Students nowadays don’t realize what they are walking into, literally, when they walk through the doors of The Jacksonville High School (JHS) Bowl. They pay their admission fee and join up with their fellow students and sports fanatics to enjoy a great evening of entertainment. Little do they realize that they have not only walked into one of the most prominent buildings in Jacksonville, but also one of the most distinguished gymnasiums in the Midwest.
After being approached to create a new, cheaper design for gymnasiums around the Midwest, Ralph Legeman, an architect born in Evansville, Indiana, came up with a patented design for a semisubterranean gymnasium, a gym that was to be built halfway underground. The architect’s design would be sparingly used throughout the Midwest with only around 12 similarly designed gyms in Illinois, The Bowl being one of them.
Even though Jacksonville School District 117 planned to use the architect’s design for their new gymnasium, they didn’t plan to encounter the problems they did when the process of constructing the underground gym began in 1951.
Jacksonville School District 117’s attorney, William L. Fay, and the school board’s building committee chairman, Harry Dowland, requested a grant for steel in order to construct The Bowl. When their request was denied due to the lack of steel for the duration of the Korean War, the two men set off to see Dr. Ernest Chester Bone, M.D., who at the time was serving as a Navy Reserve medical officer in Washington, D.C.
Dr. Bone has been a widely known figure in the Jacksonville community for quite some time now. At the time he was serving in the U.S. Navy in Washington, D.C., he also successfully completed his medical degree. After doing so, Bone returned to Jacksonville where his contributions have greatly impacted our community and he has delivered around 4,500 babies and helped almost 20,000 patients in the Jacksonville area. You may ask how a celebrated Jacksonville surgeon is connected to The JHS Bowl and the answer is simply a phone call away.
Dr. Bone had a cousin who was married to a man in charge of the emergency distribution of steel at the time. Dr. Bone picked up the phone, called his cousin and the grant went through the following day, thereby making steel available for the construction of what would become the most widely known gymnasium in Central Illinois.
Since 1952, The JHS Bowl has been home to many exciting and memorable events including the Beaux Arts Ball, many food and blood drives and local school programs just to name a few, but The Bowl is still mainly used for what it was built for in the 1950s – basketball. The first Crimson basketball team stepped onto the court in 1952 and the games haven’t stopped since then. Many generations have stepped onto the court of The Jacksonville Bowl and there will be many more to come, thanks to a recently gathered committee dedicating their time to preserve the gymnasium and its history.
This group of enthusiastic committee members has worked hard over the last couple years to bring The Bowl back to its prime. Through the Bobby Hoffman Memorials and many fundraisers, the committee has made possible many renovations that were greatly needed, and appreciated, for the 65-year-old gym. The Bowl has recently obtained newly renovated bleachers along with a brand new gym floor and many other projects that have helped bring back the history of JHS athletics for the current generation to admire and appreciate.
As a community, Jacksonville is proud to be home to The JHS Bowl and all of the historic events that have occurred throughout the last 65 years. Thanks to the determined school district employees and Dr. Bone’s connections, The Bowl will forever be a home to the Jacksonville Crimsons including those past, present and future.