The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.
-by Mitch Worley Special for The Quill
There is a strong bond that the former high school districts of La Harpe, Carthage, and Dallas City have in common, which is they were highly regarded for their athletic prowess.
I would be remised to not mention first the decade long "Clash of the Titans" played out on the gridiron between the Thunder and Blueboys which dazzled not only the communities of La Harpe and Carthage, but the surrounding area. These games left all who attended those monumental slugfests with lifelong memories, as well as stories to tell future generations that would eventually aspire to attain the same glory the heroes portrayed in these epic battles did.
Carthage most impressively amassed four IHSA State Championships (three of which were perfect 14-0 seasons), five Second Place trophies, maintained a string of 16 straight IHSA Playoff appearances (1991-2006), and at one time won 31 straight games, which coincidentally was halted by the Northwestern/La Harpe Thunder in September of 2000.
La Harpe's football success is rather impressive in its own right as it was known not only as the Eagles, but the Thunder and Cyclones as well. Coach Tim Lafferty led two different Thunder teams to State Championships in 1996 and the year 2000, coming up just short in 1996 to Chenoa 35-28, and oddly enough to Carthage 14-0 in 2000. Another remarkable feat was that Coach Lafferty led his team to qualify for the State Playoffs ten straight seasons (1995-2005), being a 3A qualifier in 2003.
Additionally, each school was also highly touted at one time or another for something else besides football. The girl's basketball program at Carthage has been a force to be reckoned with since their inception. Amazingly enough, the Bluegirls not only won two IHSA State Titles back-to-back (1991-1992 and 1992-1993), but also had four seasons of 30 or more wins in a season, and in the 33 year history of their program never had a losing season.
Basketball success was also great with Dallas City High School. Their boys basketball program was a juggernaut for decades as they won nine Hancock County Championships and twelve Regional Championships. Although the Bulldogs had great success in Regional play, they are most notably remembered for their loss in the Regional tournament to Carthage in 1994. It was an EIGHT overtime affair, ending in their exit from the tournament while still posting a ridiculous score of 103 points.
Although I could continue to wax poetic of the individual greatness each sports program has had from the respective communities that now make up Illini West High School, it must end somewhere.
Baseball has yet to be covered and the man that will be at the helm of Illini West's baseball squad this Spring has had stunning success year in and year out as head coach of the Eagles, Thunder, and Cyclones.
Baseball wasn't a standout part of LHS athletics until Todd Porter took the reigns in the early 90s. Since then, he's quietly dominated the high school baseball circuit with his teams compiling a 223-98 record, winning four Regional titles, and won the Bi-County and West Central Conference five of the six years his teams were a part of it.
More individual accolades followed Porter as he was twice named the Burlington Hawkeye Coach of the Year (2002 and 2005), and as the junior high coach even lead the La Harpe Junior High Eagles to an IESA State Championship in 2005.
The former high school districts of La Harpe, Carthage, and Dallas City have left us with a never ending amount of amazing moments in high school sports that will always have people throughout Hancock County and beyond reliving the glory days the three schools that now make up Illini West once had.
While it is important to forever remember the accomplishments of those that have come and passed in high school sports lore, we should look forward to the future memories and success upcoming Illini West athletes will bring us as they begin a new chapter of the already stellar history that has been laid out before them.