It took a community effort to build the library of films, VHS and Beta tapes, and DVDs that fill the shelves and closets of the Illinois High School Association, and that are slowly but surely being digitized for uploading to YouTube
. There, the videos can live forever, if the fates and Google allow.
But having a large collection of video sitting around the office is one thing. The project needed a spark to set it in motion, and that occurred during a fortuitous visit in March of 2014.
The subject was "March Madness" and H. V. Porter (right)
, the man who popularized the phrase with a poem he wrote in 1941. During that visit his niece, Shirley Meagher, who lives in Peoria just down the road from the current site of IHSA's March Madness, eagerly produced several items of Porter memorabilia. Early in the conversation Mrs. Meagher suggested, "You're going to want to come to the cabin," Porter's summer cottage in northern Wisconsin, because there was even more to be found there. An expedition to the cottage was arranged, and a search of the attic yielded a dozen boxes of interesting items, including several reels of film highlighting the IHSA Boys Basketball tournaments from 1932 to 1936.
These films had to be shared with the world – there was no doubt about that – but if the 1930s material was going to be posted, then what about all the video sitting around the IHSA office, slowly decaying? Thus the idea for the IHSA Archives
Credit for assembling that original collection of material goes to a number of people, many unknown. When the IHSA signed its first cable television contract in 1987, Jim Flynn, former assistant executive director, arranged for VHS copies of the broadcasts to be retained. Many years later, after the IHSA had left the cable world to develop its own network, the IHSA obtained a raft of higher quality Beta copies of the same broadcasts from Greg Bowman, an executive with Fox Sports Net (now with Comcast SportsNet Chicago
), which was about to dispose of them. In more recent years, copies of other events were occasionally submitted by fans, first on VHS and later on DVD, although sadly the donor's identity has been lost in many cases.
In preparation for the IHSA Archives
project a catalog was made of all this material. When it was complete, it was apparent that despite covering more than 1,500 events, there were two large holes in the IHSA library. The first covered football championship games from 1974 to 1986, and the second covered boys basketball games from 1972 to about 1990. The football games have remained a challenge to locate, but for basketball, there was an ace in the hole.
Shawn Powell grew up watching IHSA basketball broadcasts in the 1970’s, and fondly recalls how the Tournament Central sound-effect teletype would call him back to the TV from his impromptu games of Nerf basketball in the bedroom. A player at Piasa Southwestern in high school days, Powell was curious about the stars of the past and in 1988 began to contact coaches around the state, asking them for videotape copies of old tournament games. Using these recordings Powell developed a player rating system that was the basis of "Classical Madness," a book on the two-class basketball tournaments published by the IHSA in 1995.
Over the years, Powell and his boyhood friend Mike Garrett accumulated videotape of more than 500 games, starting with the first two-class tournaments in 1972 and ending about 2005. Powell's multifaceted career has taken him from director of the fitness program of the St. Louis Police Department, to trainer in the New York Yankees system, to scout and assistant to the general manager for the New Jersey Nets, to screenwriter, with six projects now under option agreement and development. Ever true to his Illinois basketball roots, Powell also runs the Tournament of Champions, a Thanksgiving tourney held at Washington High School. But through all the career changes, the videotapes remained in Garrett's basement, waiting for the call up to the big leagues. That call came last fall.
"I knew they would serve a purpose one day," said Powell, "and that's the reason we kept them as long as we did. People needed to see how it was back in the 70s and 80s -- how it was covered, the passion for making it a glamorous event."
With their love of the game, sharing the collection with others was an easy decision. "The IHSA tournament always had a special place in my heart," Garrett said. "All this history. It's neat that people want to reminisce about the old tournaments. Now they can just pull up the games and see for themselves."
Of the 500 or so games on Powell and Garrett's tapes, about 120 were games that were missing from the IHSA Archives collection, including 18 championship contests. The remaining recordings, duplicates of ones already in the collection, provide an important backup because, unfortunately, many of the oldest SportsVision cassettes have proven to be unplayable.
So far the IHSA Archives collection has received two other large contributions. Doug Freed taped every boys basketball tournament game from 1988 to 2006 and delivered them to the IHSA Office recently, filling more holes in the chart and providing another layer of protection against bad recordings. And in girls gymnastics, Sandy Oldham, the longtime director of the state meet, provided a variety of films and DVDs going back all the way back to 1977. The state finals were not televised for two long periods, from 1978 and 1988 and again from 2002 to 2009, so Oldham's collection provides a visual record of performances not otherwise captured on video.
There have also been many contributions of just a single item – occasionally a very important single item. Roger Lowe, former color commentator on IHSA girls basketball broadcasts, forwarded a copy of the 1962 boys basketball title game that had been missing from the Archives collection. And John Woods, athletic director at Champaign Central High School, found the highlight reel of the 1954 boys basketball tournament (pictured above)
while searching through the school's archives. That video is made public for the first time with the release of this article (below)
There are still many holes to be filled. In addition to those missing football championship games, most sports besides football and basketball were not televised during the period from 2001 to 2008, so a visual record from those state finals is missing.
The closets, attics, and basements of Illinois undoubtedly hold more memories waiting to be found.
Back in Peoria, Shirley Meagher is proud of the latest contribution her Uncle Henry has made to basketball history. "It makes me so happy that there are people to whom these old reels can bring a thrill," she said.By Scott Johnson, IHSA Assistant Executive Director