Dave Nanninga freely admits he’s living in the past.
He launched the Illinois High School Glory Days website in February 2005 to pay tribute to his hometown Mineral High School, which like hundreds of other small town schools across the state, closed its doors years ago.
The website (http://illinoishsglorydays.com) has a roll call of nearly 1,200 schools and still counting as schools close. It has had more than 381,000 page views.
To kick off the prep football season, Nanninga took a trip down memory lane visiting some of the local football fields that exist only in the memory of those who played there and attended games.
He’s made stops at Annawan, Atkinson, Bradford, LaMoille, Malden, Manlius, Mineral, Ohio, Neponset, Tiskilwa, Walnut and Wyanet, just to name a few.
Each one has their share of Glory Days for Nanninga, who stops at each site to soak in the history.
“I’ve always been nostalgic,” Nanninga said. “When I look at those fields, I always think about how much that field at one time meant to that community. Football is the one sport everyone seems to gravitate to. It’s an outside sport in the fall, nice weather, people from all over the town come to it, there’s no crowding in the gym, it’s constant action, even to this day.”
Nanninga will sometimes venture to small schools like Polo and Lena-Winslow on a given Friday night to watch a game and “just reminisce and see if it holds true to those towns today.”
Most of the old gridirons he stopped at show little signs of the Glory Days gone by. The goal posts are long gone, and the fields are no longer striped.
He found two fields, however, that appear football could be played today — Manlius’ Bourquin Field, regularly used for high school practices and youth football, and LaMoille, which for more than a decade has co-oped with its neighbor to the north, Amboy, and no longer hosts games.
Nanninga was most impressed with the field at LaMoille.
“It’s in pretty pristine condition really. Looks look they could literally restripe it and play tomorrow. It’s in good shape,” he said.
He was surprised to find the old Tiskilwa building in such disarray.
Nanninga has been posting his stops on the Glory Days Facebook page, which has stirred up interest on the original website. He said he gained 80 new members from Bureau County, with a big boost from LaMoille after posting a picture of the memorial marker for LHS students Michael Swanlund and Michael Crawford, who were killed in an accident during the 1998 Homecoming week.
“I was happy (the football posts) touched a heart or two,” he said.
Nanninga, who retired from the Illinois State Police in 2012, said he receives about 10 emails a week about the Glory Days website and never lacks for new information.
“Unfortunately, every year, one or two schools get added (to the site), like Paw Paw was added last year,” he said.
In 1950, there were 15 high schools in Bureau County that played football. Now there are only four.
With Nanninga’s help, here’s a look at some of the history of the fields of yesteryear. All population figures are taken from the 2010 census.
Bradford (population 800): The town supported its own high school from the 1890s through the deactivation of the school at the end of the 2000-01 school year. The Panthers had some great football teams over the years, playing the sport from 1915 through at least 1996. The BHS football field was located on the south side of the high school building. A classic cinder 440-yard track surrounded the field.
Buda Western/Sheffield, Buda: The communities of Buda (538) and Sheffield (926) came together to form the Western School District in 1960. There had been talk of other neighboring districts joining them, but only Sheffield and Buda combined forces. Western gave way to the newly formed Bureau Valley district in 1995.
The Buda field on which the Western Rams played was first the home of the Buda Bears. Some of the better Buda Bear seasons included a 6-1 record in 1924, a 7-1-1 team that won the Little 8 Conference title in 1929, and a 7-2 team in 1957.
The Sheffield Cardinals played football east of their school building, which has since been demolished. The baseball field, which was used as part of the football field, and remnants of the short cinder track remain in Sheffield. The Cardinals played football there from 1916 through 1961.
The Western Rams competed in the Little 8, Blackhawk and Indian Valley conferences. Western co-oped football with Wyanet for the 1989 and 1990 seasons and added DePue from 1991 through 1994. Some of the better Ram teams included a 7-0-1 Little 8 Conference Championship team in 1962 as well as Indian Valley Conference championships in 1976 (8-2), 1977 (9-1) and 1979 (8-2).
Bureau Township: Old-timers will recall old Bureau Township High School located on county road 2100N about 1.5 miles east of the Wyanet-Walnut blacktop. The school existed from 1918 through 1961. The Wildcats were members of the original Little 8 Conference in Bureau County. The Wildcats played football from the 1920s until after the fall of 1954.
