Three individuals who helped Evanston Township High School build dynasties in girls and boys track top the list of 2016 inductees for the Evanston Athletic Hall of Fame.
Traciann Henry, Demeca Hill and coach Bob Trevarthen are among the inductees who will be honored at the Hall of Fame luncheon Saturday at the high school.
Also set to be honored are wrestler Bob Sheppard, football coach/athletic director John T. Riddell, swimmer Dave Pemberton, and the 1934 and 1963 football teams.
The newest inductees earned recognition from the Hall of Fame committee headed by Athletic Director Chris Livatino. The committee includes school administrators, coaches and members of the community.
DEMECA HILL, TRACK AND FIELD, CLASS OF 2006
Demeca Hill wasn’t just the most successful relay runner in the history of the Evanston girls track and field program.
No individual in the history of the Illinois High School Association can match Hill’s unparalleled success wearing an Orange and Blue uniform.
Hill’s Hall of Fame credentials include 7 state relay championships and 5 individual medal-winning performances at the state finals, where she played an integral role in a record four consecutive team titles earned by the Wildkits from 2003 to 2006.
Put a relay stick in her hands and it was like lighting a fire under the diminutive sprinter, who also enjoyed her share of success in individual races, too.
“She’s by far the most effective relay runner we’ve ever had,” said Evanston girls coach Fenton Gunter. “And we’ve never seen anyone in the state of Illinois run that fast, either. The races were always over by the time she passed the stick. She just loved passing people and going for the throat.
“Demeca was the glue on our relays all four years she was here, and she had a heart as big as gold. Her determination was just off the charts. Her leadership qualities were outstanding, and so was her work ethic. Even as a freshman she was put in positions (usually leading off relays) where you could not make a mistake. Every year we added more responsibility to her repertoire, and she always stepped up.”
What was the key to Hill’s relay success? Rather than letting the responsibility overwhelm her, she rose to the occasion in a sport where some runners never learn that track is also a team sport, not just an individual sport.
“Running individual races is one thing where it’s just on you whether you win or lose,” Hill pointed out. “When you’re on a relay, the other girls are depending on you to get them a good lead. That’s what made me run faster and harder.”
Hill played a major role on Evanston’s state title team in 2003, where as a freshman she was a part of units that claimed state crowns in the 400-meter relay, the 800-meter medley relay and the 800-meter relay. The 800 foursome set a state record that year, becoming the first Illinois team to break the 1:38 barrier with a winning time of 1:37.97.
“It was different when I was a freshman, running with all of those older girls who’d had so much success,” Hill remembered. “But the harder we worked, the more I realized what all of their strengths were. I think I fit in right away and the older girls really showed me the ropes
“Winning the 800 relay and setting that record was the most rewarding experience of my life. I didn’t realize until then just how serious running at State was, and my heart dropped when I heard how fast we ran. It was really, really cool.
“By the time I was a sophomore it was crystal clear to me what I needed to work on. I developed a lot of confidence as the years went on, and I challenged myself and worked really hard. I’m thankful and grateful that my talent got me so much recognition. It all showed me that if you work hard enough at something, you’ll get back what you put into it.”
As a sophomore, Hill blazed her way to a 4th place State finish in the open 100-meter dash while also earning medals in the 400 relay (1st), 800 relay (1st) and 1600 relay (4th). She contributed 3rd place performances in the 100 and 200, led the 800 relay to a runnerup finish and also ran with the 5th place 400 relay as a junior as Evanston ruled the team standings for the third year in a row.
As a senior, Hill handed teammate (and eventual state champion) Shalina Clarke her only loss of the season at the sectional meet before the pair switched places at State and placed 1-2 in both the 100 and 200. Hill’s near-perfect day in her final appearance at State also included victories in the 400 and 800 relays.
“I still love Evanston so much. It’s a very special place to me,” Hill added. “I had the best teachers and the best teammates there.”
