper-eastern Illinois in east-central Livingston County. Illinois Route 116 runs directly through town and Illinois Route 47 runs through the west side of town. The Norfolk & Western Railroad cuts throught the middle of Saunemin. A branch of the Five Mile Creek flows just to the west of town. Saunemin is located about 12 miles due east of Pontiac.

An entertaining way that is told to us that the town received its name is a part of local legend. It is said an Indian tribe sent an advance guide out to scout the area that the town would later inhabit. When the guide returned and was asked what he observed, he responded “saw no men.” The tribe was then able to proceed with their travels.

In reality, as told to us by Pam Haag Geyer, Class of 1970, the town was named after a Kickapoo Indian Chief. Pam provided the following information as taken from an article titled “The History of Livingston County 1878” :

At the time of the formation of Livingston County, Saunemin, Sullivan, Pleasant Ridge and Charlotte Townships were comprised in one election precinct, and it so stood until the second year after township organization, when Pleasant Ridge and Charlotte were struck off.  When all four of these towns were embraced in one, it was called Saunemin, after the old sachem of the Kickapoo Indians.  The name was given to the precinct by Mr. Oliver, of the present township of Chatsworth, who settled there when Indians were plenty in the country, and knew the old chief well.

The first known schools in the Saunemin area were opened in 1854, one of which was in a log cabin in the rural area, and the other was opened in the village. The latter school was replaced in 1863 with a facility built with public funds.

Original Saunemin H.S. Building
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Burned Down in 1916

Saunemin began offering a secondary (post-8th grade) educational source for their children in 1893 with a two-year extension of the grade school, which held its first graduation exercises in 1895 with nine students receiving diplomas. This original Saunemin High Schol building burned down in 1916. A new building was completed in 1917, which is when Saunemin High School (4 years) was officially established for the Saunemin kids.

Nine students were honored in those first exercises in 1918 as Saunemin High School was a great success for nearly seven decades. The mid-1980 ‘s saw financial issues and a dwindling enrollment as cause for concern. It was 1987 when Saunemin High School graduated her last senior class. During this final year, Saunemin High School’s student body consisted of 63 total students. Since 1987, the high school-aged students of Saunemin have had the option of attending Pontiac High School or Dwight High School to earn their diplomas.

Saunemin High School Building
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The original Saunemin High School building no longer stands. However, the SHS gymnasium (built in 1939 by the WPA) does still exist and is currently used by the Saunemin Junior High students for athletic contests. Pam Haag Geyer, SHS Class of 1970, provided the following information regarding the Saunemin H.S. gymnasium:

“The high school was across the road from the grade school on highway 116.  The high school building is gone, and soon the old gym will be gone.  They are adding a new gym to the current grade school, and the old gym across the road from the grade school will be torn down.  That will be another sad day.  Lots of memories there.”

Saunemin Junior High is still going strong, hosting grades PK-8.

Saunemin High School Quick Facts

2-yr school opened:         1893

4-yr school opened:         1918

Year closed:                   1987

School nickname:            the “Eagles”

School colors:                 Purple & White

School Fight Song:          “Go On Saunemin”

                                             Sung to “On Wisconsin” Tune –

                                             Click Play button below left to hear tune. 


                                              “Go on Saunemin  Go on Saunemin,

                                               You are doing fine. 

                                               There is no one that can stop you

                                               When you’re once in line!

                                               U rah rah! 

                                               On to victory, on to victory

                                               Fight to win or die.

                                               Fight fellows fight fight fight

                                               For Saunemin High!  

                                               E E Eag

                                               L L Les

                                               Eagles Eagles Eagles !!” 

                                               (A second Fight Song went like this:)

                                   “Hail Hail To Saunemin High”

Hail hail to Saunemin High

                                               All hail to the purple and white. 

                                               Hail hail to Saunemin High

                                               For you we are ready to fight.  

                                               U rah rah. 


                                               Ever faithful ever true

                                               As we raise our song anew. 

                                               All the days we’ve spent with

                                               You all hail

                                               All hail to you!”

