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Jackie Robinson’s UCLA team played at Illinois State in 1940

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(photo/JackieRobinson.com)

Monday Marked 50 Years Since Robinson’s Death

Monday, Oct. 24 marked the 50th anniversary of the death of Jackie Robinson, who broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier in 1947. Before his decade of excellence with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Robinson was a college sports star and in one notable moment, his UCLA basketball squad played at Illinois State.

On Dec. 21, 1940, Robinson’s Bruins team lost to Illinois State 37-21 in Normal at McCormick Gym, the former home of the Redbirds. Eight decades later, hoops historians still look back on the night that the great Jackie Robinson came to the Illinois heartland.

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Though he is best known for his baseball career that changed American culture, Robinson was a four-sport letterwinner at UCLA, the only athlete in that school’s history to hold that distinction. In addition to basketball and baseball, he also participated in football and track.

Robinson excelled in many of his sports at UCLA. In football, he led the nation in punt return average in both 1939 and 1940, and averaged 12.2 yards per rushing attempt in 1939, when the Bruins finished #7 in the AP poll.  He was the NCAA champion in the long jump in 1940.

Oddly, he played only one year of baseball at UCLA and struggled, hitting just .097 in 1940. However, Robinson stole home 19 times, a sign of both his incredible talent and on-field aggressiveness.

On the hardwood, the 5’11 Robinson averaged 12.4 points per game in 1939-40 and 11.1 in 1940-41. Despite Robinson’s contributions, the Bruins struggled, going 8-17 and 6-20 in those two years, respectively. But the legend of Jackie Robinson was just beginning, and when he brought his UCLA squad to Normal that night, there was plenty of hype.

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The Illinois State – UCLA matchup featured two of the top black athletes in the nation in Robinson and the Redbirds’ John Scott. Though he was far less known, Scott had plenty of athletic credentials of his own.

Scott was a product of the hoops hotbed of Centralia and head coach Arthur Trout, who led the Orphans to 811 wins in a storied 37-year career. At Illinois State, he was a three-sport standout and collected fourteen championships in his three years as a Redbird.

The basketball program reeled off a 35-7 record in conference play with Scott, a four-time all-conference pick. The Redbirds’ basketball captain in 1940-41, Scott was also a two-time captain of the Illinois State cross country team. In addition, he was a top member of the school’s track team.

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Though Robinson had more fame, the night belonged to Scott, who scored a game-high 21 points. That was as many as the entire UCLA team managed in a 37-21 Illinois State win. Robinson was held to just two baskets, for four points.

Seven years later, Robinson played his first game for the Dodgers and, in 1949, became the first black player to win a Most Valuable Player award. A six-time All-Star, Robinson won the National League batting title in 1949, and led the league in steals twice.  He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.

After years of battling heart disease and diabetes, Robinson died of a heart attack at his Connecticut home at age 53 on Oct. 24, 1972.  Today, Robinson is remembered as an icon of American sports, overcoming rampant racism that is just now becoming fully understood.

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After ISU, Scott went on to play for the Harlem Globetrotters for two seasons. In 1972 – the year that Robinson died — he was inducted into the Illinois State Athletics Hall of Fame. Scott, who pursued a career in the medical field, is also a member of the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, another honor in a remarkable life.

Thirty years after Robinson’s night in Normal, the Illinois State men’s basketball program also made history with the hiring of Will Robinson (no relation), the first African-American head coach in NCAA Division I history, in 1970.

The appearance of Jackie Robinson at Illinois State, and his heralded matchup with John Scott, remains a seminal moment in hoops history in the state of Illinois.

Tom Emery is a freelance writer and historical researcher from Carlinville. He may be reached at 217-710-8392 or ilcivilwar@yahoo.com.

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School board deals with personnel issues during special meeting

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Stephanie Bray

Meeting in special session Monday night, members of the Community Unit School District 7 Board of Education accepted “with regrets” the resignation for purposes of retirement of Stephanie Bray, one of the district’s three technology integration specialists, effective June 4.

The board called a special session to deal with the apparently unexpected resignation before the board’s regularly scheduled monthly meeting later this month. However, board members tabled action on approving a revised job description for the Student Information System/Data Integration Specialist position, pending further discussion.

