Cathedral High School basketball champions, 1939

The Illinois State Journal published a photo layout on the Golden Cyclones the week before the downstate Catholic tournament. Leading scorer Ed Sommers is at top left. (Courtesy State Journal-Register)

Springfield’s Cathedral Boys High School won its only Illinois Catholic Conference basketball tournament in 1939. The 16-team event was held at the Illinois State Armory Feb. 24-26.

Cathedral’s 285 students (as the name suggests, the school was open only to boys) attended class at the former Immaculate Conception School at Seventh and Monroe streets from 1930 to 1940. In 1940, Cathedral bought the old Converse School, Eighth Street and Eastman Avenue, from the Springfield public schools. Classes were held there until Cathedral’s successor, Griffin High School, opened on West Washington Street in 1959. Griffin merged with Sacred Heart Academy in 1988 to become co-ed Sacred Heart-Griffin.

Cathedral played its 1938-39 home games on several courts: the Knights of Columbus gym, Sixth and Edwards streets; at Immaculate Conception (also known as “Old St. Mary’s”); and at Lanphier High School.

Catholic and other private schools weren’t allowed to join the Illinois High School Association until 1941. While downstate Catholic schools often played public school teams, the Catholic schools also had their own league from 1928 until 1941. The Catholic Conference consisted of 26 schools located everywhere from  Rockford (St. Thomas) to Cairo (St. Joseph). Sixteen teams qualified for the state tournament. The conference used the rules established by the IHSA for all sports.

Cathedral didn’t have much success in the tournament before 1939 – Peoria Spalding (five titles) and Bloomington St. Mary/Trinity (four) were the dominant schools. But Cathedral supporters hoped for better results when Springfield was named to host the tournament in 1939.

Rev. J. T. Sees, the school’s principal and athletic director, was the tournament organizer. Individual session tickets were 50 cents at the door, 75 cents for the final night. A season ticket gave the buyer seats for all games, prices $1.50 for adults, $1 for students.

On the first day of the 1939 tournament, Cathedral led all scoring for the day by beating Bloomington Trinity 47-31. Coach Greg Sloan’s Golden Cyclones (the “Golden” was dropped some years later) were led by team captain Ed Sommers along with George Kolaz and Bob Lucasey. A crowd of more than 1,500 watched the game.

Cathedral had the highest score of the day again in the quarter-finals on Feb. 25, beating Kankakee St. Patrick 45-29.

Cathedral’s last two games were both on Sunday, Feb. 26. In the afternoon semifinals, the Golden Cyclones beat Belleville Cathedral 31-28. About 2,000 people watched the championship game, Cathedral versus Galesburg Corpus Christi, that evening.

Coach Greg Sloan and some of his players pose with their trophies. (Phil Shadid)

Sommers and Kolaz took turns leading the Cyclones in the championship. Sommers scored eight points in the first half and Kolaz tallied the same amount in the second half as Cathedral won 23-18. Sommers, whose 10 total points led Cathedral in the championship, had 48 points in the four games.

Cathedral finished with a record of 22-8.

Sommers and Lucasey of Cathedral were named to the all-tournament team, along with Jim Pogue of Galesburg Corpus Christi, Vernon Winter of Belleville Cathedral and Bill Henry of Jacksonville Routt.

As the winner of the Illinois tournament, Cathedral was invited to play in the National Catholic High School basketball tournament held annually in late March. In 1939, it took place at Loyola University in Chicago. The Chicago Catholic League champion – Chicago Leo in 1939 – also got a bid.

Cathedral opened the national tournament March 23 with a 47-35 win over previously undefeated Denver (Colo.) St. Regis. Sommers tallied 15 points in the game. The next day, the Golden Cyclones lost a heartbreaker to Leo, 33-31.

Sommers (1921-2002), described as “diminutive” by the State Journal, was team captain in both basketball and football and was first team Catholic all-state in basketball his junior and senior years. After graduating in 1939, Sommers went on to Bradley University, where he played football and baseball.

Sommers worked as a teacher and assistant coach at Cathedral and then became a teacher and coach of football, basketball and baseball at Routt Catholic High School in Jacksonville. His 1950 Routt football team was a perfect 9-0. Sommers was inducted into the Cathedral Hall of Fame in 1981 and the Springfield Sports Hall of Fame in 1994. The entire 1939 Cathedral basketball team was named to the Springfield hall in 2002.

Coach Sloan (1914-95), a native of Auburn, eventually became a coach and administrator at LaGrange Lyons and then Rich Township high schools. His LaGrange team won the 1952 1953 IHSA state championship.

1942 Cathedral basketball

In 1942, Cathedral became the first Catholic high school to advance to the “Sweet Sixteen” in the Illinois High School Association state basketball tournament. But the Cyclones fell behind in the first quarter of their first-round game on March 19 and lost to a tough team from Berwyn-Cicero Morton, 47-32.

Cathedral’s early troubles probably had something to do with the fact that their bus to Champaign broke down at Mt. Pulaski. The team had to hitch rides the rest of the way.

“A bad case of jitters at the outset gave them a handicap that simply could not be overcome,” the Illinois State Journal reported. “(A)t no time did the Springfield city champions function as fans have seen them in their march through their season’s schedule.”

The Cyclones apparently took the loss in stride. Journal sports columnist Bob Drysdale wrote March 21 that Cathedral center Howard Dillon had “the best crack of the tournament.”

Asked what happened to the team, Dillon said: “We couldn’t hold that 3-2 lead.”

Contributor: Phil Shadid,

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One Response to Cathedral High School basketball champions, 1939

  1. Terry says:

    Thanks for sharing this. My Father went to Cathedral and proudly showed me the trophy back in the day. Sadly, he later told me when the old “built in” trophy case at GHS was emptied, it seems that the championship trophy was thrown out. No one knew or asked what it was, and upon further investigation, no one could recall what was actually done with it. So sad.

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