TRACIANN HENRY, TRACK AND FIELD, CLASS OF 2004
The competitive fires always burned brightly for Traciann Henry during the four years she was part of Evanston’s girls track dynasty.
So the last thing Henry wants to be remembered for is all of those second place finishes at the Illinois High School Association state track and field finals.
The Evanston flash had the bad luck to match up against one of the state’s all-time great sprinters — Alexandria Anderson of Chicago Morgan Park — the last three years she competed for ETHS and always came out second best in head-to-head state final matchups in the 100-meter and 200-meter dashes at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston.
But Henry’s efforts gave Evanston the last laugh in the team standings, with team titles in 2003 and 2004 that ended the Chicago school’s state supremacy and made Evanston the track capital of the state of Illinois.
Henry hauled home a total of 14 state medals during her four-year run at ETHS, including gold medals in four relays. She was part of the 2003 800 relay team that established a state record of 1 minute, 37.97 seconds in that event.
“Of course it was very frustrating for me. It was always a challenge running against her, and I always embraced it, and it was almost like just one more step and I could’ve got her,” Henry recalled. “But being able to drop my time every year down there was satisfying and so was being able to give so much to my team. I didn’t get the individual awards I wanted — but for me, it balanced out. Every year I got better, so you can look at the glass as half empty or half full. I look at it as half full.”
“The way I look at it is that Traci was the only one who was ever even on Anderson’s shoulder,” pointed out Evanston coach Fenton Gunter. “I think they brought out the best in each other. Athletes are always trying to be the best at what they do and Traci definitely wasn’t running for 2nd place. Finishing second should never diminish all that she accomplished. She never conceded anything and always gave a great effort.”
Henry burst onto the scene as a freshman in a program where first-year runners are usually eased into the higher level of competition and don’t get to run individual races in the postseason for Gunter. Henry was the exception, with fourth place State finishes in the 100 and 200, plus a leg on the second place 400 relay team.
“Without a doubt Traci was very mature for her age, and she was also very competitive,” Gunter said. “She didn’t even run for us in the summer before she got to high school, so she didn’t have the experience and training coming in. When you look at what she did with her lack of experience, she’s definitely at the top of the class. As she got more experience, she got better and she actually bumped a couple of upperclassmen out of the lineup.
“Traci really had some outstanding efforts for us over those four years. I’ve never seen anyone run the backstretch like she did on the No. 2 leg in the relays.”
“I started practicing a month early as a freshman, to see where I stood. I knew that a lot of freshmen didn’t get the opportunity to run in individual events much, and I never thought I’d get to the point I got to that year,” Henry said. “But Fenny allowed me to run in those events because I was consistent. I loved the team and I loved the coach, and track really clicked for me.”
As a sophomore, Henry ran 2nd to Anderson in both the 100 and 200 and ran on the runnerup 400 relay team. As a junior, she again placed 2nd in the 100 and 200, but pushed the Wildkits to the top of the team standings over Morgan Park with victories in both the 400 and 800 relay races.
She completed her Hall of Fame career as a senior with a second in the 100, a fourth in the 200 and repeat wins in both relays.
The soft-spoken sprinter didn’t spend her career collecting runnerup finishes, however. She won a lot more races than she lost, including a total of 8 first place individual finishes in Central Suburban League competition and 9 sectional titles. She won the 100, 200 and 400 at the Palatine Sectional in 2002.
Henry earned a track scholarship to the University of Florida and competed there for two years before a serious hamstring injury sent her to the sidelines for good.
“Coach Gunter saw something in me that I never saw,” Henry said. “Most of my success is due to my teammates and to my coach. They never let me slack off and they were always pushing me. I needed that.”
DAVE PEMBERTON, SWIMMING, CLASS OF 1954
When Dave Pemberton first joined the Evanston swim program, the biggest challenge was just making it to practice every day.
The team’s practices were held at the Evanston YMCA and every day he had to walk the 10 blocks in the middle of winter to make it there for the start of practice at 3 p.m., or risk the wrath of legendary coach Dobbie Burton if he was late.
