Indiana big school football champions

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Indiana High School football team, circa 1921

Better known for its high school basketball, Indiana high school football has also been a staple of Hoosier weekends for more than 100 years. In 1930, more than 30,000 people jammed Notre Dame Stadium to watch Mishawaka beat undefeated South Bend Central, 6-0. At the time, it was one of the largest crowds ever to witness a high school football game in America. Indiana High School football is still immensely popular, with tens of thousands now packing Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis to watch six state championship games over two days in November. The following is a history of Indiana's big school state football championship.

1920-1936: The North and Mythical State Champions[edit]

From the late 1800s through 1919, Indiana high school football teams played each other, often playing fewer than five games per year and many times skipping entire seasons. Pre-1920 "games" often featured high school teams playing semi-pro club teams, college teams and even intramural scrimmages. Various teams made state championship claims, but most were unfounded until organized leagues and verified games became commonplace beginning with the 1920 season. By that year, as many as 26 high schools in Northern Indiana — stretching from Fort Wayne to East Chicago — were annually compiling standings and functioning as the state’s first organized football conference. These northern football teams frequently defeated powerhouse teams from other states and were rarely defeated by Indiana teams from outside the league. (From 1921-26, Gary Emerson never lost a game to an in-state team.) It was probably quite safe for the winner of this early super conference to claim the Mythical State Football Championship prior to 1928, and most did. Indeed, when an arranged Indiana mythical state championship game² was played between the north and south through 1930 (in 1923, ’24, ’27, ’29, and ’30) the northern league champ won every time.

In 1926, for one year, the league standings included power teams from around the state, including Evansville Central, Richmond Morton, Indianapolis Tech, Marion and Muncie, all of whom finished behind league leaders Mishawaka and Gary Emerson. In 1927, many of these same northern teams – from Elkhart to East Chicago – officially formed the Northern Indiana Conference (NIC) with its champion going on to dominate the #1 final ranking in the AP & UPI polls, well into the 1960s.

By the early 1930s, the Evansville and Terre Haute areas were also well established as Indiana high school football hotbeds. Clinton (north of Terre Haute) won three titles between 1928 and 1933, and Evansville Memorial, best in the south in 1937, defeated McKeesport, champions of Western Pennsylvania, 21-0, in what some newspapers called the mythical national championship.

Schools in italics now consolidated or defunct.

1920 - Wabash4 & Mishawaka1
1921 - Gary Emerson1 & Gary Froebel1
1922 - Gary Emerson1 (2)
1923 - Gary Emerson² (3)
1924 - Elkhart (Central)²
1925 - Mishawaka1,4 (2)
1926 - Mishawaka1 (3)
1927 - Gary Froebel² (2)
1928 - Clinton³
1929 - Gary Mann²,³
1930 - Gary Emerson²,³ (4)
1931 - South Bend Central4
1932 - Clinton³ (2)
1933 - Clinton²,³ (3)
1934 - South Bend Central1,4 (2) & Terre Haute Garfield4
1935 - Evansville Memorial²,³
1936 - Gary Mann5 (2)

1 NIC Champion
² Winner of arranged post-season North-South Mythical State Championship Game

   1923 - Gary Emerson 7, Muncie Central 0
1924 - Elkhart (Central) 28, Bicknell 6
1927 - Gary Froebel 70, Indianapolis Shortridge 0
1929 - Gary Mann 38, Fort Wayne Central 0
1930 - Gary Emerson 21, Logansport 7
1933 - Clinton 6, East Chicago Washington 6, tie
1935 - Evansville Memorial 13, Fort Wayne Central 0

³ Winner of Indianapolis Times & IHSAA ‘Most Outstanding Team in Indiana’ Trophy – 1927, ’28, ’29, ‘30, ’32, ‘33, & ’35.
4 Mythical State Champions named by “various Indiana newspapers,” according to AlmanacSports.com – 1920, ‘25, ‘31 & ‘34.
5 NIC East-West Playoff Champion - 1936 (no other claims found).

( ) Total State Championships

1937-1972: The Polls Rule[edit]

The AP and UP(I) Polls awarded Mythical State Football Championships from 1937-72. Many schools went on to play postseason games after the final polls were released and some schools subsequently — and rightly — disputed these AP/UPI mythical championships.

