“The Original” Rockford High School

Rockford Central High School

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1933 Yearbook

The History of Rockford High School


Rockford, Illinois is the second largest city in the Land of Lincoln, whose high school athletic roots are very, very rich. The following history only scratches the surface:


The origins of education in Rockford can be traced back to the founding of Rockford by Thatcher Blake and Germanicus Kent in the early 1830s. For the next twenty-five years, schools were set up on both the east and west sides of the Rock River. In 1854, these schools were placed in two districts: East No. 1 and West No. 2. Union Schools were built in 1857 on each side of the River, and in 1862 high schools were established. From 1862 until 1885 there were truely two separate schools for “East” and “West”.


In 1884, the two districts came together and thus established a single high school. Twenty graduates exited Rockford High School in 1885.


Dating back to 1885, Rockford’s athletics and extra-curriculars were at one time the best in the state. Rockford High School served this ever-growing community on South Madison street on the East side of the Rock River.


The “Annual”, entitled “The Owl” was founded in 1890 and published continually starting in 1892. Rockford High is said to be the second high school in the country to establish a yearbook. A Student Council was formed in 1921.
They were the first high school in the United States to organize a band that played at halftimes of football games!! This started in 1907 and carried on until the closing of 1940, but it’s roots still alive in the Rockford East High School band. Today, a large majority of the nation’s football games feature a halftime performance by their schools marching band.


About 100 students were enrolled in Rockford High School in 1885. That number grew to 600 in 1900. In forty years that number would nearly multiply by six.
In the late 1930’s, the school grew too large and it was best for them to build two schools (East and West) for students to attend. This became a reality in 1940, when 940 seniors graduated from the school and had a total enrollment of 3,400. Rockford West (featured on this site) served the western part of the city for 48 years, and Rockford East is still around, carrying on the roots of Rockford High School.


Another interesting note is that Rockford’s baseball diamonds were used by the Rockford Peaches girls professional baseball team starting in 1940, made famous in the movie A League of Their Own.


RHS has two buildings attached to it and an underground hallway called the “Rat Alley.” The hallway connected the first building to the second building. The basement of the haunted area used to be the shop area and housed small machines for the male students to practice machine skills. It is not clear what happened down there, but the custodians do not like to go down there at night, the lights will turn on after being turned off. Something’s crazy with the lights in the building.


Rockford is also one of only a handful of schools that are deactivated leaving an IHSA State Championship behind them. They won eight of them.


Central High School “Quick Facts”:


Year opened:                  1885
Year closed:                   1940

New school for students:  East and West high schools  
Building used for now:      Rockford Public School Dist. 205 offices

School Colors:                Red and Black
School Nickname:           the “RABS” (after the school colors “Red And Black-S

School Song:                  below

“Let us voice our loy-al-ty, in a stir-ring, ring-ing cheer.
For the team that fights so splen-did-ly.
For the colors we re-vere – Hoorah! Rah!
Go Rockford go! Right at the foe! Go, Rockford go!
Hoorah! Rah! So go Rockford go!
We’re cheering you nearing the goal line, Rockford go!
Plunging, advancing, the ball never yield
Victory we must know (Rah! Rah! Rah!)”

Rockford Central High School

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Credit: Lake County Discovery Museum/Curt Teich Postcard Archives

First Rockford H.S. Band

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Rockford H.S. State Basketball Champions

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Being one of the largest high schools in the state of Illinois, they had an abundance of athletic success. They won eight state championships, in Boys Basketball in 1911, 1919 and in 1939; becoming the first school to win three championships in Basketball. They also won four Track and Field championships: 1896, 1927, 1933 and 1935. They also won a Swimming championship in 1933.


In its earliest days, there was such a group called the Rockford High School Athletic Association. It was founded on January 22, 1892 with 37 charter members (students). Fred Rutledge (’92) was named the first President of the Association. The Association took the place of the defunct Gymnasium Association, which ran from 1886 until 1892.


Page 48 of the 1892 “Owl” describes this Athletic Association:


“The new Association does things up in a business-like style, charging admission to foot-ball games and thus getting outside teams to come to Rockford, but John Bukes gets a good share of it for the apparatus purchased of him …


One of the best ways to get the attention and interest of people to the High School, is through athletics. But the High School does not carry on Athletics at the sacrifice of the Literary Society, which is a very flourishing institution, and Friday afternoon you may hear a dignified young man speak to the delight (?) of the audience on Free Silver, Reciprocity, etc; the next day you will see him “buck” the man opposite him in the rush line like a professional.


It is more difficult in a public High School like this to awaken interest enough in Athletics to make it a school enterprise, than it is an Academy or a College, and so we think it is doing well to keep foot ball and base ball teams always in readiness to play.


