Remembering the Cowboys and Indians: 100 years of sports at NT

Reflecting on New Trier sports during the split-campus era of 1967 to 1981

New Trier East’s 14-0 triumph over the New Trier West Cowboys on Oct. 29, 1976 was the sixth of ten that the Indians would experience during that season, making the playoffs for the first time in their six seasons under Head Coach Eugene Cichowski.

Although the Indians opened the Cichowski era with ten straight winning seasons, the ten games they won that season were the most that they would ever win in their fifteen seasons as New Trier East.

The team would make it back to the playoffs in 1978 and 1980 with a pair of 8-2 seasons, but they fell short of the state title game both times.

While the Indians were a perennial success during the split- campus era, the Cowboys were maddeningly inconsistent.

New Trier West bookended a 1-7 record in 1971 with two undefeated seasons and dramatically regressed as the decade wore on, clinching their fourth straight losing season in 1976 a week before their loss to the Indians.

Although they would rebound with a 6-3 season in 1977, the Cowboys regressed to three wins in 1978 before bottoming out at 0-9 during Bob Naughton’s final season in 1979.

The era of split campuses also divided the boys basketball teams between east and west, but unlike their football counterparts, both New Trier East and New Trier West would find consistent success.

John Schnieter’s Indians were frequent participants in the state playoffs from the moment he arrived in 1963 with their best season being a state runner-up bid in 1973; and after some middling years to start his tenure as New Trier West’s coach, Mel Sheets turned the Cowboys into a powerhouse as well, coaching them to four straight playoff berths starting in 1976.

However, once the campuses reunited in 1981, the players who had been kept apart for nearly a decade and a half found immediate success on their newly combined teams.

After replacing Schnieter, who became the girls basketball coach upon the school’s reunification, Sheets took the boys basketball team to the sectional round of the 1983 IHSA playoffs, leading them to a 23-5 record in his second of fifteen seasons coaching at Winnetka.

Meanwhile, Cichowski put his larger pool of football talent to good use in his first few seasons after the school’s reunification, leading the newly-combined roster to a 10-1 season in 1981 and a state championship game appearance in 1982.

The latter of those two seasons remains the furthest that New Trier Football has ever advanced in the IHSA playoffs, and the 11 games that they won that season were the most in the Cichowski era.