Wapella Grade School after 1923 (courtesy of David Taylor)
The History of Wapella High School
The town of Wapella (population 651) is located on U.S. Route 51 about five miles north of Clinton in northern DeWitt County. This places Wapella about 40 miles northwest of Champaign. The Illinois Central Gulf Railroad runs through the center of town.
Wapella’s roots can be traced back to 1854 when the village was founded by Illinois Central Railroad vice president David Neal, and he began to sell lots the following year. Settlers were arriving as early as 1829 due to the timber and rich soil to farm on in the northern DeWitt County community. The name of the village comes from Chief Wapella of the Musquakee tribe.
Education took root in Wapella around 1868 with the opening of a grade school and two years of high school, before students had to go to Clinton or other schools to finish their high school education. A third year was added when a new building opened in 1913 to house both the grade school and high school students, but that building proved to be too small for the growing high school enrollment.
The high school would lay the cornerstone for their own building, which was completed in 1922 right down the street from the grade school building and the downtown district. A gym was added in 1956, which was later called the “Thunderdome” because of its dome-like roof by members of the 1991-92 boys’ basketball team. The building would be the home of Wapella High School until its closure in 1994.
Wapella High School students were annexed into the Clinton School District. The school building in Wapella was demolished within days of its final graduation ceremony. It was remembered by one reader of this site that the Wapella gym was one of the most unique and interesting gyms of the area. The gym had a wooden ceiling that overlooked the court with large wooden beams supporting the structure. A stage was on the opposite side of the fan’s bleachers making for a good “old fashioned” feel.
A great website to view more informtion on Wapella is located at the following webaddress: http://wapella.com/
Wapella High School Quick Facts
Year opened: 1868 (as a two-year school)
Three-yr school opened: 1913
Four-yr school opened: 1922
Year closed: 1994
School nickname: “Wildcats”
School colors: Blue & White
School Fight Song: “Wapella High School Fight Song”
(sung to the tune “Down the Field,” courtesy of University of Tennessee)
Wapella high, let’s fight
And win this game tonight
Fight team on down the floor
Come on Wildcats roar!
Let’s give a cheer from the blue and white
We’re here to win tonight
Panthers team may fight to the end
But we will win!
Che-hee! Che-ha! Che-rah-rah-rah!
Wapella High School
Rah! Rah! Rah!
Wapella High School Gymnasium
The Thunderdome!! (courtesy of David Taylor)
Wapella High School offered many sports for the boys and “Lady Wildcats” teams. It is known boys’ and girls’ basketball, boys’ and girls’ track, volleyball, cross-country, golf, and baseball were all offered at one time. Before closing its doors, the Wildcats co-opped with Heyworth in several sports, includng football when Heyworth made the playoffs in 1993. Unfortunately, the only sport listed on the IHSA web site (www.ihsa.org) is boys’ basketball. If you have any other information regarding the athletic programs offered at Wapella HS, please send us a note.
Wapella Wildcats 1942-43
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Wapella Wildcats 1939-40
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Wapella Wildcats of 1975-76
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The Wildcats brought home three District Championship plaques, a country title, and a Regional trophy during the 90+ year run. The best seasons are listed below.
According to the 1994 Wapella HS yearbook, the Retro, the Wapella basketball program had an excellent and storied history:
The school offered boys’ basketball as early as 1922-23, playing in 16 games and averaging 23 points a game that season. At that time, a tournament was held for DeWitt County schools in which Wapella won four times between 1929-33, including a 27-24 victory over Waynesville in the 1933 title game.
In 1956-57, the Wildcats went thru the entire Kickapoo Conference circuit undefeated until losing to Danvers in the last game of the season on a long shot at the end of the game. Other schools in the Kickapoo were Armington, Beason, Downs, Deland-Weldon,Stanford, Ellsworth, Bellflower, and Heyworth.
During the 1968-69 season, Wapella was second in the Kickapoo standings, but won the conference title the next season. The Wildcats also won the Kickapoo and Lincolnland Conference titles in 1984-85, which was the last season for the Kickapoo. As a result, the “Traveling Tomahawk Trophy” was permanently retired to the Wapella trophy case.
