The year was 1989. Marengo was honoring its 70 years of basketball legacy by honoring one of its basketball stars, Cliff Kitchen. Kitchen was forward, (and captain), on the first Marengo High School team from 1918-1919. There were only five members then including: Kitchen; Ralph Jordan; Charlie Barnes; Stanley Woloben; and Richard Patrick. As Kitchen recalled, “there were no foul limits.” They shot underhanded. “We didn’t have numbers on our jerseys,” Kitchen said. “If you couldn’t tell us apart, that was your problem”. Marengo’s opponents in those early years were: Belvidere, Rockford, Freeport, Huntley, and Woodstock. “We all loved to play Freeport because we had to take the train. There were no trains running after the game, so we got to stay overnight in the hotel”.
All of Kitchen’s school years were spent at Washington School: “When it was time to go to high school, all we had to do was go upstairs! We didn’t have a gym. We played our games in the old opera house, (today, the Harris Bank building in Marengo). There was a pretty nice gym up on the third floor; and we used to pack ‘em in. It would be considered a serious fire hazard today; but things were different than and nobody paid much attention to it.”
Regarding modern-day basketball, where he watched his two sons and granddaughters play, Cliff said that, “We could improve the game and get back to where it used to be fun by raising the basket another couple of feet!”
After playing on the high school team and graduating in 1920; he played for a town team for about five years. Teammates included: Ben and Sam Kelley and Bill Sullivan. They played at what is now: Saunders & McFarlin Funeral Home in Harvard; the Woodstock Armory; and the Rockford Boys’ Club. Cliff also played football. “This was before helmets. And I remember moving around a lot. Sometimes we played in a field just west of where Dr. Mijanvich lives on West Grant. Sometimes we played in the field behind what is Sportsman Ranch; and other times, we played behind where Dave Samuelson lives on Railroad Street. Any place we could get in to mark it off would do. But it was nice if it had some grass”.
Cliff said a local shoe maker, Bill Hull, cut leather cleats for their shoes. “Those leather cleats were as good as anything right on your regular shoes; and there you had football shoes. We had no special equipment. Everything had to be improvised”.