Fifty year ago, a West Side basketball team from Marshall High School, called the Commandos, became the first Chicago Public School team to win the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) championship. On Thursday, March 13, team members returned to Marshall High School where it all began-just before the current Marshall team won this year’s state tournament.
Organizer Willie Box’s press release theme was “Commandos overcame all odds” and the 1958 team did just that. The recognition committee of 100 hosted the 50-year anniversary, March 13, with a parade and pep rally starting at Adams & Kedzie.
The celebration recognition was held in the school gym where the champions began and where today’s current Commando champions still play. The “Return of the Champions” theme also recognized the 1960 state champions.
Professor Conrad Worrill, Northeastern Illinois Inner Cities Studies, began the program by doing Libations (acknowledging ancestors and calling out their names). Principal of Marshall High School, Mr. Juan Gardner, said, “Welcome home, Commandos. God be to glory for the things he is doing on this block of Kedzie & Adams. There have been terrific things going on here.”
Gardner spoke about the current coach (Courtney Hargrays) who had already won a city championship and could not be present for this occasion because he was in Peoria on the brink of winning another state championship, which was accomplished on Saturday afternoon when Marshall beat rival Simeon 69-61 for the class 3A title.
Prof. Worrill gave the history of basketball in Chicago and how the early years of the 1950s and ’60s were often stressful for African-American players.
Coaches Malcolm Hemphill, Charles Bowen, Harvey Hartinstein and Will Bonner delivered remarks, along with players M.C. Thompson, George Wilson (who eventually made it to the NBA) and Bill Bonner.
Wilson touched on many areas surrounding his days as a player. No longer a resident of Chicago, he talked about his visits to old neighborhoods.
“We had a whole village to get us there-females, black, white, Jewish, the whole thing. I was talking to a couple of friends and told them, “If the UN, United States, Congress and the Senate had some of what we had back in the day, this would be a better place. It didn’t matter who spoke, it didn’t matter who rebounded-we never knew our record because we had a leader, Mr. Isadore Salatio, who made sure you didn’t think about it.”
Wilson explained how Salatio was smart enough not to let them know the real reason, while playing in Champaign, why it was taking so long to get keys for their motel rooms. “He didn’t let us know about the [racism] because we would have acted a fool and not have won anything. That is how smart he was.”
Coach and manager Charles Bowen, also reminisced about the stressful days when playing down at Champaign. Don Jackson, president of Central City Productions was a member of the 1960 team, and was present for the recognition. In a special presentation to the players, Willie Box and Betty Jordan presented school gifts.
The ceremony observed a moment of silence for those who have died. Three individual players were remembered in the souvenir book: Albert Barrelstein, Clifton Alfred Hill and Morris Kaplan, who were early trailblazers at Marshall. Marshall High School is also the place where legendary girl’s coach Dorothy Gaters holds the distinction of being the winningest coach in the state of Illinois, with 829 victories. She has also won seven state championships with her Lady Commandos.
Coach Isadore Salatio
M. C. Thompson
Gene Wilson (Harris)
Athletic Director, Nathan Levine
Manager, Charles Bowen Coach Isadore Salatio, Athletic Dir., Nathan Levine Manager, James Moses