1922-23 First season
1927-28 DeWitt County Tourney Runner-Ups coach unknown
1928-29 DeWitt County Tourney Runner-Ups coach unknown
1932-33 DeWitt County Tourney Champs coach unknown
1939-40 15 – 10 District ChampionsCoach Bob Rissor
1940-41 14 – 11 District Champions
1942-43 16 – 9 District ChampionsCoach Feldman
1950-51 15 – 10 (good record) Coach George Kidd
1968-69 19 – 6 (good record) Coach James Bryan
1969-70 21 – 7 Kickapoo Conf. ChampsCoach Jim Carrona
1970-71 19 – 8 (good record) Coach Lynn Curtis
1975-76 19 – 9 Regional Champions Coach Jerry Peroutka
1984-85 16 – 11 Lincolnland Con. Champs Coach Jerry Peroutka
Kickapoo Con. Runner-up
Note about the 1969-70 Team:
Allan Lord was the team’s leading scorer and second leading scorer in the state that year. The team was involved in one memorable game against Tri-Valley, a six overtime affair!!
Another one of the best players to grace the hardwood of Wapella is Marvin Morris. His 50 points in a November 27, 1956 game against Heyworth is a school record.
Memories of the 1975-76 Squad
From Penny Clifton-Pennell:
“The boys on the Regional Champ team of 75-76 made up ALL the boys in the class of ’76. My sister was one of the five varsity cheerleaders. The boys of the team all shaved their heads in a show of spirit and unity. Coach (as we called Coach Peroutka) was fabulous. Many long night were spent in the gym, packed from floor to top bleacher, cheering on our guys.”
Memories of the 1984-85 season:
The 84-85 basketball record was 16-11—some academic difficulties early in the season contributed to a slow start but an eight-game winning streak ended in a 66-61 defeat in the Regionals to eventual Regional Champ Leroy as Leroy went 24-28 from the foul line in that game.
The 84-85 basketball team was the Kickapoo runner-up but recaptured the Kickapoo basketball traveling Tomahawk trophy in the final year of the Kickapoo conference in the regional opener against DeLand-Weldon. The game was a squeaker (49-48) and the Wildcats pulled it out on a last second shot by all –conference player Todd Davis. Coach Peroutka’s quote from the Clinton Journal said about Davis, “Todd’s come through before in tough situations and made some winning buckets. It’s nothing new for him. It’s a nice thrill every time he does it.”
84-85 baseball record was 15-2. That baseball team won the Kickapoo outright and were co-champs of the Lincolnland with San Jose.
The 1994 Retro yearbook showed pictures of a baseball team at Wapella as early as 1961, boys’ track from 1962, and boys’ cross-country in 1980. Golf was also offered in the 1980’s. In 1971, Allan Lord qualified for the state track meet in the 180-yard low hurdles, becoming the first WHS track athlete to make it to the state meet. The Wildcat baseball team won both the Kickapoo and Lincolnland Conference titles in 1985 while having its best record (15-2).
On the girls’ side, GAA actitivies were offered for a number of years until track was started in the spring of 1974, followed by basketball in 1975-76, volleyball in 1978, and softball was started during that same period. In fact, the softball team won the Kickapoo Conference title for four consecutive years from 1979-82, along with the Lincolnland Conference title in 1982.
Kelley Fryman was the first female athlete from the school to compete at the state track meet, qualifying in the discus. Angie Olson starred for the Lady Wildcat basketball team during the early ‘80’s, setting a single-game scoring record of 43 points in 1984.
In its’ final years, Wapella formed several co-ops with its neighbor to the north, Heyworth, in several sports. The football program at Heyworth benefited from this agreement, especially in 1993 when the Hornets reached the state class 1A playoffs, winding up with a 8-3 record.
What made this so unique was that in 1992, Heyworth had to forfeit the entire season due to the lack of varsity players, but with the extra year of junior varsity play and the addition of several Wildcats, it enabled them to reach the second round in 1993. Other co-op agreements between the two schools were in baseball, softball, and track.