Saunemin Gymnasium
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Built in 1939 by the WPA (Works & Progress Administration)
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Saunemin High School Eagles soared to great heights in many different sports.  Boys’ sports of basketball, baseball, and track all won IHSA hardware as did the Lady Eagles in the sports of volleyball and track. It is probable that the Saunemin girls also competed in basketball however there is no mention of their accomplishments on the IHSA web site ( Research also shows that there was a football team during the 1920’s at Saunemin, according to a story written in the Bloomington Pantagraph in 1925.

The school competed in the Vermillion Valley Conference for many years along with other Glory Days site members Cornell and Reddick. As you will see there are a great many blanks that need to be filled. We are hopeful you will share this information with us if you have it.

Boys’ Basketball

The most well-documented sport on the IHSA web site, the Saunemin boys basketball program was probably the highlight of many a fall and winter night in Saunemin. The Eagles had a very rich history and tradition of competitive teams.

This tradition culminated in one of my favorite points about small town schools.  The Saunemin boys carried their loyalty and pride for the school up to the bitter end. The best season in school history was recorded in their last season as a high school. The boys of 1986-87 attained an incredible record of 25-2, winning their Regional and advancing to the Sectional, one of top 64 teams in the state!! The team was led by Coach Rick Patarozzi.

The best of the Saunemin basketball seasons listed on the IHSA web site are also listed below.

1950-51      17 – 10                                          Coach Denny Bassett

1951-52      16 – 11                                          Coach Denny Bassett

1955-56      14 – 9                                            Coach William Chance

1956-57      16 – 8                                            Coach William Chance

1965-66      19 – 6                                            Coach Russell Sullivan

1967-68      17 – 7                                            Coach Larry Ackerman

1974-75      18 – 8                                            Coach Dan Vaughn

1975-76      27 – 4                                            Coach Dan Vaughn

1977-78      17 – 9                                            Coach Dan Vaughn

1982-83      21 – 5                                            Coach Rick Patarozzi

1985-86      16 – 9                                            Coach Rick Patarozzi

1986-87      25 – 2    Regional Champions       Coach Rick Patarozzi

                              Last Season as HS                                      

Saunemin Gymnasium
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Saunemin Gym Mascot
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West Gym Wall

Girls’ Volleyball

The Saunemin Lady Eagles also won IHSA hardware and were among the State’s elite. The team of 1982-83 won the Regional title to advance to the Sectional.  The coach’s name and team record are not available. The coach of the Lady Eagle teams of 1981 and 1982 is listed as Cheryl Ballinger.

1982-83          Regional Champions

Boys’ Baseball

The Saunemin Eagles of 1982-83 followed their excellent basketball season (21-5) with the school’s only Regional Championship in baseball. The Eagles’ coach also showed his versatility. After leading the baskeball team the previous winter, Coach Rick Patarozzi led the troops to the Regional Championship in the Spring. The team’s record is not currently available.

1982-83       Regional Champions          Coach Rick Patarozzi

Girls’ Track & Field

One Lady Eagle for Saunemin High brought home a medal from the IHSA State Track Meet. She took full advantage of her opportunity. Carole Bassett won the State Discus Title in 1978, becoming Saunemin’s only State Champion!

1977-78     Carole Bassett      Discus           STATE CHAMPION !!

Boys’ Track & Field

Saunemin High School’s track & field success has a long, storied history. Boys were bringing back State Meet medals since the early 1920s. The list of medalists is extensive for the Eagles and is listed below.

1921B   ?? Mitchell              440 Yard Dash                  3rd Place   

1922B   ?? Coss                 Long Jump                       4th Place

1923B   ?? Coss                 120 Yard High Hurdles      4th Place

1924B   ?? Byrnes             1 Mile Run                        3rd Place

1929     Paul Carson          Long Jump                       4th Place

1976A   Mike Billington     Long Jump                       3rd Place   

1978A   Mike Billington     Long Jump                       4th Place

                                         Triple Jump                      5th Place

                                         120 Yard High Hurdles      5th Place

                                         330 Yard Low Hurdles      7th Place

1984A  Jeff Schade           330 Yard Low Hurdles      5th Place

                                         Long Jump                       8th Place

1985A  Jeff Schade           300 Yard Low Hurdles      2nd Place


The following football records for the Saunemin HS grid iron warriors were submitted by our own Tom Sikorski!