Meeting challenges turned out to be no problem for Pemberton, who went on to capture both an Illinois High School Association state title and an NCAA crown in the backstroke.
Pemberton was somewhat of a late bloomer. He didn’t learn to swim until he was 11 years old, having moved to Evanston from Southern Illinois when he was in 5th grade. But he took to the sport like a duck to water, and wound up specializing in the backstroke as part of the dynastic lineup that Burton built at ETHS during the 1950s.
“I played football and basketball at the Y Club, but I didn’t see basketball being my sport in high school,” Pemberton said. “So I became a swimmer with some of my buddies. I really took to it, and Dobbie thought I’d be best at the backstroke. For whatever reason I felt more comfortable on my back.
“I had a fun time when I started swimming. I did pretty well as a sophomore — even though I didn’t make the varsity — and from my sophomore year to my junior year I had a little bit of (physical) growth, so that helped.”
What also helped was Burton’s penchant for finding jobs for his aspiring swimmers at area pools during the summer. Pemberton found a job at Sunset Ridge Country Club and other Wildkit hopefuls worked at Exmoor, Twin Orchard and Evanston Country Club as lifeguards.
“I spent 14 hours a day around the pool and I got a lot of swimming in,” Pemberton said. “I dropped 8 or 9 seconds in the 100 and also took a couple of seconds off my time in the 50, and part of the reason I improved so much was that swimming became a year-round sport for me. It was more about mileage than it was about technique with Dobbie. He tried to run a practice with 40 or 50 guys with no assistant coaches, so there wasn’t much time to work on the finer things. But Dobbie was such a great mentor and we all worked really, really hard.”
As a junior, Pemberton was part of an Evanston team that topped New Trier in a dual meet for the first loss suffered by the Trevians in their home pool over a 17-year stretch. He tied the existing Suburban League record in the 100-yard backstroke with a time of 1:03, and at the state finals that year he was edged out by New Trier’s Dan Dowd for the state title. He also swam on the 150-yard state medley relay team that placed 2nd that year.
The next year, no one could catch him. Early in the season he combined with Mike Farmer and ETHS Hall of Famer Dick Hanley for a national record (2 minutes, 56.7 seconds) in the 300-yard medley relay. Then at the Suburban League meet in Waukegan, he teamed up with Farmer and Tom Alderson to lower their own league mark in the 150 medley to 1:20.9, almost 2 full seconds faster than the previous mark. He also ruled the 100 backstroke field in 1:03, tying his own meet mark.
At the state finals, Pemberton’s blistering backstroke leg to open the race in the 150 medley set the tone and Farmer (butterfly) and Dick Nelson (freestyle) finished up in a record 1:20.2 to earn the stat championship and also establish a new state record.
Pemberton then brought home an individual gold, taking top honors in the 100 backstroke in 1:01.1 and edging teammate Skip McCallum for the title. “I had good competition all year with Skip,” Pemberton remembered. “He was about 6 inches shorter than I was, and at State I only beat him by about half a body length. It felt awful good to take that gold medal home. Swimming at Evanston was a learning process, and I really learned a lot.”
With Burton’s help, Pemberton earned admission to Northwestern University and reached All-American status for the Wildcats three straight years. He was NCAA runnerup in the 100 backstroke in 1957 and 1958, placed 2nd in the 200 backstroke in 1957, and captured the NCAA title in the 200 backstroke in 1958. Pemberton was selected to the Northwestern Hall of Fame in 2009.
“It’s a wonderful honor for me to make it to the Evanston Hall of Fame and I’m very, very pleased,” Pemberton said. “I owe an awful lot to Evanston High School. I learned that I had to concentrate on some things beyond swimming to succeed, and the teachers there taught me a lot about motivation.”
BOB SHEPPARD, WRESTLING, CLASS OF 1959
Illinois High School Association state wrestling history includes many grapplers who have won multiple state championships, some of them in different weight classes.