Pupils of the R.H.S. have no sympathy for persons who say that running base ball nines, getting out annuals, etc., is making a high school too much of a College, for the spirit is just as beneficial to a High School as a College and spirit is what we want.”




According to the IHSA Website (www.ihsa.org), Rockford was one of the most successful teams in the state in the early years of the IHSA. In a 30-year span, from 1910 to 1940, they qualified for the state tournament 12 times! They won state championships in 1911, 1919 and 1939. In its’ history, Rockford Central compiled a win-loss record of 470 wins and 189 losses, good for a .713 winning percentage.


The first basketball team was organized in 1904 by L.G. Dake. In 1906, they were Champions of “Northern Illinois outside of Cook County” by defeating Freeport 41-34. Rockford was among the best teams in the state prior to 1910, but chose not to participate in the inaugural IHSA State Tournament in 1908. This was because they were considered “Champions of the State” already (by defeating Washington 57-21 to finish at 15-0) and did not want to defend their title in this new “tournament”. More of what can be expanded on this topic is mentioned in a chapter of the book “100 Years of March Madness” by Scott Johnson, among others.


Rockford would relent by 1910.

1910-11 — 19-1 — District and STATE CHAMPIONS    — Coach Ralph E. Vennum
                          Defeated Mount Carroll 60-15 … 45 Points – The largest championship game margin of victory in state history
1915-16 — 19-2 — Dist. Champs and State Qualifier     —  Coach Frank Winters
1917-18 — 19-2 — Dist. Champs and State Qualifier     —  Coach Winters
1918-19 — 23-1 — District and STATE CHAMPIONS    — Coach Winters
                          Defeated Springfield
1919-20 — 15-5 — Dist. Champs and State Qualifier     —  Coach Winters
1920-21 — 18-2 — Dist. Champs and State 2nd placers — Coach E.V. McDonald
1921-22 — 19-1 — Dist. and Sect. Champs and state 3rd placers — McDonald
1922-23 — 19-1 — Dist. and Sect. Champs and state 2nd placers — McDonald
1923-24 — NA   — District Champions —   NA
1926-27 — 20-3 — Dist. and Sect. Champs and Qualifier — Coach James Laude
1927-28 — NA   — District Champions — Coach Laude
1930-31 — NA   — District Champions — Coach Laude
1934-35 — 16-8 — Dist. and Sect. Champs and State Qualifier — Coach Laude
1935-36 — NA   — Regional Champions — Coach Laude
1936-37 — NA   — Regional Champions — Coach Laude
1937-38 — 25-2 — Reg. and Sect. Champs and State Qualifier — Coach Laude
1938-39 — 23-2 — Reg., Sect., and STATE CHAMPIONS — Coach Laude
                          Defeated Paris
1939-40 — NA —  Regional Champions  — Coach Laude

A December 20, 1929 game pitting Rockford and Aurora East high schools went into five overtimes, with East pulling this one out, 31-29.


Rockford played their games in the city’s Armory, where in the last game ever played there, Hebron defeated them for the Sectional Championship by the score of 36-24.


The lightweight basketball team provided to be a valuable training ground for future heavyweights at Rockford Central. Those players who were below 5’9″ won conference championships for the RABS in 1917, 1919, 1920, 1921, 1932, 1934, and 1935.




It should be noted that GIRLS BASKETBALL preceded the Boys program. The first girls basketball team was formed in 1901. In 1903, they pulled off two wins against a Polo squad that had never been beat. They would win the Championship of “Northern Illinois outside of Cook County” over Freeport 10-6.




With the founding of the R.H.S. Athletic Association in 1892, the first football team was fielded. Early rivals included Janesville, Beloit and Madison, all of Wisconsin. In all, 405 football games were played, 262 of them were victories for the RABS for a winning percentage of .646!


Beginning in 1917, the team competed in the Big 7 Conference. The 1939 team began the season at 3-0 before losing the next four games and tying Elgin High School 6-6 in the final football game ever played by Rockford High School.


The 1899 team is noted for derailing a Madison team (11-0) that had never lost to a high school in four years. In the early days of high school football, high schools could play against local organizations and higher learning institutions.


