Determined duo gets Homer High Hall of Fame off the ground

HOMER — Hall of Fames are a good thing.

They commemorate a school's or a sport's elite athletes. They keep the achievements alive decades after an inductee is deceased.

They preserve history in an explanatory form, allowing modern-day athletes and fans to comprehend and appreciate what the athletes of yesteryear accomplished.

And yet, dozens of area high schools have not yet taken the steps to recognize and immortalize the young individuals who were such a prominent part of a community's storied athletic tradition.

Hall duty

Perry Dable and Gary Cromwell did not want the feats of their alma mater's prep sports heroes to get buried in the microfilm archives at area libraries.

They took it upon themselves to create a Hall of Fame. In some aspects, their venture was easier than others.

There was no bureaucratic red tape to slow them down, no hoops to jump through to convince dubious school board members of the value of their project.

The very details that simplified the process, however, also made the undertaking more of a challenge.

Dable and Cromwell are the Hall of Fame co-chairmen for a high school that no longer exists, and hasn't for nearly a quarter of a century.

Homer's odyssey

Dable and Cromwell are graduates of Homer High School, a district located along the eastern edge of Champaign County and near the western edge of Vermilion County, 5 miles south of Ogden.

Cromwell graduated in 1977. Dable graduated in 1984. Homer's last graduating class was 1988. For more than two decades, the former Homer and ABL districts have been united in a consolidation known as Heritage.

"I enjoyed my time in high school," Dable said. "I can't think of a better four years. It was a good time growing up with all your buddies from kindergarten through 12th grade."

As Dable and Cromwell entered the growth process, they became fans of the Homer Panthers long before they ever donned an athletic uniform.

"As much as I loved to play and compete, it was just as much fun watching," Cromwell said. "The '60s and '70s were a special time for Homer sports.

"I've been attracted to keeping track of all that history. I saw a lot of good football and basketball as a kid and I thought this (Hall of Fame) was something that should be done."

First-timers

The first induction will take place the evening of May 28 in conjunction with the Homer High School Alumni Banquet. Fittingly, it will be held at what many of the graduates knew as the high school gymnasium, a building that now houses the Heritage Junior High gymnasium.

One team, one coach and three former athletes were chosen as the charter members.

Bill Edwards (1973) along with brothers Bill (1952) and Jack Lewis (1953) are entering as athletes. Coach Ray Litherland, who guided the 1940-41 boys' basketball team to a school-record 34 consecutive victories, will be enshrined along with his most successful team, which ended with a 34-1 record.

"We threw out a list of 100 names as a starting point and culled them to find the cream of the crop," Dable said. "There were more that could have gone in, but we'll add others over the next few years." Also added was former Marine Paul Lewis (1975), Dable said, in a category of "civic and community, for his service to community and country."

One of a kind

Decisions were based on the candidates' credentials while attending Homer.

"Edwards was No. 1 on my list," said Cromwell, who helped form an eight-member selection committee.

A three-sport standout, Edwards was a two-time discus state-placer when the IHSA meet was a one-class event. The 6-foot-4, 265-pound Edwards finished fourth as a sophomore and third as a junior. A pulled hamstring prevented him from qualifying for state as a senior.

His school-record toss of 181 feet, 7 inches in 1972 was the area's second-best effort at that time and currently ranks ninth on the all-time News-Gazette Honor Roll.

Edwards lettered three years each in football and basketball. He continued to excel in track after enrolling at Western Illinois University. He was the Division II national champion as a sophomore and the runner-up as both a junior and senior.

Other elite

The Lewis brothers were catalysts on the 1951-52 Homer basketball team, coached by Litherland, who was in his 12th and final season on the sidelines. The Panthers won district and regional championships, the latter in an upset of the state's fourth-ranked team, Danville.

Bill Lewis was a double-figure scorer three consecutive seasons, averaging 16.8 as a senior and breaking the single-season point record (521).

Jack Lewis was the No. 2 scorer on the '52 team and was the go-to player a year later, after his brother had graduated, scoring a record 37 points in one game and averaging 22 points per game for the season. Both Lewis' were also football and track standouts.