But Evanston’s Bob Sheppard pulled off a feat that no one in the history of the Wildkit program has come close to matching.
Sheppard, one of only two 3-time state qualifiers in Wildkit history, earned top 4 state finishes in 3 different weight classes, culminating in the state championship as a senior in 1959. He’s one of 11 individuals to capture state championships for ETHS.
As a sophomore, Sheppard competed at 126 pounds. He placed 2nd at the state finals, losing a 5-4 decision to Suburban League rival Robert Evans of Waukegan after scoring consecutive victories over Bill Hanson of Pekin (2-0), Jack Werner of York (5-2) and Fitcher Weathington of Blue Island (2-1).
Sheppard, as most high school wrestlers do at that stage in their careers, moved up a weight class to 133 pounds for the 1958 season. He won his second straight sectional crown, then placed 4th after dropping a second round State match to Patrick Cline of Granite City by a 4-3 margin. Sheppard bounced back from that loss with back-to-back triumphs over Ed Schumacher of Arlington (8-4), Bill Hanson of Pekin (6-0) and Don Schultz of Reavis (7-5 in overtime).
As a senior, Sheppard earned another Downstate trip by pinning Henry Gaston of Waukegan in the 138-pound finals at the sectional. At the state finals — held then at Arlington High School — Sheppard saved his best for last.
In a dominating performance, he routed Wayne Miller of Thornton 9-2; pinned Ross Phifer of Hinsdale in 1 minute, 45 seconds; and scored shutout wins over Richard Warren of Urbana (8-0) and Erv Beckett of Oak Lawn (4-0) to ascend to the state title and finish the season with an unbeaten record.
BOB TREVARTHEN, TRACK AND FIELD COACH
Fifty years ago Evanston’s track and field program was the doormat of the old Suburban League.
But it didn’t take long for Bob Trevarthen to turn things around and make ETHS a “track school.” In his 5 years at the helm as head coach, Trevarthen led the Wildkits to 2nd place (1963), 3rd place (1964), 1st place (1965), 1st place (1966) and 2nd place (1967) at the Illinois High School Association state finals.
Simply put, he put Evanston on the state map in track, even though he had no experience coaching the sport with a background in football, basketball and wrestling.
“I had spent one year at Evanston (1956-57) with a zero contract and (Athletic Director) Leo Samuelson got me the job at Hinsdale,” Trevarthen recalled. “So I knew what Evanston was when I came back. I knew the population and I knew how great the facilities were. I was convinced we could go someplace with the program.
“That first year was awful. I had to kick half the guys off the team because they didn’t follow any rules. The kids only came to practice when they wanted to. More than anything, we had to teach them to follow the rules. We had three simple rules — keep your head up, keep your mouth shut, and do your job.”
It’s fitting that Trevarthen will join former ETHS legend Dobbie Burton in the Hall of Fame, because he learned from the master when it came to building a program.
“I’d sit in the natatorium and watch Dobbie’s practices,” Trevarthen said. “His thing was that there will always be a great athlete or two, but they won’t be great unless there are others there to push them and support them. So during the indoor season every single one of our kids competed at every single meet. They knew if they stuck it out they’d all get a chance to compete.
“After that first year we won almost every meet (including an unbeaten record in dual meets from 1962 to 1967). But I didn’t win anything — the students did. They were just terrific.”
Trevarthen’s teams had their share of superstars, but used depth to bring back all those state trophies. Roy Houston scored first place finishes in 1965 in both the 440-yard dash and the long jump, but the Wildkits also produced points in the 880 and mile relays, the high jump, the shot put and the discus.
In 1966 Houston ruled the long jump, Steve Campbell claimed the state title in the high jump and the Kits scored in seven other events in one of the most dominating performances in state history up to that point.
“It wasn’t a surprise to me that first year when we were second in the State — I thought we could be anywhere from first to fifth that year — but it sure was a surprise to the people in Evanston,” said Trevarthen. “And winning that state championship was such a wonderful experience for those kids. Considering where we came from, it was really an amazing experience.”
