The Chicago Tribune recently acknowledged the NCAA March Madness tournament, which started Tuesday, by releasing a list of what it called the “64 greatest Illinois high school basketball teams ever.”
No area teams were featured in the paper’s listing, but who cares when you come across this juicy historical tidbit. Apparently, the nation’s “original March Madness” is the Illinois high school basketball tournament.
The “boys tournament started in 1908 at the Oak Park YMCA,” the Tribune notes. According to a chronology of the tournament on the Illinois High School Association’s website, Lewis Omer, the athletic director at Oak Park and River Forest High School gained “IHSAA approval to organize the first state high school basketball tournament, an invitational meet held at Oak Park YMCA; Peoria (H.S.) defeats Rock Island (H.S.) in title game.”
The original Oak Park Y is today the Scoville Park Residences, a building located just north of Lake Street on Oak Park Avenue. The gym was in the lower level, below ground, and was still being used as late as the 1970s by the Emmaus Bible Institute.