Fall is fast approaching, and that means it’s time to attend local high school football and basketball games. I played both sports and later coached basketball at St. Charles High School, so this time of year holds great memories. The history of these sports is featured in the exhibit, “Root for the Home Team! The History of High School Athletics in St. Charles County” at the Heritage Museum. It is part of a larger exhibit titled “Our Sporting Heritage,” which celebrates recreation by showcasing the history of hunting, fishing, and sports in St. Charles County.
In my May blog, I covered the history of baseball in our community as a preview to the exhibit. This month, here’s a look at football and basketball.
St. Charles College, founded in 1831 and chartered in 1837, was still a private preparatory school when military training was introduced in 1885. The school was then renamed St. Charles Military College (SCMC) and later St. Charles Military Academy (SCMA). Within the daily recreation breaks, cadets had the opportunity to participate in a variety of athletic programs, including football. The school encouraged the cadets to participate in sports in order to build a strong body and develop a strong mind. Back in the early part of the 20th century, the SCMA played an important part in the city’s sports history, with football as a major game engaging a sizable portion of the student body.
In St. Charles County in the 1920s, football was played only at St. Charles High School, which had its first game under the lights in 1931. Later in the decade a new football stadium was built with a grant from the federal government’s Works Progress Administration (WPA). The St. Charles High School football team went undefeated in the 1940 season and again in 1964 under Coach Jim Rash.
After 1967, St. Charles High School competed against the large suburban schools of St. Louis County, all of which had football programs. Francis Howell High School did not field its first varsity football team until 1968, while Duchesne did not start a football program until 1970. They both competed in the Gateway Athletic Conference (GAC), along with Wentzville and Fort Zumwalt. By 1980, the two St. Charles high schools, realizing that they had more in common with the growing districts of St. Charles County, all of which now had football, joined the GAC.1 St. Charles High School won the state championship in its class in 1982.
For younger boys in St. Charles, the Boys Club sponsored a football program for grades six through eight in the 1960s.2 Later, the Junior Football League (JFL) in St. Charles sought to provide a more competitive program than the Boys Club. The St. Peters Junior Football Association (SPJFA) began in 1973.3
When St. Louis got NFL football in 1961, many in St. Charles became St. Louis Cardinal Football fans. The Football Cardinals had their summer training camp at Lindenwood College (not Lindenwood University) between 1976 and 1981. An indoor football franchise, the Renegades of the Indoor Professional Football League, began play in 2001. Several local football players went on to play for professional teams. Mike Samples, a graduate of St. Charles High School, played in the Canadian Football league. Curtis Brown, another SCHS graduate, played football at the University of Missouri before embarking on a career in the National Football League with the Buffalo Bills. Don Ballwin, a graduate of St. Charles West High School and Purdue University, played briefly for the New York Jets, and Connor Harris, a graduate of Lindenwood University, is currently a linebacker for the team. Pierre Desir, a graduate of Francis Howell Central and Lindenwood University, plays for the Indianapolis Colts. Calvin Munson, a graduate of Francis Howell High School and San Diego State plays for the New York Giants.
While basketball was not invented until the 1890s, St. Charles High School had a women’s basketball team by 1916 that competed against other schools. With no gymnasium, boys’ basketball struggled until the new high school was completed, causing a student to explain, “The football team is the only one we have had every year, whereas others have been organized whenever there are enough candidates to make a team.”4 With the new facilities not yet completed, the St. Charles High School basketball team had to practice on a playground and, according to the 1923 yearbook, “through the courtesy of Father McNamara, we were given permission to use Borromeo Hall.”5 Basketball became a mainstay after the opening of the new school, where games were played on the auditorium stage.
Francis Howell High School played its first boys’ basketball game in November 1927.6 St. Peter’s High School organized a boys’ basketball team in 1934. They played their basketball games at the St. Peter’s Church hall or the Knights of Columbus Hall until 1937, when they began playing in the new gymnasium at St. Charles High that had been funded as a WPA Project. Francis Howell High School completed a gymnasium in 1937, by which time its sports program consisted of boys and girls basketball. Donald Muschany, coach for Francis Howell School basketball, explained, “Basketball was [our] big sport; mainly because we were too small a community to staff sports calling for multitudes of equipment, and there was also the factor called ‘money’”7 Francis Howell played other rural schools, including Wentzville and Augusta high schools, while St. Charles High competed primarily against teams from St. Louis County.
The following year, a gymnasium was built at Franklin High School, which had the most successful basketball teams during this period, winning its first state basketball championship in 1940 under first-year coach Melvin Washington. Franklin repeated as Class B champions of the Missouri Negro Interscholastic Athletic Association in 1942.8 The exceptional basketball teams at the school attracted large crowds of both races to the Franklin High School gymnasium, and won four state basketball championships in six years in the 1940s.
The Boys Club sponsored a basketball program at the Franklin School gymnasium in 1955. In 1956, St. Charles High School was desegregated with little fanfare. The basketball team won the Class L Missouri State Championship in March 1957 with a combination of white and black stars. Kenny Clark was named to the first team of the St. Louis All-District basketball team, and Frank Williams, another former Franklin player, was named to the second team.9 The thrill of winning the championship certainly made desegregation less controversial at St. Charles High School.
Rivalry between public and parochial schools was considered too strong that St. Charles High and Duchesne High never played each other in basketball before St. Charles joined the Gateway Athletic Conference in the early 1980s. A St. Charles County school would not win a Missouri State Championship again until St. Charles West won in 1995. Ryan Robertson, who played on that team, played at the University of Kansas and in the NBA for one year. In girls’ basketball, Duchesne (2003), St. Dominic (2011) and Lutheran - St. Charles (2013) won the state championship in their respective class. The St. Charles High boys team won its second state championship in 2015.
1 Banner-News, November 11, 1968. Rivalry between public and parochial schools was so strong that St. Charles High and Duchesne High never played each other in basketball.
2 Banner-News, February 16, 1950.
3 Flynn, St. Peters at its Best, 129. Tom Heintzelman was 26 years old when he broke in with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1973. After a college baseball career at Oklahoma State, Mike Henneman, born in St. Charles in 1961, broke into the big leagues in 1987 with the Detroit Tigers. Mike Samples, a graduate of St. Charles High School, played in the Canadian Football league. Curtis Brown, another SCHS graduate, played football at the University of Missouri before embarking on a career in the National Football League with the Buffalo Bills. Don Ballwin, a graduate of St. Charles West High School and Purdue University, played briefly for the New York Jets. Connie Price, also a graduate of St. Charles High School, graduated from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, and went on to throw the shot-put in the Olympic Games in Atlanta in 1996, narrowly missing the bronze medal.
5 Dolan, American Catholic Experience, 397, Cosmos-Monitor, April 27, 1949.
6 Daniel T. Brown, Small Glories, 351.
7 Daniel T. Brown, Small Glories, 414.
8 Ibid. 302, 351; Assorted yearbooks from county schools available at Kathryn Linnemann Library; Centennial of St. Peters.
9 Cosmos-Monitor, March 15, 1957. The other members of the all-state team were Lanny Larson from Webster Groves, Bob MacKinnon from St. Louis U. High, Sandy Pomerantz from University City HS, and Mike Shannon from C.B.C.