Trevarthen’s coaching days ended when he had the opportunity to become an assistant principal, and eventually principal, at ETHS. He left the school in 1972 to take over as principal at York High School, retired from a successful career in education in 1984, and subsequently began a second career as an attorney.
“I really appreciated the opportunity I had at Evanston,” he said. “It was an amazing ride for me, working with really amazing people. The experience I had at Evanston brought a richness to my life that has been with me ever since then.”
JOHN T. RIDDELL, FOOTBALL COACH/ATHLETIC DIRECTOR
John T. Riddell’s football resume is unmatched by anyone who ever walked the halls at Evanston Township High School. He was a pioneer at ETHS, where he coached the football team and taught mathematics from 1913 to 1927 and also served as the school’s athletic director. He is believed to be the first athletic director in school history and also coached basketball at the high school.
The birth of the football program found Riddell winning 67 percent of his games during that tenure, including unbeaten seasons in 1922 (7-0-1) and 1926 (7-0-1). He led the Wildkits to 65 wins, 32 losses and 10 ties during his tenure.
Two of Riddell’s teams, the 1916 and 1926 squads, were voted mythical state champions.
The 1916 team compiled a defensive record unsurpassed in school history. After opening the season with a 3-0 triumph over an alumni team, the Kits surrendered just one touchdown in their next nine games, including victories over Chicago Lane Tech (30-0), Chicago Phillips (12-6), LaGrange (31-0), Thornton (42-0), Chicago University High (28-0), Bloom (74-0), Oak Park (6-0) and New Trier (27-0). After being declared mythical state champs, Evanston played a special postseason contest against Chicago champion Englewood and suffered a 3-2 defeat.
In 1926, only a 7-7 tie with Chicago Senn the second week of the season marred an otherwise perfect campaign. The Wildkits whipped Chicago Bowen (19-0), Morton (13-0), Proviso (26-0), Oak Park (45-6), Deerfield (13-6), Waukegan (31-0) and New Trier (32-0).
In head-to-head competition with New Trier, Riddell’s teams established early dominance in what later blossomed into one of the state’s longest enduring rivalries. ETHS teams under Riddell posted an 11-3-1 overall record against New Trier.
Riddell was also a pioneer off the field. His work designing football equipment — starting with removable cleats for football shoes — increased overall safety in a sport that grew immensely thanks to his contributions.
Riddell’s innovative mind had to come up with a solution for the ETHS teams, which in bad weather had to have longer mud cleats installed on all of their shoes by a local cobbler. Riddell’s problem? Northwestern University used the same cobbler, so often Evanston’s shoes weren’t finished by game time.
Riddell, lacking the capital to start his own company, had the shoes manufactured by the J.P. Smith Shoe Company and he and his wife installed the posts and cleats at home. He continued to teach, coach and produce his shoes until 1927, when he was able to start his own company and left the education field in February of 1929.
Shortly after that he added baseball and track shoes to his line of equipment. Next came Riddell’s development of the first molded, seamless basketball, which was marketed until the start of World War II, when pure rubber latex became unavailable. Lack of raw materials also delayed another Riddell creation, the plastic suspension football helmet, until after his death in 1945. It replaced the leather helmet worn by pre-war gridders, which offered little protection.
Other Riddell firsts included the first chin straps in 1940; the first low-cut football shoes in 1940; and the first plastic facemask in 1940.
1934 FOOTBALL TEAM
Cecil “Pop” Vance coached Evanston’s football team to three mythical state championships in seven years after succeeding John Riddell as head of the program, and the 1934 squad might have been his best.
The Wildkits won all 8 of their games during the 1934 campaign, including a 5-0 mark against Suburban League competition, and allowed only 2 touchdowns in those 8 games. That’s one of the best defensive marks in school history.
