#TBT Big Ten Medal of Honor - Dike Eddleman 1949
March 20, 2014
One of the most prestigious conference awards in college athletics, the Big Ten Medal of Honor was first awarded in 1915 to one student-athlete from the graduating class of each university who had "attained the greatest proficiency in athletics and scholastic work." In 2014, the conference celebrates the 100th anniversary of this prestigious award.
Born in Centralia, Ill., Eddleman started his athletic journey in a small southern Illinois community. When he was in grade school, he and his friend Stanley Eager, built high jump standards and emulated their hero, Lowell Spurgeon, a UI track athlete at the time. At the age of 14, Eddleman, an eighth-grader, cleared the six-foot mark in the high jump and was offered a college scholarship. That was the beginning of a statewide craze known as "Eddlemania."
Eddleman attended Centralia High School where he was a three-sport athlete. As a high school player, Eddleman is considered one of the finest players in the history of Illinois high school basketball. He led the Centralia Orphans to a third-place finish in the 1941 state basketball tournament and to a state title the next season. Eddleman scored 2,702 points in his four-year high school basketball career, which was, at the time of his graduation, a state record for most points in a career and he was the first high school player in Illinois to average at least 20 points per game. In 2007, the Illinois High School Association named Eddleman one of the 100 Legends of the IHSA Boys Basketball Tournament.
Eddleman missed his sophomore and junior football seasons due to a knee injury he sustained on the gridiron as a freshman. But as a senior, he finished third in the state in scoring and was selected captain of the all-state team. In track, he took third in the state in the high jump his freshman year, then won three state titles as a sophomore, junior and senior.
Eddleman was recruited by almost every major college in the nation, not only for track, but also for football and basketball, even professional baseball organizations, though he did not compete in the sport as a high school athlete. In 1983, Eddleman was inducted into the National Federation of State High School Associations Hall of Fame and in October 2008 was named a Distinguished Alumni of Centralia High school. His wife, Teddy Eddleman, accepted his award.
Eddleman decided to continue his athletics career close to home, and chose the University of Illinois for his collegiate career. He entered Illinois in 1942, but the rule against freshman participation prevented him from lettering in football or basketball that year. In the spring of 1943, however, when the rule was rescinded, he earned the first of his 11 varsity letters - this one as a high jumper on the Illini track & field team for Coach Leo Johnson.
Eddleman played a number of roles on the Illinois football team, and set Big Ten records for punting and punt returns. He was an outstanding receiver for Ray Eliot's Fighting Illini football teams of 1946-48, leading the nation in punting in 1949. He was a member of the 1946 Big Ten championship football squad which went on to defeat UCLA, 45-14, in the 1947 Rose Bowl. He won five Big Ten individual titles in track, and led the Illini to both the indoor and outdoor conference championships with high jump titles of his own. The next season he provided an encore performance, winning both the indoor and outdoor Big Ten high jump crowns while leading the Fighting Illini to both team championships. After winning the NCAA high jump championship, he capped off his track and field career by tying for second place at the 1948 Summer Olympic Games in London.
After weighing several options in professional sports, Eddleman elected to compete in the fledgling National Basketball League, forerunner of today's NBA. He enjoyed a four-year career in pro ball with the Tri-City, Milwaukee and Fort Wayne clubs before retiring from professional basketball in 1953.
In 1950, Eddleman led the Tri-Cities Blackhawks in scoring as a rookie. After playing one more season for the Blackhawks, Eddleman played two seasons for the Fort Wayne Pistons. He played in the NBA All-Star Game in both 1951 and 1952. Over his NBA career, Eddleman scored 3,224 points in 266 games, for a scoring average of 12.1 points per game.
After an 18-year career in personnel with Central Soya in Gibson City, Ill., Eddleman joined the UI Athletic Association to raise money for Fighting Illini athletics. Since 1969, when he began those efforts, the nationwide fundraising efforts generated annual sums that grew from $100,000 to more than $4.25 million. Eddleman retired in 1992, but served as Director Emeritus of the Fighting Illini Scholarship Fund after his retirement. In 1993, the UI Division of Intercollegiate Athletics paid tribute to Eddleman by appropriately naming the University of Illinois male and female Athlete of the Year awards after him.
Eddleman passed away Aug. 1, 2001, but his Illinois legacy lives on as arguably the greatest athlete in school history.