As mentioned, the halftimes of football games were provided with entertainment from the Rockford High School band, the first in the United States. Rockford also had one of the first football teams in the state of Illinois. They cheered their football classmates with excellent pride. Their records are shown below:


1891  — 2-2  —    Coach unknown

1893  — 0-3 —     Coach Harry Dickinson

1894  — 3-2  —    Coach Frank Bertoni

1895  — 5-2-1 –   Coach Joe Hunter

1896  — 1-2  —    Coach unknown
1897  — 1-3  —    Coach Robert Ruhl
1898  — 5-2  —    Coach William Lewis
1899  — 4-2-1 –   Coach Howard Felver

1900  — 3-5-1 —  Coaches Howard Felver & Oscar Ross
1901  — 4-4-1 –   Coach Mike Walker

1902  — 7-1-1 –   Coach Mike Walker

1903  — 6-1-1 –   Coach Mike Walker (mythical state champs)

1904  — 3-3-1 –   Coaches Mike Walker & L.G. Dake

1905  — 6-1-2 –   Coach Joe Hunter

1906  — 4-2-3 –   Coach Thomas Mills
1907  –10-1 —    Coach Thomas Mills

            Fell in State Championship game to Moline
1908  — 8-1 —    Coach Thomas Mills

1909  — 9-1 —    Coaches Lloyd Heth & Thomas Wooley
1910  — 9-1 —    Coach Lloyd Heth

1911  — 6-2-1 –  Coach Walker Hull
1912  — 6-1-2 –  Coach Charles Beyer

1913  — 8-2 —    Coach Charles Beyer
1914  — 5-5 —    Coach Frank Winters

1915  — 7-1-1 — Coach Frank Winters
1916  — 7-3-1 — Coach Frank Winters
1917  — 9-1  —   Coach Frank Winters
1918  — 3-0-1 –   Coach Frank Winters
1919  — 8-2  —   Coach Frank Winters (mythical state champs)
1920  — 7-0-2 — Coach E.V. McDonald
1921  — 8-1  —   Coach E.V. McDonald
1922  — 9-1 —    Coach Charles Beyer
1923  — 3-7 —    Coach Charles Beyer

1924  — 8-2 —    Coach Charles Beyer
1925  — 5-5 —    Coach Joseph Catlin

1926  — 9-1 —    Coach Clarence Muhl
1927  — 6-2-1 –   Coach Clarence Muhl

1928  — 6-3-1 –   Coach Arthur Lundahl

1929  — 2-6-2 –   Coach Arthur Lundahl

1930  — 8-1 —     Coach Arthur Lundahl

1931  — 6-4 —     Coach Arthur Lundahl

1932  — 4-3-4 –   Coach Arthur Lundahl

1933  — 7-0-2 –   Coach Arthur Lundahl
1934  — 5-1-2 –   Coach Arthur Lundahl

1935  — 6-2  —    Coach Arthur Lundahl

1936  — 1-6-1 –   Coach Arthur Lundahl

1937  — 5-2-1 –   Coach Arthur Lundahl

1938  — 6-2  —    Coach Lowell Spurgeon

1939  — 3-4-1 –   Coach Lowell Spurgeon (last season)




Rockford did pretty well in Golf, having being in a golf-oriented city. Coach Laude coached these teams:


1938 District Champions and state 3rd placers
1939 District Champions and State Qualifiers
1940 District Champions and state 6th placers


Central had two individual state champions: Chester Bland in 1934 and Alex Welsch in 1937.




Rockford Boys Swimming had started a tradition that carried onto East and West High Schools with a number of great state tournament performances.


1932 State 2nd placers          Coach Charles Beyer
1933 STATE CHAMPIONS    Coach Charles Beyer
1934 State 3rd placers          Coach Charles Beyer
1936 State 4th placers          Coach Charles Beyer
1937 State 6th placers          Coach Charles Beyer
1938 State 4th placers          Coach Charles Beyer
1939 State 3rd placers          Coach Charles Beyer
1940 State 4th placers          Coach Charles Beyer 




The Rockford Central Tennis team won a District Championship in 1939.




Some may say that Track and Field was Rockford Central’s premier sports, though they had plenty. Four of the school’s eight state championships were awarded in Track and Field. The tradition was carried over to the East and West high schools where they achieved greater success. The roots of the program go back to 1895 and won a state championship nearly 110 years ago in 1896.


