- Editor’s Note: This article is part of a weekly series on Kane County’s amazing history. Today’s article was written by Mary Clark Ormond, president of the Aurora Historical Society. All images are courtesy of the Aurora Historical Society.
For well over a century, one of the brightest lights in the history of the City of Lights was high school football. The spotlight shone with perhaps the greatest heat on the East High-West High football series, begun in 1893 and embodying in a popular and (usually) safe way the powerful civic self-consciousness that separated both sides of the Fox River.
Until changes in the various athletic conferences brought at least a temporary end to the storied rivalry in 2018, the series stood at West 56, East 48 and 12 ties.
In all that time, one year stood out as spectacular in terms of the talent and accomplishments of both East and West. That was 1914. In his book Aurora’s East-West Football Rivalry, author Steve Solarz called 1914 the year that Aurora was the football capital of Illinois.
“From the earliest years of Illinois high school football, both East Aurora and West Aurora fielded formidable teams,” Solarz wrote later, going on to say that each claimed unofficial state championship titles at various times during the loosely-organized years of 1900 to 1913.
Having arrived at 1914, now, let us listen as Solarz takes up the story.
Optimism on both sides of the river was high as football practice opened in September. Coach Byron Chapell’s champion West squad, which had suffered just two losses in 35 games dating back to 1910, returned several players from the previous season, including two 1913 Peoria Star All-state honorees, big tackle Sid Bennett and halfback and team captain Elroy “Cig” Cigrand.
Meanwhile, east siders, who had endured back-to-back losing seasons for the first time in school history, were encouraged as captain Ray Schultz was joined by an untested but outstanding group of athletes thought to be the best ever assembled at East.
At the start of practice, East was led by the young Roy E. Davis, who had arrived at East a year earlier….
Week after week, autumn proceeded with romps and shutouts for both schools, and by Halloween the record book showed East at 5-0-0 and West at 4-1-0.
November brought more excitement. On Nov. 7, there was a double header on Hurd’s Island, pitting West, with one loss, against undefeated Naperville and undefeated East against undefeated Elgin.
The morning of November 7 dawned clear and cool — a perfect day for football — and as Elgin’s Maroons, the school band, and some 2,000 fans boarded 17 special rail cars bound for Aurora and a 2 p.m. kickoff with East, West was in the midst of dismantling the boys from Naperville, 126-6, in what is still the most lopsided victory in West’s history.
The island was then cleared to make room for the 5,000 fans who showed up to watch the Red and Black defeat Elgin 9-0.
With those wins, only three teams remained at the top of the standings in Illinois: East, West (whose only loss was to an out-of-state team) and Champaign.
Although there was no official state championship machinery in place, football fans were eager to finish the season in proper style and hammered out an agreement for West to play Champaign in Aurora on Nov. 14 to determine who would play East for the unofficial championship.
The weather in Aurora on November 14 was once again perfect for football, as Champaign and West met on Hurd’s Island. Although not as large as the East-Elgin game of a week earlier, a crowd of about 2,000 people, including fans and news reporters from throughout the state, saw West score two touchdowns in the game’s final two minutes to upend Champaign, 13-0, ending that school’s championship aspirations.
Meanwhile, in LaSalle County, East Aurora easily defeated Ottawa, 46-0, to set the stage for the greatest East-West game in series history, a Thanksgiving Day showdown for the championship of Illinois.
For 10 days, between the players’ triumphant return to their respective schools on Monday, November 15, and Thanksgiving morning, Aurorans were consumed with football.
A record crowd was expected, and the schools and select merchants on both sides of town began selling tickets more than a week before the game — 25 cents for students, 35 cents for fans, and 50 cents at the gate. Student tickets sold out in one day.
Throughout the week, students at both schools spontaneously broke into cheers at school assemblies and between classes. At least a dozen floats were built to transport pupils and alumni to the game. Bands from schools and churches throughout the city assembled to practice for the big game.
A camera crew prepared to film the game so that the following week it could be shown at movie houses throughout the state.
As the big day drew nearer, the weather turned cold, and six tons of straw were laid over the field at Hurd’s Island to prevent freezing. Both teams practiced until after dark each night, using cars to light the way.
Police issued special instructions intended to manage traffic on the morning of the game. Finally, when all the preparations were complete, both sides of town held pep rallies in anticipation of the big game.
Thanksgiving dawned clear and cool, perfect for football, and the crowd, which would grow to 9,000, began arriving at Hurd’s Island on foot, in horse drawn wagons, or by car at 11 a.m. for the 2 p.m. kickoff.
There were no grandstands on the island in 1914, so people stood around the field, while even more perched on top of the vehicles that surrounded the gridiron behind them. Nearly everyone in attendance displayed ribbons or arm bands or pennants of red and black or red and blue, depending on where their loyalties lay.
When finally the game began, the players had accumulated so much pent up energy, the hitting was ferocious. More than once, players had to be warned about rough play. Near the end of the first quarter, East’s Young scored the game’s first touchdown on a one-yard plunge touchdown.
Prichard then proceeded to kick goal, and the east siders led, 7-0.
From there, the game became a scoreless defensive struggle marred by broken plays and turnovers until the third quarter, when West’s Cigrand returned a partially blocked attempt at a goal from placement (a field goal today) 95 yards for a touchdown.
He followed by kicking goal, and the game was tied at seven.
East broke the tie in the fourth quarter when Prichard recovered a blocked punt and carried it in for what proved to be the game-winning touchdown. He added the goal to increase the lead to 14-7, and West never again threatened.
The boys from East Aurora were state champions!
Of the 22 players who started the game in 1914, 10 would earn All-state honors from one Illinois newspaper or another between 1913 and 1915. These included East Aurora’s Albert Pike (1914 and ’15), Ray Schultz (1914), George Stamm, (1915), Mark Mercer (1915), Frank Hanny (1915), and Elliott Risley (1915) and West’s Elroy Cigrand (1913 and ’14), Sid Bennett (1912, ’13, and ’14), Brockway (1914) and Allen Davey (1915).
Hanney and Risley went on to play at Indiana, where both had outstanding careers and served as team captains. Cigrand and Bennett played both football and basketball at Northwestern. Davey earned All-American football honors while at Wisconsin.
Hanney, Risley and Bennett all played professional football. It was this almost unbelievable collection of talent that made Aurora the high school football capitol of Illinois in 1914.
In 2019 there will be no East-West football contest, although further changes in the organization of high school football may allow for East-West games in the future.
- Steve Solarz’ book, Aurora’s East-West Football Rivalry, is available for $19.99 plus tax at the gift shop of the Aurora Historical Society, in the Pierce Art and History Center, 20 E. Downer Pl, Aurora, 60505 or online at http://www.aurorahistory.net. Shipping applies. 10% discount to AHS members.
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