—-In 1893 Morgan Park Academy became the first high school in Illinois to have an organized boys basketball, it only slightly outdates their current gym, built in 1897. (Photo by Vincent D. Johnson)

Illinois’ First & Oldest High School Basketball Program

Started in 1873 as the Mt. Vernon Military Academy, the school would continue on from 1877 mainly as Morgan Park Military Academy until 1959, dropping the “Military” emphasis and going by the name Morgan Park Academy.

Morgan Park Academy has never been a basketball powerhouse or even made a deep run in the playoffs with a boys or girls team, however, the school does hold a very special place in Illinois and American high school basketball history. In 1893, just two years after James Naismith invented the game, Morgan Park Military Academy became the first Illinois, and possibly American high school, to have an organized basketball team. On Feb. 24, 1893 they played against a West Side YMCA team in what was the first basketball game played by a high school in the U.S.. Morgan Park won the game 11-8.

Morgan Park Academy’s Bitta Gymnaisum has been the site of some good volleyball teams over the years. (Photo by Vincent D. Johnson)

The school was at the time connected with The University of Chicago, and College Football Hall of Fame coach Amos Alonzo Stagg was instrumental in bringing basketball to the university and Morgan Park after working with Naismith and playing at Springfield College in Massachusetts on the teacher’s team. Stagg, who famously went on to coach the university’s football teams, taught at Morgan Park as well as coaching their football and basketball teams at some point. The high school team seems to have played most of its games against YMCA teams, as well as being the first team aside from inter-mural teams that the University of Chicago played against.

The first record of a game between two high school teams in Illinois was a match between Englewood & Elgin in 1900. While it’s very possible Morgan Park Military Academy managed to play at least one other high school in the 7 years leading up to that time, a record of a game hasn’t yet been found.

Built in 1897, the field house at Morgan Park Academy was designed by architect Dwight H. Perkins in the (Photo by Vincent D. Johnson)

Built in 1897, the Field House and gymnasium at Morgan Park Academy was designed by Dwight H. Perkins in the Prairie Style; an architectural style made popular by Frank Lloyd Wright. The gym is located on the ground floor of the building and has a wooden ceiling painted white with exposed metal beams supporting it, along with tension rods going from side to side. The design ends up giving the Bitta Gymnasium a cathedral like effect.

A second similar, but much smaller gym is tucked into the 2nd floor of the field house on the opposite side from the Bitta Gym.

The flag that hung in the Bitta Gymnasium at Morgan Park Academy definitely looked different when the team took to the court in 1897. (Photo by Vincent David Johnson)
Morgan Park Academy’s field house in Chicago houses two gyms, this one is a similar style, but smaller and on the second floor of the opposite side of the Bitta Gym, Feb. 15, 2022. (photo by Vincent D. Johnson)

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