The board also tabled action on posting the newly created vacancy and tabled posting a district-level secretary’s position.

In February of 2022, the board accepted “with regrets” Bray’s announcement of her retirement “no later than the end of the 2025-26 school year.” There was no indication of why Bray moved her retirement date up by two years.

On a motion by Weye Schmidt, seconded by Amanda Ross, the board voted unanimously to accept Bray’s resignation. The action followed a 50-minute executive session to discuss personnel issues behind closed doors. The public portion of the meeting lasted less than 10 minutes.

In other action, the board voted to renew the district’s One Room contract to offer a remotely taught Spanish class to fulfill the district’s foreign language requirement for the 2024-25 school year. This will be the second year an off-site teacher will teach foreign language at GHS, using remote communication technology. Supt. Shane Owsley said the district had no applications for the vacant teaching position last year. This year, an applicant from Brazil explored the possibility of teaching in Gillespie but ultimately accepted a tutoring position at Greenville University. Owsley said hiring the applicant could have become cumbersome because she was not yet certificated to teach high school Spanish. He said he recently changed the job description from Spanish to foreign language to expand the pool of potential applicants.

In other personnel action, the board approved the maternity leave request of Amber Allan, BenGil Elementary physical education teacher, effective Aug. 28 through Jan. 20.

In separate actions, the board accepted Nathan Henrichs resignation as Gillespie High School freshman football coach, posted the position as vacant, and appointed Henrichs as a varsity assistant football coach. The board also voted unanimously to appoint Alex Jasper as an assistant freshman football coach. The board unanimously accepted Wayne Ireland’s resignation as a volunteer assistant football coach, and voted unanimously to appoint Jarrod Herron and hire Trenton Cleveland as volunteer assistant football coaches.

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The board voted unanimously to hire Michael Rodriguez as a high school volunteer assistant women’s basketball coach.

On a motion by Schmidt, seconded by Kelli Vesper, the board hired Alexis Ollis as a head cook and kitchen staff member, pending documentation of certification and a background check. The board also Brittany Hughes as a district kitchen staff worker, pending documentation of certification and background check.

On a motion by Vesper, the board voted unanimously to post a vacancy for a one-on-one paraprofessional aide.

Board members voted unanimously to accept the resignation of Jessica Kelly as a middle school assistant track and field coach and voted unanimously to hire Jay Weber as the high school head track and field coach.

The regular monthly meeting of the board is set for 6 p.m., Monday, June 24, at the district’s administrative office.

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Americana festival set for July 4 at Benld Park

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Jess Barker, The Lodge Brothers, and The New Prairie Drifters are set to take the stage at Benld City Park on Thursday, July 4 as part of the Americana Festival.

The music festival intends to celebrate the birthday and spirit of America with thriving local culture of music, food, and art. It is scheduled to begin at 12 noon and end at 6 pm.

Food will be available for purchase from The Barracks American Table, a new Gillespie restaurant, and skincare products will be available from Nature’s Bliss, a Benld gift shop.

The park is located at 305 North Main Street in Benld. Admission is free.

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Macoupin County Fair underway until Sunday

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Rides, tents, food trucks, music, animals, and plenty of other offerings fill the grounds at the Macoupin County Fair for the 172nd year. The fair is held June 4 through June 9 at the Macoupin County Fairground north of Carlinville.

The oldest county fair in Illinois, the Macoupin County Fair welcomes thousands of guests to the area and unites agriculture, family, and community. The fair continues through Sunday with highlights every evening.

The fair also meets the needs of families on a budget, for just $10 per person you get parking and all-access to the carnival rides. The cost-friendly fun draws in visitors and locals who get to embrace the county’s namesakes.

Tracy Lawrence and Walker Montgomery are set to take the stage Thursday evening, June 6, at 7:30pm. Friday evening features the tractor and truck pull, and Saturday evening is the crowd-favorite demolition derby.

The fair opens every morning at 8am and closes at 12 midnight. For a full list of schedule of events or to pre-pay for entry, visit the fair’s website here.

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