March Madness, 1908: A Tradition Begins
“Friday and Saturday, March 27 and 28, will witness an event hitherto unknown. On these dates the basket ball enthusiasts of Oak Park, Chicago, and in fact of the whole state will gather to witness the greatest basket ball tournament ever held among the high schools of Illinois. Every team of note in the state has entered this tournament bent upon carrying away with it the high school championship of Illinois.”
This is how the Oak Leaves trumpeted the coming of the first ever high school state championship tournament in 1908. In those days, before “basket ball” became a single word, the Oak Park and River Forest High School team under head coach Wilbur F. Hawthorne was one of Illinois’ basketball powerhouses, defeating its opponents by an average of 10 points.
OPRF continued its winning ways in this first-ever state tournament, which was held at Oak Park's YMCA , then located at 220 N. Oak Park Ave. The team demolished St. Charles 58-27 to reach the semi-finals. It was expected that they would cruise into the finals to face Peoria, the other powerhouse in the state. Peoria lived up to expectation, defeating Hinsdale Township 32-24 but OPRF was upset by Rock Island 36-28. Peoria went on to win the inaugural championship beating Rock Island 48-29 while OPRF settled for third place with a 41-27 victory over Hinsdale.
The week after the tournament, the Oak Leaves reported, “The basket ball games were quite the most pretentious series of athletic events ever played in Oak Park. Visitors enjoyed their stay and no complaint was made of rulings or decisions in the heat of the contests… Mr. Omer of the high school said he had never seen better games of basket ball than took place in the tournament.”
A tournament and a tradition had begun.
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