Springfield Ursuline Academy "Sonics"

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Springfield Ursuline Academy Building
Courtesy of Phil Shadid

The History of Springfield Ursuline Academy
Springfield (population 111,454) is located in central Illinois in Sangamon County.  It is the State Capitol of Illinois and the County Seat of Sangamon County.  Springfield was first settled in 1818. It was named the State Capitol of Illinois in 1837 though it wasn't officially chartered until 1840. Springfield is located at the intersections of Interstate Highway 72 and Interstate Highway 55. Illinois Routes leading to and from Springfield include 4, 29, 54, 97, and 124. Historic Route 66 passes through Springfield as well. Several railroad lines help make Springfield a transportation hub.
The history of the catholic high school known as Ursuline Academy is provided to us by our very good friend, and staunch Glory Days supporter, Phil Shadid:

                                                        URSULINE ACADEMY

                                              (a four year high school in Springfield, IL)

                                                             by Phil Shadid

The founders of Ursuline Academy were the Ursuline nuns of the Catholic Church who trace their origins from Ireland, France, Italy and St. Angela in reverse order.

The Springfield Ursulines trace their history to Mother Mary Joseph Woulfe of Ireland, born in 1815.

The Ursulines came to the United States in 1834 and by 1847 they had established a school in Cincinnati, Ohio. In 1855, Bishop Juncker of the Alton, IL, diocese (which included Springfield) asked the Sisters to work and teach in the diocese. A group of Ursulines arrived in Springfield on August 21, 1857, and took over a building called the Farnsworth House (5th & Mason streets), opening the first Ursuline Academy for girls on September 7, 1857.

The Sisters purchased the Franklin House in 1858 and moved to that location on August 20. September 6, 1858, saw the opening of a “free” school, St. Angela’s, as well as a tuition based school. Up to 1867 St. Angela’s was the only “parish” school for girls in the city.

The main event of the first 10 years was the purchase of six and one-half acres of Allen’s Grove on North Fifth Street at Eastman Avenue (the current site of the buildings) in 1865. The first Mass was celebrated in the new school and convent on September 25, 1867.

The Ursulines established Springfield College in 1929 on the north edge of the property, between 5th and 6th streets, south of Black Avenue. They operated the college until 2003, when Benedictine University of Lisle, IL, took over the school.

Because of their dwindling numbers, the Ursulines completely moved out of their convent in 2005, and Benedictine assumed control of the high school. Ursuline had been a girls only school until 1981, when boys were admitted in hopes of increasing enrollments. And tuition costs had risen to $4500 by 2006, mostly because Ursuline nuns were no longer on the faculty. As an example, in 1952, there were 17 nuns and just three lay teachers at the Academy.

By 2007, the enrollment had dropped to 173, after having been in the 300 range during the 1980’s. Students were notified of the closing of the school on May 14, 2007, three days after the Benedictine board of directors made the decision to cease operations. Principal John Stimler, notified of the decision on May 14, called an emergency assembly, pulling the students from their classrooms into the gymnasium.

The events of May 14 were a chaotic disaster (as reported by the Ursuline Academy Foundation). Someone at the Springfield College offices contacted the press and informed them of the decision to close Ursuline before the students were told. The students who were Freshmen, Sophomores and Juniors had been given less than two weeks notice to make arrangements to enroll in another high school. Teachers had the same problem, except they needed to seek employment elsewhere.

Juniors were then given the chance to stay at Ursuline for the 2007-08 school year under a program titled “Senior Experience.” Only 15 signed up. The rest of the classes migrated to the other schools in Springfield and a few enrolled at public schools in the county.

On May 17, 2008, the 151st and final graduating class of Ursuline Academy were honored at the commencement at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, across the street from the Academy. Rev. Msgr. John Ossola, president of the Ursuline Academy Foundation, delivered this message to the graduates:

“The entire Ursuline community--alumni, family and friends--congratulates each of these students and welcomes them to the alumni community. While this weekend’s events are bittersweet, we know that the Ursuline tradition and value of service will live on in all graduates of the Academy.”

In a classy gesture at Springfield High’s 2008 graduation ceremony on June 7, former Ursuline principal John Stimler was given the privilege of handing out diplomas to the 12 students who had attended U.A. the previous year.

FOOTNOTE: This writer has a special bond with Ursuline Academy. I never attended the school, but my wife (Betty), her sister, my sister, our nephew, and our granddaughter all were educated at the Academy. by Phil Shadid


Established:                   Sept. 1857 (all girls school)

First year boys enrolled:  Sept. 1981

Closed:                          May 2008 (15 graduated)

School motto:                 Serviam (I will serve)

School colors:                Red and white

Team nickname:             Sonics

School song:                  "URSULINE….."

                                       Ursuline, to dear old Ursuline,

                                       We pledge our endless love today.

                                       Ursuline, forever Ursuline,

                                       Though life may lead us far away.

                                       Alma Mater beautiful,

                                       Star-like ever shine.