DePue: The Little Giants played Saturday afternoon football games for more than 50 years along Lake DePue, its field not having lights. DePue had some strong teams, later joining forces with Western and Wyanet and later with LaMoille and Ohio in a separate co-op from 1996 to 2001. DePue students no longer participate in football.
Malden (362): The Musketeers played football from the early 1920s through the fall of 1965 in the Little 8 Conference, which was 8-man football through the 1960 season before switching to 11-man. The school chose to discontinue the football program prior to the start of the 1966 season. Malden High School was deactivated in 1983 and annexed into the Princeton district. Malden continues to support a K-8 grade school.
Mineral (250): Mineral High School graduated its first class in 1894. The first football team played in the fall 1948, and its last game in 1950. It won a total of all three games, all against neighbor Annawan, its future partner.
Neponset (473): The Zephyrs played football on the athletic field just south of the high school building from the early 1920s through 1975 when they discontinued football. The Zephyrs competed in 8-man football from the 1920s through 1961 as part of the Little 8 Conference. They continued participating in 11-man football in the Little 8 until the sport was discontinued at NHS after the 1975-76 school year. Neponset closed its doors in 1999, ironically graduating one of its largest classes of seniors that year with 22 kids, to consolidate with Kewanee.
Ohio (513): Though the school is still going strong, the Bulldogs have not fielded their own football team since the early 1980s. They played from the mid-1920s through 1961 in 8-man football and 11-man football later on the athletic field south of the school, which is now used for baseball and softball. Previously partnering with Princeton, Ohio students may now participate in the football co-op with Amboy and LaMoille.
Manlius (359): Football was played at Manlius High School from about 1924 through 1994, competing in 8-man football through 1961. Manlius entered into a successful co-op with neighbor Tampico in 1988 before merging into the Bureau Valley district in 1995. The football field was named after long-time coach Ken Bourquin in 1990.
LaMoille (726): A field that Nanninga describes today as still in pristine condition, no longer hosts prep football games with LaMoille co-oping with Amboy since the early 2000s. It was last used for semipro football a few years ago, and two grade school track meets are run there each spring.
Tampico (790): The Trojans played football at Tampico through 1995 (from 1966-81 under coach Don Wallace), its final years as co-op partners with Manlius. Tampico now sends its kids to the Prophetstown district, which co-ops football with Erie. The field also hosted one of the area’s top track programs under Wallace’s tutelage.
Tiskilwa (population 829): Known as the Gem of the Valley, Tiskilwa was a proud sports town with strong teams in all sports, including football, until the summer of 1996 when the school district was dissolved and was annexed by Princeton. The Indians competed in the Little 8 Conference from the 1940s through 1976. Tiskilwa joined the newly formed Indian Valley Conference for the fall of 1976 where they remained until that conference disbanded after the 1994-95 school year. The Indians had four undefeated Little 8 Conference Champions of 1954 (9-0), 1957 (8-0), 1965 (9-0) and 1972 (7-0), and won Indian Valley Conference titles in 1978 and 1981, both years finishing 10-1 in the Elite 8. The Tiskilwa field continued to be used as the Princeton High School soccer field for many years after the merger.
Wyanet (991): The Wyanet football field was laid out just east of the school where the Eagles supported their own football program from the 1920s through 1988. Wyanet had some great teams over the years, including a 7-2 campaign in 1952 and Little 8 Conference champions in 1960 (8-0), 1966 (8-0) and 1967 (7-1). The Eagles, in their final solo season of 1988, became one of the smallest schools in IHSA history to make the playoffs. Wyanet formed a co-op with Buda Western in 1989, with DePue joining in 1991. The old high school building and gymnasium have been raised, and the field is now covered by 4-5 newly constructed single-family homes.
Walnut (1,461): The Blue Raiders played football on its field for 72 years from the 1922 through 1994. They had an incredible run of success in the IHSA playoffs in the late 1970s through the end of the program, reaching the Class 1A title game in 1982. In 1989, Walnut co-oped with LaMoille and Ohio until after the 1994-95 school year, when it closed and joined the newly formed Bureau Valley School District.
Kevin Hieronymus is the BCR Sports Editor. Contact him at email@example.com.