Thursday, March 31, 2016


1925 Whelen Springs High School Basketball Team
Left to Right: Doyle Eakin, Unknown, Cleatus Stone,Unknown Measles, Unknown Measles

March has a lot of Americans turning their attention to basketball because of the March Madness and the final four tournaments. So I thought it would be a good time to share another of my favorite and cherished family photos—my father, Doyle Eakin, standing with his 1925 basketball teammates from Whelen Springs High School.

Whelen Springs is located in the southern part of Clark County, Arkansas and is in terms of a small town was and still is the epitome of a small southern rural town. First settled around 1881 on land owned by Henry Whelen that was laced with chalybeate springs (hence the name Whelen Springs) it never exceeded a population of 214. In the most recent U.S. Census, there were only 92 residents left living in the old sawmill town.

East Whelen Springs, a suburb of Whelen Springs, is where my father was born and raised. It too is a small community that in today’s vernacular would be called a bedroom community of Whelen Springs! Oddly though, in the early part of the 1900s there were more families living in East Whelen Springs, another sawmill community, than in Whelen Springs proper. 

In his younger years, my father probably attended one of the many schools near the East Whelen Springs community. By the time my father's high school years came along in 1925 he attended Whelen Springs High School, where the many small outlying schools had been consolidated in 1915. Like many people of his generation, he unfortunately only attend one year of high school and never graduated.

Whelen Springs High School
Photo courtesy of Ouachita Baptist University Archives

Basketball likely was the prominent sport for the small high school. In 1925 when the photo was taken, the boys in this picture may have been the only ones available to play this exciting young sport. Basketball, invented in 1891 by Dr. James Naismith obviously took many schools all across the nation by storm. This new sport, developed to keep rowdy children busy while inside during the cold winter months made its way from the Springfield, Massachusetts YMCA into the south and found a place in the little school in Whelen Springs, Arkansas where my father and his teammates stood proud to have their photo taken. 

The Whelen Springs High School team appears to have the most current uniform for the mid-1920s available to them. Their shorts are made of cotton, the only sensible fabric available. The sleeveless V-neck tee-shirts are standard, along with their shoes. The style of basketball shoe was made by Chuck Taylor and is known as the All Star Converse shoe still are on the market today. In the early 1900s, just about everyone had a pair of the shoes!

When I look at this photo from 1925 of these 15 to 16 year old boys posing for their team picture, it is amazing to me what I really see.  I don't just see my father and his teammate and their knobby knees, but I the see children of a tight-knit community who were supported by their school system. The kids in this poor rural sawmill town had the most current uniform and equipment for use in their school sports. They were the high school basketball team that also attended school in the two story brick high school that seems out of place in such a rural sawmill town! Although the school is no longer standing, one hundred years later one can envision this school building as a community’s commitment to educating their children. The image of the brick two story school and a well-dressed basketball team of 1925 doesn’t leave the consumer of history with the typical impression of a rural south Arkansas sawmill town’s commitment to education and community in the early 1900s.