Crystal Lake Central celebrates ‘100 years of excellence’ Saturday

Alumni and staff credit the culture of a close-knit community to its long-term success

Crystal Lake Central celebrates 100 years on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023 with a parade, alumni performances and a homecoming football game. The school pictured from an unknown date.

Crystal Lake Central High School alumnus John Wehde, who graduated in 1973, remembers visiting the school a couple of years ago. He walked into the gymnasium where he used to play basketball and run track.

“Back then, it seemed like this huge, gigantic place,” he said. “And when I was there last, it seemed so small.”

Now, he’s looking forward to visiting the school again Saturday, along with almost 150 of his classmates to celebrate their 50th anniversary reunion.

“We all have full lives, we’re all very different, but we have this common bond,” he said.

They valued education so much that they built a high school. To me, that still happens in this great community 100 years later.”

—  Eric Ernd, Crystal Lake Central principal

Wehde’s class isn’t the only one marking a milestone. Crystal Lake Central is celebrating its 100th birthday with a parade, school tours and the homecoming football game on Saturday.

The parade will start at 10 a.m. Saturday at the school. Multiple graduating classes from different decades, including Wehde’s 1973 class, will participate in the parade.

“Just seeing all these old faces again – when you see each other, it’s like you’re shot back 50 years,” he said.

Crystal Lake Central’s “100 years of excellence” events will also include an alumni band performance. Class of 2004 alumna Ariana Bello said she’s looking forward to playing the school song in front of Tiger fans again.

Bello, who plays the clarinet, will be performing alongside about 60 other alumni from classes going back as far as 50 years.

Crystal Lake Central came into existence after the community passed a $195,000 bond sale in 1922. The first graduating class consisted of 40 students in 1925. More than 1,400 students are enrolled today.

Principal Eric Ernd noted that the school was built during the Great Depression.

“They valued education so much that they built a high school,” he said. “To me, that still happens in this great community 100 years later.”

To celebrate the centennial, school staff wanted to put together an entire collection of graduating class photos. The school was missing 22 years of graduating classes, Ernd said. Through some digging and help from old yearbooks, the staff was able to gather and restore photos to complete the collection.

“We’ll have all 100 years of graduating classes up on the walls,” Ernd said.

Looking ahead, the school is currently conducting a new five-year strategic plan that will involve students, staff, community members and administrators. The school expects the plan to be finalized in the spring, Podzimek said.

Principal Eric Ernd is only the 13th principal in Crystal Lake Central’s history, and four of his children graduated from the school. He said the school’s culture is to value relationships, community and education, which he calls “tiger pride.”

Ernd said when he visits classrooms he often asks students if their parents or grandparents graduated from the school.

“Every time there’s a minimum of three to four students that raise their hands,” he said. “I think that’s special.”