Vance’s last team scored wins over Chicago Lindblom (19-0), Michigan City, Ind. (31-6), Deerfield (21-6), Oak Park (3-0 on a field goal by Malcolm Brown), Proviso (14-0), Waukegan (14-0), East Aurora (34-0) and finished off that championship season with a 6-0 blanking of New Trier as Oliver Babcock returned an interception 60 yards for the only score of the game.
All-State tackle Bob Voigts, a member of the ETHS Hall of Fame, went on to earn All-American honors at Northwestern University, where he also coached.
He was one of five Wildkits selected to the all-conference team along with end Brown, fullback Babcock, guard Clement Eiden and center John Jordan. Other key performers for the Kits that season were versatile Bob Daly and halfback Cornelius Champion.
1963 FOOTBALL TEAM
Chicago area football fans in the early 1960s weren’t used to watching an Evanston football team that didn’t dominate the opposition, especially after the Wildkits put together a 33-game undefeated string that was snapped in the final game of the 1962 campaign by arch-rival New Trier.
But close calls in the first month of the following season against Oak Park (14-13), Highland Park (7-6) and Proviso East (27-21) might have created some doubts that some cracks were starting to appear in the dynasty created by Hall of Fame coach Murney Lazier.
As it turned out, all the Wildkits needed to do was get back to the basics. They overpowered Niles East (42-0), Waukegan (10-0), New Trier (33-7) and Morton East (27-6) to complete a perfect 8-0 season and earn recognition as mythical state champions by the Champaign News-Gazette newspaper.
Halfbacks Ryan Strong and Mel “Rommie” Taylor finished 1-2 in the Suburban League scoring race and Taylor, tackle Bob Reeder and tackle Ray Phillips earned All-State honors. Both Phillips and junior Mike Wynn went on to play in the National Football League and 11 players on the squad were awarded college scholarships.
Joining Phillips, Reeder, Taylor and Strong on the all-Suburban League team were Ralph Gladden and Roger Ward.
“Our line was big and quick and they opened up large holes on the interior and at the perimeter for Strong and Taylor,” recalled Lazier. “But we beat our first two Suburban League opponents by only one point, and it was as if this team enjoyed creating crowd thrillers with stupid mistakes. Then, they smartened up and started rolling.”
“Murney later said that in comparison to some of the other teams he had, the league was much more competitive that year,” pointed out co-captain Taylor. “We had three tough games back to back, but Murney knew we still had a lot of potential and he just wanted us to focus on the basics. We needed to come out with more of that blue collar work ethic that he wanted, as opposed to anything fancy. He just wanted you to do your job, and once we got focused, we started performing much better.”
It may have been the team that improved the most in-season during Lazier’s illustrious tenure — but the Kits still trailed New Trier 7-6 at halftime in the showdown for North Shore bragging rights.
“I remember that at halftime Murney read a letter from Jeff Hall, who was on the ’62 team that lost to New Trier,” said Taylor. “After he read it, I got up and gave a speech, because I knew this game was one for the ages and that we had a lot riding on it. We were trying to stay undefeated and to beat New Trier was always of the utmost importance to us. I just tried to take leadership in that situation.”
The inspired Kits reeled off 27 unanswered points in the second half and assured themselves of Suburban League supremacy.
Fifty years later, players like Reeder and Tom Weingartner pointed to the life lessons they learned wearing the Orange and Blue uniform more than the outcomes of the games.
“Back in 1963 there was a separate YMCA, hospital and other areas where blacks and whites did not hang out together,” said Reeder. “This was not true on the football team. I learned that my black teammates are just the same as white or any other race. I also learned to really respect the guys on the team who didn’t play much in the games unless it was a blowout, because they went through all the doubles (practices) in the August heat, too.”
“I remain grateful to this day for the extraordinary opportunity to play with so many different kinds of people and so many great African-American players,” added Weingartner, who was an All-State selection in 1964. “That football team brought us together in a very unique fashion. Going to a big, raucous high school and representing it on teams with all kinds of guys — big and small, black and white, rich and poor, profane and holy — was an extremely important part of my ETHS education, perhaps the most important part.”
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.