In 1952, Bill Lewis was the Champaign County shot put champion and Jack Lewis won the shot put at the Illini Valley Conference meet.

Litherland, a Mount Carmel native born in 1901, compiled a 234-91 basketball record at Homer, including five straight Champaign County championship trophies, starting in 1938-39. He retired following the 1945-46 school year to become principal and the only season he coached thereafter was 1951-52.

Unique problems

Dable and Cromwell will eventually face a problem organizers of other Hall of Fames will not encounter.

"Eventually, we'll run out of people (to admit)," Dable said. "At some point, we will be out of candidates."

The Hall of Famers will be remembered more than at the May 28 ceremony. A display case is being built and will be lodged inside the Homer Village Hall.

"There will be a plaque that lists the inductees and an individual picture collage," Dable said.

Perhaps before the group runs out of qualified former athletes, it will be out of space.

"We're guessing in four to five years the display case will be full," Dable said.

That gives the committee time to decide how to proceed.

"We'll cross that bridge when we get to it," Dable said.

History lessons

Cromwell said instituting a Hall of Fame wasn't an overnight decision.

"Perry and I talked about it 25 years back," he said, "along with Stan Burton. For one reason or another it didn't materialize. It should have been done long ago."

It reached a point that timing was becoming more critical.

"We said if we're going to do it we should do it or we'll be too old," Dable said.

The research was one of the most enjoyable aspects for Dable.

"I'd never heard the word kitten ball until I got into old yearbooks and newspapers," he said, "and it's neat to see what friends' dads and your relatives did that you didn't know about. A buddies' dad was a heck of a basketball player and my uncle was a good basketball player."

Kitten ball was the precursor to baseball and was a fall sport at Homer until it added six-man football for the 1949-50 school year. As a high school freshman, Bill Lewis was one of the Panthers' two kitten ball pitchers.

Follow the leader

Homer High School, which held its first graduation in 1885, may be a school of the past, but Dable and Cromwell are helping ensure that the athletic highlights don't fade into oblivion.

"Homer had no state championships, but it had some pretty good runs," Dable said, "and if there had been multiple classes, like there are today, Homer probably would have had some state titles."

Organizers expect to learn details about more candidates who should be considered.

"At the Alumni Banquet, we'll ask for input," Cromwell said. "We hope the feedback is good. Word is getting out and people are excited. We hope everyone has a positive reaction to it."

Other school Hall of Fames may be making their debuts in the foreseeable future. St. Joseph-Ogden is putting the framework in place to get one started; and at Sullivan, athletic director Charlie Brown lists starting a Hall of Fame as an item on his to-do list.

Homer highlights:
—The 1968 football team, coached by Bruce Miller, was undefeated, finishing 7-0 and winning the East Central Conference title;

—On March 6, 1930, Homer played in a district tournament game that tied the lowest score in IHSA state history for boys’ basketball, losing to Georgetown 1-0. Both 1-0 games in Illinois prep history occurred during the 1929-30 season;

—Edwards is one of the school’s two state medalists in track. Hurdler Eric Miller earned medals in 1974-75 and 1975-76. Miller’s best placing was third in the 120-yard high hurdles;

—Seven athletes received the majority of the playing time on the 34-1 basketball team from 1940-41. They were: Joe Clutter, Everett Dyson, Wilfred Hurst, Jim Morrison, John David Rosenbaum, Donald Strohl and Verne Wienke. Wienke still lives in Homer. The team scored a season-high 62 points against Pesotum and allowed a season-low 10 points twice, against Foosland and against Philo;

—With sophomore quarterback Bill Edwards in control, Homer fell behind Arcola 14-0 in the 1970 season opener but rallied to win 34-14. Edwards completed 15 of 25 passes.

Fred Kroner is The News-Gazette's prep sports coordinator. He writes a weekly high school-related column throughout the school year. He can be reached by phone at 217-351-5232, by fax at 217-373-7401 or by email at fkroner@news-gazette.com.

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