1894-95 State 2nd Placers                             Coach NA
1895-96 STATE CHAMPIONS                         Coach NA
1922-23 State 3rd Placers                               Coach NA
1926-27 STATE CHAMPIONS                         Coach Charles Beyer
1929-30 State 9th Placers                               Coach Charles Beyer
1931-32 District Champions                             Coach Charles Beyer
1932-33 Dist. and STATE CHAMPIONS           Coach Charles Beyer
1933-34 Dist. Champs and State 2nd placers    Coach Charles Beyer
1934-35 Dist. and STATE CHAMPIONS           Coach Charles Beyer
1935-36 Dist. Champs and State 5th placers    Coach Charles Beyer
1936-37 District Champions                            Coach Charles Beyer
1937-38 Dist. Champs and State 4th placers    Coach Charles Beyer
1938-39 Dist. Champs and State 4th placers    Coach Charles Beyer
1939-40 District Champions (last year)             Coach Charles Beyer


The following teams/individuals were State Champions for the Track and Field team:

1934 – 880 Yard Relay team
1927 – Sam Behr – Discus
1930 – Campisi – 1-mile run
1935 – David Denny – 120-yard Hurdles
1896 – Frank Levings – Hammer Throw
1939 – Vito Lopin (of Rockford East Swimming fame) – Pole Vault
1895 – Ray Martin – 220-yard dash
1896 – Ray Martin – 220-yard dash
1933 – Robert Packard – 220-yard dash
1934 – Robert Packard – 100-yard dash
                                  220-yard dash
1935  –                        100-yard dash
                                  220-yard dash
1923  – Stocking  – 880-yard run
1896  – Webb Stevens – 1-mile bicycle race
**Yes, there were bicycle races in track and field at that time 😉



We know that Rockford Central offered Baseball, evident in the diamonds used for the Rockford Peaches. There are no records available for those teams. Linda Hess conducted research that revealed Rockford High School defeated Plano High School in a game in 1909 by a score of 3 – 1.

Great Coach


Mr. Charles Beyer was the head coach for five of Rockford Central’s eight state championship teams. He coached Football, Swimming, and Track and Field in addition to Boys’ Basketball. An elementary school as well as a stadium in Rockford have been named in his honor.


Beyer is also the first coach in Illinois high school history to win two state championships in a single school year. Read more about this accomplishment at: http://www.geocities.com/northernillinoissportsbeat/aa_summer08_news_beyer.html


Mr. Jim Laude was a superb coach in the Rockford high schools. After starting at Rockford Central, where he coached Basketball, Golf, and lightweight Football, he went to Rockford East after the split and led the golf team to five more state championships and the basketball team to a handful of state tournament appearences. He was inducted as a charter member of the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1973, along with former player William Erickson. He had a record of 457-191 in Basketball.


Famous Alumni & Notables in Rockford Central History


Tony Roskie (1924) — Roskie was a standout athlete at Rockford High School, from which he graduated in 1924. Eventually, he became a popular coach and athletic director at Woodstock High School. He was named to the Illinois High School Basketball Hall of Fame as a player in 1977 and as a coach in 1979. Roskie died in 1995 at the age of 89.


Harry (Hap) Milne (1904) — Played right guard on the 1903 mythical state football champions, later had a 35-year career as a local sportswriter with the Rockford Republic and Rockford Morning Star.


Frank Landers — Sportswriter who coined the nickname RABS


Ralph (Moon) Baker (1921) — Played on state runner-up basketball team in 1921, later was a football All-American at Northwestern (1926) and led the Wildcats to the Big 10 title that season. Also played professional basketball with the Chicago Bruins in the late 1920’s….is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame (http://www.collegefootball.org/famer_selected.php?id=20028)


Harry (Skin) England (1920) — Member of 1919 mythical state football champions, skipped college and played two seasons with the Chicago Staleys/Bears.


Rex Enright (1919) — Also played football, later starred at Notre Dame for Knute Rockne. Enright was a member of the 1919 state basketball champions, and later was football coach & athletic director at the University of South Carolina. He also spent two years with the Green Bay Packers.


Lawrence (Laurie) Wahlquist (1918) — played quarterback for the Chicago Bears over a ten-year period from 1922-31, prior to that, he was all-conference in basketball and football at the University of Illinois.


From our good friend Mark Jurenga:


John Bayard Anderson (Class of 1939)

*B.S. University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign
*J.D. University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign
*LL. M. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.

*Faculty Northeasetrn University Law School, Boston, MA (While attending Harvard.)
*Served in World War II, 1943-1945.
*Ten-term member of the U.S. House of Representatives, January 3, 1961- January 3, 1981.
*Independent candidate for United States President, 1980. 

RCHS Today

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Rockford Public Schools Dist. 205 Offices

Seeking More Information


More information is being sought about Rockford High School; use the Guest Commentary Form or the School Submission Form to sumbit. Corrections are welcome as well. If you have more Information about Rockford High School, including a photo of the school, nickname, and other great teams and high school memories you would like to share please e-mail this website at ihsgdwebsite@comcast.net.


You may also write us at:
Illinois HS Glory Days
6439 N. Neva St.
Chicago,  IL  60631

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A part of the former Central H.S. building?

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A part of the former Central H.S. building?

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The Former Rockford Central H.S. Building

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