The 1923-24 Spalding Institute basketball team brought Peoria its first national championship as it won the National Catholic High School Tournament in Chicago.
There is no such thing, in this modern era of high school athletics, as a national champion in any sport. But for a time, Loyola University of Chicago was host to the National Catholic prep tournament in the 1920s.
Spalding's 1923-24 basketball team was coached by the late James "Sport" McGrath and had to be a prohibitive longshot going into the 32-team tournament.
The team was small and during the regular season had only an 8-6 record -but once it began play in Chicago it produced an amazing defense, even in that era of low scoring basketball.
In order, Spalding disposed of Vincennes, 15-12; Creighton Academy of Omaha, 20-17, St. Thomas of St. Paul, Minn., 17-2 (both of the enemy points came on free throws); Ft. Wayne, Ind., 14-7, and then took the championship with a 21-7 win over Marquette of Milwaukee.
Team members were Leo and Fran Duke, Rolland Barth, Tom Penn, Dick Grimm, Al Conrad, Bill Kennedy, Bob Lotze, Joe McGrath, Chuck Carroll, Vince Kaiser, John McCarthy, Tony Lawless and Bill Hughes.
The Duke brothers and Hughes are the sole survivors of the team, and all three are still Peoria residents.