1937 - Hammond
1938 - Evansville Memorial (2)
1939 - South Bend Washington
1940 - Fort Wayne North
1941 - Gary Wallace
1942 - East Chicago Washington (2)
1943 - South Bend Washington (2)
1944 - Muncie Central
1945 - East Chicago Roosevelt
1946 - East Chicago Roosevelt (2)
1947 - East Chicago Roosevelt (3)
1948 - Evansville Reitz
1949 - East Chicago Roosevelt (4)
1950 - Lafayette Jefferson
1951 - Hammond Noll*
1952 - Richmond
1953 - South Bend Washington (3)
1954 - Whiting
1955 - East Chicago Roosevelt (5)
1956 - Richmond (2)
1957 - Evansville Reitz (2) & East Chicago Roosevelt (6)
1958 - South Bend Central (3)
1959 - South Bend Central (4)
1960 - Evansville Reitz (3)
1961 - Evansville Reitz (4)
1962 - Hammond (2)
1963 - Elkhart (Central) (2)
1964 - South Bend St. Joseph*
1965 - Hammond Morton
1966 - Indianapolis Washington
1967 - Richmond (3)
1968 - Bloomington (South) & Elkhart (Central) (3)
1969 - South Bend Washington (4)
1970 - Elkhart (Central) (4)
1971 - Evansville Reitz (5)*
1972 - Bloomington South (2)

( ) Total State Championships
* Evansville Reitz also went on to win a 4A smaller school state championships in 2007 & 2009, as did South Bend St. Joseph (3A) in 1995, and Hammond Noll (3A) in 1989. See Indiana High School Football Champions - Smaller Schools.

1973-present: Settling it on the Field - The Rise of Indianapolis Football[edit]

IHSAA State Tournament Champions. Over the years the largest enrollment classification has moved from 3A, to 4A, to 5A, and now to 6A. For a listing of smaller school state champions see Indiana High School Football Champions - Smaller Schools.

1973 - South Bend Washington (5)
1974 - Indianapolis Washington (2)
1975 - Valparaiso
1976 - Merrillville
1977 - Portage
1978 - Carmel
1979 - Columbus East
1980 - Carmel (2)
1981 - Carmel (3)
1982 - (Evansville) Castle
1983 - (Mishawaka) Penn
1984 - Indianapolis Warren Central
1985 - Indianapolis Warren Central (2)
1986 - Carmel (4)
1987 - Indianapolis Ben Davis
1988 - Indianapolis Ben Davis (2)
1989 - Carmel (5)
1990 - Indianapolis Ben Davis (3)
1991 - Indianapolis Ben Davis (4)
1992 - Fort Wayne Snider
1993 - Bloomington South (3)
1994 - (Evansville) Castle (2)
1995 - (Mishawaka) Penn (2)
1996 - (Mishawaka) Penn (3)
1997 - (Mishawaka) Penn (4)
1998 - Bloomington South (4)
1999 - Indianapolis Ben Davis (5)
2000 - (Mishawaka) Penn (5)
2001 - Indianapolis Ben Davis (6)
2002 - Indianapolis Ben Davis (7)
2003 - Indianapolis Warren Central (3)
2004 - Indianapolis Warren Central (4)
2005 - Indianapolis Warren Central (5)
2006 - Indianapolis Warren Central (6)
2007 - Carmel (6)
2008 - Center Grove
2009 - Indianapolis Warren Central (7)
2010 - Fishers
2011 - Carmel (7)
2012 - Indianapolis Lawrence Central
2013 - Indianapolis Warren Central (8)
2014 - Indianapolis Ben Davis (8)
2015 - Center Grove (2)
2016 - Carmel (8)
( ) Total State Championships

Big School State Championships by School[edit]

1. Indianapolis Ben Davis - 8
1. Indianapolis Warren Central - 8
1. Carmel - 8
4. East Chicago Roosevelt - 6
5. (Mishawaka) Penn - 5
5. South Bend Washington - 5
5. Evansville Reitz - 5
8. Bloomington South - 4
8. Elkhart Central - 4
8. South Bend Central - 4
8. Gary Emerson - 4
12. Richmond - 3
12. Mishawaka - 3
12. Clinton - 3
12. Center Grove - 3
16. (Evansville) Castle - 2
16. Fort Wayne Snider - 2
16. Indianapolis Washington - 2
16. Hammond - 2
16. Evansville Memorial - 2
16. Gary Mann - 2
16. Gary Froebel - 2
23. Indianapolis Lawrence Central - 1
23. Fishers - 1
23. Columbus East - 2
23. Portage - 1
23. Merrillville - 1
23. Valparaiso - 1
23. Hammond Morton - 1
23. South Bend St. Joseph's - 1
23. Whiting - 1
23. Hammond Noll - 1
23. Lafayette Jefferson - 1
23. Muncie Central - 1
23. Gary Wallace - 1
23. Fort Wayne Dwenger - 1
23. Fort Wayne North - 1
23. Terre Haute Garfield - 1
23. Wabash - 1

Big School State Championships by Region[edit]

Indianapolis Metro - 30
Northwest Indiana: The Region - 24
South Bend/Mishawaka/Elkhart - 22
Evansville - 9
Bloomington - 4
Fort Wayne - 4
Terre Haute/Clinton - 4
Richmond - 3
Other - 3

See also[edit]

External links[edit]