                                       On our path to guide our faltering steps,

                                       Home at last, dear Ursuline.

Ursuline Academy Gymnasium
Submitted by Phil Shadid



Late in the 2006-07 girls basketball season, Ursuline coach Mark Clemens addressed his team after they had won their game to reach a record of 17-1 (they would finish at 23-5, winning their first Regional championship in 11 years and gaining the school’s first 20-plus victory season since 1987). The team had no seniors which meant that the returning players would be heavy favorites for the following season. Especially because they would be in the new Class 1A in a four-class system.

The girls won the Riverton Regional tournament with a decisive victory over Maroa-Forsyth 44-31 on Feb. 8, 2007, using a starting lineup of two Juniors, one Sophomore and two Freshmen. Jasmine Johnson, 5-11 Freshman, led the way with 16 points. Junior Becca Cisco and Freshman Mariah Albert each scored 11 points. The Sonics ended their season the following week, losing to Rochester in the Williamsville Sectional tourney.

As reported in the Springfield State Journal-Register, in a column by Dave Kane on May 17, 2007, coach Clemens told the players: “You have to play every game like it’s your last. You never know when the last time will be to put on that uniform. You never know when you could get hurt or something.” His January 2007 comments were eerily prophetic when the school announced on May 14, 2007, that it was closing forever.

The basketball program had begun in 1978 at the then all-girls school, a few years after the Illinois High School Association rescinded its ban on interscholastic sports for girls.

Prior to 1978 all sports at Ursuline were intra-mural, with competitions restricted to contests among the classes. (Seniors vs. Juniors, etc.)

In September 1981 boys were first enrolled at Ursuline and sports became part of their curriculum in 1983 with the establishment of Soccer and Basketball. Later on, baseball and football would be added. In 24 basketball seasons the boys had just two winning campaigns: 16-8 in 1988-89 (coach Dave Ferrenburg) and 18-11 in 1997-98 (coach Carl Sabo). They won no Regionals in basketball, but did win a Regional in baseball in 1989 under Ferrenburg. The baseball team had several winning seasons.

Ursuline Academy Baseball/Softball Field
Photo Courtesy of Phil Shadid

The 1989 Ursuline boys baseball team completed their season with a 15-6 record, capturing the Pawnee Regional before losing to Alton Marquette in the Sectional at Alton. Vincent Noel crushed a grand slam homer and Rick Allender held Athens to one hit in the Regional championship win, 6-3, on May 24. Rick won his sixth game of the year, striking out 11 and walking five.

After much request by the alumni, and after some fund raising (Ursuline had a well known 40-plus years of offering their famous chicken dinners annually in May; thousands of dinners were sold at the school and at a drive-thru lane) football for the boys was tried. Three seasons produced a combined mark of 4-23, but because of a declining enrollment, the sport was dropped after 2004.

The girls excelled in basketball, softball and volleyball. The Sonics won seven Regional titles in basketball, three of which came in 1981-82-83 under coach Rayette Johnson. In 1980-81 the girls basketball team won 18 and lost five, winning Ursuline’s first Regional championship in just their third season of competition. They also shared a championship with two other schools in the Springfield city tournament with a 3-1 record. A come from behind win over Southeast, 45-34, propelled the Sonics (the only Class A school) to the city co-championship.

Leading the way were senior Sharon Stapleton and junior Laura “Mickey” Timoney who both averaged about 14 points per game during the season. Betsy Truax, Rosie Ryan and the Staten girls, Jane and Nancy, and top rebounder Shari Wilson also contributed greatly during the campaign. In the Illiopolis Regional in March 1981, Ursuline beat Riverton and Warrensburg-Latham, winning ways were halted in the Sectional when they lost to Quincy Notre Dame.

The 1986-87 season saw coach Mark Longo’s basketball squad fashion a 22-8 record, taking third in the annual city tournament, won the Riverton Regional and was runnerup to Mt. Sterling Brown County in the Mason City Sectional.

Shelly Lehman paced the basketball Sonics in 1986-87, scoring 685 points (22.8 points per game), and amassed a career total of 1781 points. The 5-6 senior led all scorers in the area and was in the top 15 for the entire state. Helping in scoring for the season were Jenny Miller with 13.4 ppg and Bridget Timoney with 10.7 ppg. Shelly scored 21 points in a heart-breaking season-ending loss to Brown County, 43-39, in the Sectional final.

The previous year (1986) Ursuline lost to Mason City in the Regional final as Shelley Crow (36.6 ppg for the year) of the winning team scored 31 to Lehman’s 22 (21.5 ppg). Lehman finished third in scoring in the area and teammate Miller wound up tenth with a 12.3 ppg average.

Jenny Miller returned to her alma mater in 1994 as head basketball coach. Her 1995-96 team had a 12-14 record, but caught fire at the end of the season, winning the Pleasant Plains Regional over two higher seeded teams. They avenged an early season loss (77-56) to Mason City Illini Central by beating the Cougars 62-52 on Feb. 14, 1996.