FAMILIAR FACULTY MEMBERS
The school was also known for its involvement in the Future Farmers of America (FFA) from the organization’s beginning. Even before then, Wapella students were offered agriculture classes as early as 1920, had a stock judging team that competed in 1922 at the University of Illinois, and in 1923, formed a forerunner to the FFA called the Vo-Ag club. This organization was formed to promote farming as a way of life.
Under faculty members such as Charlie Schettler (33 years) and Vera Fulton (22 years), the school thrived as a place that trained the citizens of tomorrow, while becoming a part of family and community life. Schettler’s FFA program had a total of four American Farmer recipients, 40 State Farmers, 4 District Star winners, 65 Sectional Foundation Award winners, 11 District & three State Foundation Award recipients, not to mention that the Wapella chapter received 14 gold, 10 silver and seven bronze awards at the state level, along with four bronze nationally. Schettler himself was named the National Vo-Ag Teacher of the Year in 1973, which earned him a trip to Switzerland paid for by CIBA-GEIGY.
Fulton spent her 22 years at Wapella as an English and History teacher, not to mention being a class sponsor and involved with the Retro and the school newspaper, the Retro Jr.Miss Fulton moved to Saunemin in 1947 to be close to family and teach in that community before retiring and passing away there.
Another faculty member worthy of mention is Maurietta Cusey, who sponsored the Future Homemakers of America (FHA) chapter at the school for 19 years. She not only taught Home Economics, but sewing, tailoring, and cooking as well. Under her leadership, Wapella was represented by 15 winners of the state Homemaker Award in a 10-year period.
The FFA had one of its own go on to become an Undersecretary of Agriculture during the mid-70s. Richard (Dick) Bell graduated from Wapella in the early ‘50’s, having served a FFA Section president and District Director of State in 1952. Bell credited Charlie Schettler as an “inspiration” and being a “great teacher with great values.” Bell was Undersecretary of Agriculture from 1973-77 during the Richard Nixon/Gerald Ford administrations.
A pair of brothers, Joseph and John Bernard Powers, also made their mark in the world. Joseph is a 1979 grad of WHS that received his bachelors’, masters’ and doctorate degrees from the University of Illinois. He is now a member of the faculty at the University of Notre Dame. Bernard was one of the founders of Fieldlink, which is now known as PayPal.
The Illinois Theatre Festival is the largest, non-competetive high school theatre festival in the world. It was organized in 1976 by teachers from the Chicago suburbs. This festival is still going strong as they perform at the University of Illinois (Champaign-Urbana) and Illinois State University every other January. Wapella High School participated in this festival from 1986 to 1988.
From Penny Clifton-Pennell:
“Kelley Fryman, the first female Wapella athlete to compete at state, had a twin sister, Kim. I was on track with both of them. Angie Olsen went on to teach PE at Clinton High School, where all Wapella students go since Wapella closed down.
“You could stand at the end of the “old” part of the high school and see all the way to the end of the “new” part. We didn’t do bad for a “small” school – we even had tennis courts!
“No other school can come close to what Wapella Jr/Sr High gave us – small and close knit, there were truly some of us who did NOT want graduation day to come. We were just like the school in the Tom Cruise film “All The Right Moves,” minus the football team (we were too small)!”
TO OUR SCHOOL
Here at the end of Main Street
In a most convenient spot
Stands our school WCHS
The school we love a lot
In spring, we were glad to leave
In the fall, glad to come back
For there was always some excitement
To brighten our usual path
We like your fun at parties
Your lively basketball
Your sportsmanship unfailing
When someone took a fall
We liked your daily lessons
Your studies weren’t bad
And so in leaving you
We feel a trifle sad
Now as we give you a fond goodbye
We have just this to say
We’ll cherish and remember you
When we are old and grey.
(taken from the 1994 Retro)
GREAT JOB WAPELLA HIGH SCHOOL ALUMNI!!!!
to Wapella resident David Taylor for his photos and information he was able to provide to this page. His copy of the school’s last yearbook was invaluable in the amount of information that we put together as well as the photos of the three basketball teams you see above.
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