1951  7-1  Vermillion Valley Co-Champs         Coach Denny Bassett

1955  4-3-1                                                       Coach Bill Chance

1960  5-3  2nd place Vermillion Valley                Coach Denny Bassett

1961  6-2  2nd place Vermillion Valley                Coach Denny Bassett

1965  5-2  3rd place Vermillion Valley                 Coach Ken Tabor

1967  5-3                                                          Coach Dave Hendrix

Saunemin fielded their last football team in 1969.

Noteable Alumni / People

*Al Rich (Class of 1953) – Bloomington Pantagraph area’s second leading scorer in basketball his senior year.

*Denny Rich (Class of 1976) – Became one of Illinois’ premier fast-pitch softball pitchers playing for the Bloomington Hearts and Decatur Pride.

*Carole Bassett (Pollard) (Class of 1978) – Followed her state championship effort in the girls shotput in 1978 with a four-year varsity track career at Eastern Illinios University.

*Mike Billington (Class of 1978) – Followed up his incredible five-medal performance in high school track with a great track and baseball career at Illinois Wesleyan.

*Ron Bull (Class of 1979) –  Went on to become an ace fastball pitcher in the Bloomington area. He led Arby’s of Bloomington to a State Title in both 1992 and 1993. He also led Bloomington Builders in 1995 and The Sibley Merchants in 1997 to State titles. All four years they participated in the National Fastball Tounament.

*Jeff Schade (Class of 1985) – Followed his excellent high school career as a walk-on member of the University of Illinois Baseball Team, Jeff is currently the owner and operator of Champion Fitness with centers located throughout central Illinois.

*Vic Johns IV (Pontiac HS Class of 1988) – After completing his first three years of high school at Saunemin, Vic was one of the first seniors from Saunemin to attend and graduate from Pontiac High School. Vic also became one of the premier men’s fastpitch softball pitchers in the state, perhaps in the world. He played many years for the Decatur Pride and spent one winter playing in New Zealand. Vic and his father, Vic Johns III, own and operate a sporting goods store in Pontiac called Pontiac Sports.

*Paul Ellinger (Saunemin Class of 1976) – Professor at the University of Illinois,


*Denny Bassett – After leaving SHS as a teacher and coach (1960s), became the Mayor of Saunemin for many years.


From Tom Demopoulos (Class of 1966):

“We had a great basketball team (my senior year). I only started two games but after high school I went on to play at Winston Churchill College in Pontiac. I continued my basketball career as a starter for the 7th Infantry Division in Korea.  We were considered a semi-pro team. Others who played on that team included a guy who played at the University of South Carolina and a guy who played for the Harlem Globetrotters. After finishing my tour with the Army, I played basketball with several local teams, once scoring 77 points in one game at Pontiac. I also had the honor of scrimmaging against Doug Collins, the All-American from Illinois State University from where I graduated.  I owe a lot of my success in basketball to Coach Russell Sullivan who pushed me to do better.”

From Pam Haag Geyer (Class of 1970):

“We had lots of good times in that old school, and just knowing my parents walked those same halls as high school sweethearts was something special.  My family has been in this area since the early 1860’s.

The gym was referred to as “the pit” by the other teams, because the bleachers were about 6 feet above the gym floor.  When you were in the bleachers you were looking way down at the players.  The basketball floor’s out of bounds line was almost all the way to the bleachers, hardly room there for the bench!  The players on the bench had the ends of their shoes sticking out on the basketball floor.  That’s how tight it was. The bleachers were hard to navigate, and hard to get in and out of, but we were all used to it them.  The radiators at the very top would burn your fanny as you tried to squeeze through to your seat.  So all the windows were wide open even on the coldest night!

Man, that was the life, and I miss it.  I never had a clue back then that memories were being made.  I know now.  I guess I thought it would be there forever.”

Saunemin HS Class of 1935
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Submitted by John Keach (left click on photo for larger view)

Seeking More Information

If you have any information you would like to add about the many accomplishments of Saunemin High School (and it doesn’t just have to be about sports), please write to us. Photos of some of the better teams and individuals would be greatly appreciated. You can e-mail items to us at or you can write to us at:

Illinois HS Glory Days

6439 N. Neva St.

Chicago, Il.   60631

Saunemin Grade School
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