When he reviewed the “Hoosiers” in 1987, film critic Roger Ebert said, “There is a passion to high school sports that transcends anything that comes afterwards. Nothing in pro sports equals that intensity.”
That movie was based on the Hickory Huskers, a tiny Indiana high school team that went to the “state basketball finals in the days when schools of all sizes played in the same tournament and David could slay a Goliath.”
In the story below, the Elmwood Trojans triumphed over three Goliaths in another era and in another sport. The 1900 Elmwood (Illinois) football team (pop. 1,800) must have generated that same kind of intensity when they compiled an enviable record of 14-0 against some of the largest schools in central Illinois. In this case, the Goliaths were Peoria (56,000), Galesburg (18,000) and Bloomington (23,000).
Scott Fitzgerald, the famous American novelist and short-story writer, once said, “No one is interested in last year’s football scores.”
That may be true for some people, but fans of Elmwood athletics should be different. They should want to know about Elmwood’s best football season, but no one is alive who ever saw it; only a few know anything about it. Because yearbooks did not exist in those days, we must rely on newspaper accounts for the story…for the season of 1900.
Well, who says they were any good? How many games did they win? Who were their opponents? Did they win the conference? Here are the facts. You decide whether the 1900 football season was or wasn’t Elmwood’s best.
That year EHS played twelve games, beating some familiar names like Brimfield (5-0), a school in Knoxville called St. Albans (5-0), Lewistown (18-0), and tying Princeville (0-0). But the Trojans beat some teams that would surprise fans today: Peoria High School (18-11), the Silver Streaks of Galesburg (11-0), and once again the Lions of Peoria High School, this time by the score of 20-0.
Sports writers were impressed by the Elmwood Trojans: “Goodness only knows what the Elmwood high school football team would have done to the Peoria high school team yesterday afternoon if their best man had been able to frolic on the gridiron with the rest of them…During the second half, the slaughter was something awful…They [Elmwood] went home singing their favorite war song: ‘Are we in it? We should smile, and we’ve been in it a hell of a while.’” (The Elmwood Gazette, Oct. 18, 1900, quoting from an article in the Peoria Star.)
With each victory, the team became more and more confident. “The Elmwood high school football boys have issued a challenge in the Peoria Star offering to play any high school in the state outside of Cook County,” according to the Elmwood Gazette dated Oct. 25, 1900. No one accepted the challenge! When Lewistown High School came to town in late November, the local paper remarked that the Fulton County school, “furnished amusement for the home team. Score was 18 to 0 in favor of Elmwood. Only two were hurt, and as they were among the Lewistown team, it did not count.”
Two weeks later the fans were looking forward to the last game of the season, to be played in Elmwood against Bloomington High School. According to the Peoria Star, “The Elmwood boys go into the game not over confident, but they think they stand a fair chance, although a close game is expected.”
On Thanksgiving Day, November 28, 1900, the Purple Raiders, the champions of McLean County, played in Elmwood before a crowd of over 600. The Elmwood depot must have been very busy that day with train-loads of fans arriving from Bloomington, Galesburg, Peoria, and Canton. Others came by buggy over dirt roads from Farmington and Lewistown. According to the Elmwood Messenger, “In the most exciting and electrifying game of the season, Elmwood scored one touchdown in each half, beating Bloomington 10-0.”
Was the 1900 football season the most successful ever for Elmwood High School? Let’s look at the facts. Elmwood won twelve games and lost none. They scored a total of 87 points to their opponents’ 11. Only one school was able to score against them, including the largest ones in Central Illinois. The Peoria Journal (Nov. 28, 1900) said EHS, “is generally admitted to be the strongest team in the state outside Cook county,” and the game between Elmwood and Bloomington, “will decide the championship of central and southern Illinois.”
Apparently it did.
Karl K. Taylor