Herald Photo / Dean Hockney
RICH HISTORY  — Northwestern’s Dayton Merrell speaks after being inducted into the Gerald Sullivan Contributors Wing of the Northwestern Athletic Hall of Fame.
Herald Photo / Dean Hockney RICH HISTORY — Northwestern’s Dayton Merrell speaks after being inducted into the Gerald Sullivan Contributors Wing of the Northwestern Athletic Hall of Fame.
For some, it is hard to believe Northwestern High School soon will be celebrating its 80th year of existence. 

Founded in 1948 during the school consolidation boom, few understand the rich history of the school better than 1955 graduate Dayton Merrell.

“Northwestern is a unique school without an incorporated town or city within our boundaries,” said Merrell, who never left the area. “Sixty-eight years ago, that was a big deal back then because we had no town center or civic center. We had nothing but cornfields.”

Merrell, who recently was inducted into the Gerald Sullivan Contributors Wing of the Northwestern Athletic Hall of Fame, noted that when the school was built, it had ties to a Chicago-area college.

“We have a very wide geographic area here,” said Merrell. “Northwestern started out with a road block since there was no incorporated area. But the founding fathers had wisdom. Of course the name was due to the geographic area in Howard County, but it was more than that; it was modeled after Northwestern University. Then and now, Northwestern University has a great scholastic advantage. They are known as the brains of the Big Ten.”

Merrell noted the high school also took its purple and white colors and school song from the university.

“The rest of the county schools decided to call themselves directional schools after we did,” he said. “But we have a foundation behind us. Look at our waiting list for student transfers and our academic accomplishments. People know how unique Northwestern is.”

Merrell, a standout athlete as well as a life-long contributor to the school, also talked about his accomplishments while a student. He particularly was proud of one instance when the Tigers set the tone for other schools in the state when it came to racial tolerance.

“For the first seven years of existence, we didn’t have any kind of a gym. We played and practiced with whoever would let us in the door,” he said. “Northwestern played against a team in Indianapolis called Crispus Attucks, an all-black school. We scheduled them for two years when nobody else in the state would. To me, that was a big deal because I got the opportunity to play against and unknown freshman at the time named Oscar Robertson. Three years later he is Mr. Basketball, and Crispus Attucks won a state championship. So right from the beginning, Northwestern was different.”

Merrell was inducted into the Contributors Wing but could have just as easily been inducted as an athlete. Merrell earned four varsity letters with the Tigers – two each in basketball and baseball. He was the co-captain of the 1955 squad that won the basketball program’s first sectional title, a 64-62 overtime upset of Kokomo, a Wildkats team that featured two future Indiana All-Stars. He was named to the All-Sectional squad in 1954 and 1955 and the All-Regional Team in 1955. 

“We started out with just basketball, baseball, and track,” said Merrell, who has been married to Janet for more than 50 years with three children all graduating from Northwestern. “Boys basketball was a big deal, and we were the first consolidated school to beat a top 10 team to win the Kokomo Sectional. And to prove it wasn’t a fluke, we did it twice more (1981 and 1982). We were also the first Howard County team to get to the finals of the state football championship and the first Howard County team to win a boys basketball state championship.”

In baseball, he rocked pitchers with a .414 batting average during his senior campaign. 

When asked what he got out of playing high school sports, Merrell said he got a solid understanding of the importance of teamwork. 

 “To me, the big thing is it allowed me to be part of a winning team. I didn’t have any idea what it meant to be part of a team, but as I experienced it, I realized the biggest part was being part of a winning team. Your teammates cover up your weaknesses. It shows how important teamwork is in life. Being part of a team creates value.”

Northwestern Athletic Director Dan Armstrong said Merrell is one of the foundations of the school and has watched thousands of games during his lifetime.

“Dayton is the ultimate Northwestern contributor,” said Athletic Director Dan Armstrong. “He is purple and white through and through. He is part of the greatest generation of fans supporting their local schools, a generation that we may never be able to replicate.”

“It is a privilege to be a Northwestern Tiger,” said Merrell. “Our family is proud to be Tigers.”