In the Regional final they outscored Petersburg Porta 32-12 in the fourth period to win the championship 78-59. Guards Sara Cawthon and Jenny Graham combined for 40 points and 20 rebounds. (Porta had beaten Ursuline 65-43 at the season’s opening Nov. 13, 1995.) As reported in the State Journal-Register, Feb. 17, 1996, coach Miller said: “It’s the same kind of high (as in 1987‘s Regional championship). I was a very emotional player. I’m a very emotional coach. How can you not be? This is a great game.” The following week, the Sonics bowed out with a loss to Concord Triopia in the Sectional.

Softball proved to be the sport in which Ursuline achieved its greatest success.  Coach Mark Longo's squad made back-to-back appearances in the Class A state tournament in 1987 and 1988.  The team went 58-5 during those two seasons with Missy Sanges pitching the Sonics into the finals with a 27-2 record in 1987 (181 strikeouts in 173 innings; one perfect game and 3 no-hitters) and a 24-1 mark in 1988 (192 strikeouts; only 35 walks).  Ursuline went 26-3 in 1989, but were upset in the Regional semi-final.  Jennifer Smith gained an 18-2 record on the mound.Other sports offered were Tennis, Golf, Cross-Country and Track.

After the news of the school’s closing broke on May 14, 2007, a large number of students went to the game that afternoon and saw the team score an emotional 15-0 victory over Springfield Lutheran in the Regional tournament at Ursuline’s Padre Canella Field. Andrea Beal hit the final home run for the Sonics and Jessica Farmer became the last winning pitcher in the 28 year history of the program. The team lost 9-0 in the Regional final against Williamsville two days later.

Thus ended a long history of education and sports for the school. Serviam.



1988-89, 16-8, coach Dave Ferrenburg

Ursuline Sonics 1988-89
Submitted by Phil Shadid

1996-97, 12-13, coach Carl Sabo

1997-98, 18-11, coach Carl Sabo


1988, 10-4, coach Dave Ferrenburg

1989, 15-6, coach Dave Ferrenburg (Regional championship)

1990, 17-8, coach Duane Schupp

1997, 20-14, coach Mark Rabideau


2002, 2-7, coach Dale Sprague

2003, 1-8, coach Dale Sprague

2004, 1-8, coach Dan Gashaw


1986, 12-4-3, coach Mark Longo

1987, 13-6, coach Mark Longo

1988, 15-3-2, coach Mark Longo


1978-79, 9-7, coach Mary Jennings

1979-80, 12-7, coach Mary Jennings

1980-81, 18-5, coach Rayette Johnson (Regional championship)

Ursuline Sonics 1980-81 Regional Champs
Courtesy of Phil Shadid

1981-82, 15-11, coach Rayette Johnson (Regional championship)

1982-83, 14-14, coach Rayette Johnson (Regional championship)

Ursuline Sonics 1982-83 Basketball
Submitted by Phil Shadid

1983-84, 13-9, coach Mark Longo

1985-86, 19-8, coach Mark Longo

1986-87, 22-8, coach Mark Longo (Regional championship)

1988-89, 19-9, coach Mark Longo

1990-91, 18-8, coach Susan Wellman

1991-92, 13-15, coach Susan Wellman (Regional championship)

1995-96, 12-14, coach Jenny Miller (Regional championship)

2006-07, 23-5, coach Mark Clemens (Regional championship)


1983-84, 9-7, coach Carole Draper

1986-87, 17-10, coach Janet Ward

1987-88, 19-10, coach Janet Ward

2000-01, 13-15-2, coach Jenni Sergent


1982, 14-1, coach Randy Gibson

1983, 8-3, coach Sue Moser

1986, 20-4, coach Mark Longo

1987, 28-3, coach Mark Longo

(Regional, Sectional championships, State Finals)

1988, 30-2, coach Mark Longo

(Regional, Sectional championships, State Finals)

Ursuline Academy Sonics Softball 1987-88
Submitted by Phil Shadid

1989, 26-3, coach Mark Longo

2005, 17-10, coach Mark Cowden

2006, 18-5, coach Mark Cowden (Regional championship)

2007, 11-9, coach Mark Cowden


1996, 15-4-2, coach Max Parienti

1997, 9-7-4, coach Max Parienti

Microfilm records of the Springfield State Journal-Register were viewed at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library.  Information and photos were found in the Ursuline yearbook "Echelon" in the Sangamon Valley Collection of  Springfield's Lincoln Library.  Also thanks to Tom Fitch, noted boys basketball historian, for the photo of the Ursuline team of 1988-89.
A 'Glory Days' salute also goes out to our very good friend, and tremendous fan of Springfield area high schools, Phil Shadid.  Phil completed the entire write-up and photo display for this page!
...the great stories and many accomplishments of Ursuline High School, its students, and faculty before there are no longer those around to share them.  You can e-mail us information and photos at ihsgdwebsite@comcast.net or write to us at:
Illinois HS Glory Days
6439 N. Neva St.
Chicago, Il.   60631