Real basketball road trips started in Galesburg

Tom Wilson

During January 1922 both Knox College and Corpus Christi High School took basketball road trips that had never occurred before in the Midwest and have never occurred since.

On Jan. 13, 1922, coach Sam Barry and nine of his Knox basketball players left Galesburg on the CB&Q railroad for a three-week excursion that would include 11 games in eight states. The trip was described in the Galesburg newspapers as “The biggest undertaking ever in local sports.”  Opponents included Millikin University, Wabash, Williams College, Dartmouth, Wesleyan of Middleton, Conn., Brown University, Yale, Army, Lake Forest, Carleton, YMCA College in Chicago and even an extra game against Trinity of New York. Knox was not shy about scheduling tough competition, playing Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin and the University of Chicago before their basketball junket. For the record, the Siwash went 6-6 on the train excursion.

It is not known for sure, however, if the Galesburg downtown Catholic school might have visited with Knox to plan their own version of a “true basketball road trip.” Corpus Christi departed Galesburg on Jan. 16 for a week and a half roundball junket covering four states. Opponents included St. Bede of Peru, St. Viator of Bourbonais, St. Mary’s Prep School of Notre Dame, St. Xavier of Ohio, St. Louis University Prep School and Quincy Notre Dame. Corpus players included Freeman, O’Brien, English, Houllhan, Richards and Riley. Interesting to note that Richards had left the Galesburg High School team to play for Corpus and make the trip.

Most good things eventually end

During December 1939, Roseville High School began an Invitational holiday basketball tournament that would last until 2004. The initial affair was something new to Illinois high school basketball, called a “Blind Draw.” The inaugural teams including host Roseville, Abingdon, Farmington and Monmouth assembled at game time and drew their opening opponent out of a hat. Farmington defeated Roseville 27-21 for the first championship. Abingdon took third place by defeating Monmouth 47-37. The Roseville squad included Tabby Talkin who would later star and coach at Monmouth College. John Lewis of Abingdon would star at Knox College and have a gym named after him at Sandburg College. It is interesting to note that Roseville principal M.F. Sprunger who was instrumental in starting the annual tournament would later become executive director of the Illinois High School Association.

The Roseville classic remained a “blind draw” until 1949 and eventually included eight teams and a double elimination affair. The tourney was played in one of the oldest gyms in the state until Roseville unveiled new quarters in 1966. The annual, popular and very successful tourney ended in December 2004 as Roseville/Yorkwood defeated South Fulton 57-56 for the championship. Many fans will remember when current Monmouth/Roseville basketball coach Chuck Grant and WGIL Radio sports announcer Jim Lee played for the host Panthers in the Roseville Invitational.

Galesburg schools adopt new game

During 1940, Galesburg School Superintendent Lindsey announced the installation of a new type of basketball goal in all grade and junior high schools. The recent invention of legendary University of Kansas coach Phog Allen called “Goal High” was placed on a standard with no bankboard and shots could be taken from all sides of a circle.

Lindsey sited that it would be ideal for large gym classes as both teams would shoot at the same goal and all participants would be able to handle and shoot the ball regardless of their size. Another feature was that the goal could be placed at various heights. It was further pointed out that the new device would result in better basketball players for Silver Streak basketball coach Gerald Phillips.

Tom Wilson is a local historian. Write to him at or at The Register-Mail, 140 S. Prairie St., Galesburg, IL 61401.