As a high school student at North Side High School in Dixon, Illinois, Reagan immersed himself in a wide range of activities. He was passionate about football, though his height and build at the age of 15 — just 5'3" and 108 pounds — prevented him from making the freshman team. Undeterred, Reagan trained vigorously over the summer to build muscle. When he returned to North Side as a sophomore, he not only made the team in the division for players under 135 pounds, he was promptly elected captain. By his junior year, he was playing varsity.
Along with football, Reagan was passionate about acting. He was awarded the lead roles in several church and school plays and became president of his high school drama club. From athletic clubs to civic organizations, if there was a leadership position to be had, Reagan was an obvious choice to fill it. He was art director of the yearbook and vice president for the YMCA’s Hi-Y Club. In his senior year, Reagan was elected student body president.
Reagan earned the respect and trust of the greater Dixon community as a lifeguard on the Rock River. Over the course of seven summers, he saved no fewer than 77 people from imminent danger. Even when serving as President decades later, Reagan referred to this experience as one of his proudest accomplishments.
Upon graduating from high school in 1928, Reagan attended Eureka College in Illinois, where he was awarded an athletic scholarship. In addition to serving as a member of the football, swimming and track teams at Eureka, he led cheers for the college’s basketball team. Reagan also remained involved in the theater, acting in 14 plays throughout his college career.
By the time he graduated from college, Reagan’s accomplishments were as numerous as they were varied: he had been elected president of the student body and booster club, coached the swim team and received several awards for his acting. To those who knew Reagan—or knew of him—it was clear his career was on the rise.