The Chair/Desk Escapade — Chapter 1 (The Set-Up)
By the time the Cisco High School class of 1964 was entering their senior year in the summer of 1963, the town of Cisco had lived at least a year torn into roughly two camps. Not that these two groups were fighting each other or feuding with each other; rather, they were entrenched into two opposite opinions. And the CHS class of 1964 was caught “smack dab” in the middle.
The divisive issue was over the school district needing a new school. If we needed one, then a bond referendum had to be approved by school-tax-paying voters. Opponents to the school bond saw it as a money issue, and most of these citizens lived in the rural areas of the district or they lived in town and, for whatever reason, did not, like most of the town dwellers, look at the evidence supporting the need of a new high school building (The proposed bond, curiously, called for the building also of a new junior high facility — sort of like “killing two birds with one stone.” Though not eventually condemned like the 3-story high school building, the junior high building in which we had attended grades 6 through 8 was in a state that would suggest replacement.).
Personally, I had at first doubted the need to condemn the high school building, as surveying the entire outside of the classic 3-story brick school-house revealed no obvious structural problems. One had to go down into the basement beneath the 1st floor and look at the support columns of all three floors, of the entire building, and see the evidence that, for one, turned me from an opponent of the bond to a proponent — huge diagonal shear cracks across the width of several support columns (steel-reinforced concrete) on the end of the building whose 1st floor housed the lunchroom and the Ag department. (This end was usually thought of as the east end, but really was the northeast end, as streets in Cisco generally run NE and SW, while perpendicular avenues run NW and SE. The address of the condemned high school building was between W 6th St. and W 7th St. and between Avenues K and L, taking up an entire city block.) These cracks were not small — the largest of them over 3 inches wide, and were the reason the whole northeast wing of the high school was partitioned off in our junior year 1962-1963. As Vice-President of the Student Council during that year, I was one of many students that guided visitors down into the basement during this school year to view the cracks.
Also, the high school auditorium was condemned, along with the “east” (NE) wing for this school year, so assemblies of any kind, from Student Council campaigns to pep rallies had to be held at the community gym at the corner of W 3rd St. and Avenue L, across from Chesley Field, the football facility for the Loboes, three blocks away from the multi-storied high school. All school year we could only have assemblies in good weather, and, a lot of school time was “used up” walking the six-block round trip each assembly. (These were the high school building conditions in which the story Mrs. Lois Adling, Mrs. Edward Lee, and the Big Afternoon [June, 2012] unfolded.)
In addition, I remember attending a “town hall” meeting with Chip White during this year (Chip’s senior year) where the need for a new school was debated. I remember returning to our partitioned, cramped, crowded high school building wishing the opponents to the bond who attended this meeting would come and not only see the cracks, but just spend a day or two with us students under these far-from-ideal conditions the cracks had caused. A support parade for the bond was conducted down Avenue D (now Conrad Hilton), the main street of Cisco, with lots of students calling for voters to vote “yes” on the bond. Berry’s car bumper getting hung up on the bumper of the car in front of him is the only specific incident I remember from that parade.
The bond issue barely passed, much to the relief of all its proponents, but, because of the divisiveness it had caused, it was passed much too late for the new facility to be built in time for we Seniors 1964 to be the first graduating class to graduate from the new building. The school was given the dilemma, after the Seniors of 1963 had graduated, of what to do with the high school student body the following year, with no new high school building ready for occupancy and with the entire old, condemned building declared unsafe for any use by students. Rumors abounded: were we going to have to go to high school in tents? Worse, were we going to be bused to, God forbid, Eastland High School?
Thus were the CHS Seniors of 1964 in “the catbird’s seat,” in the “eye of the storm” — a storm that suddenly pounded the school district, or, rather, pounded the school administrators and school board into making some hard decisions. We could not believe our luck! Here we were, missing out on having a new building from which to graduate, missing out on graduating from the traditional old building, and feeling helpless, as if there was nothing we could do to help the situation. We were going to be the first class in Cisco ISD history, perhaps, not to graduate from our own high school building; we were going to be graduates without a site from which to graduate — in the tradition of “Rebel Without a Cause” or “Man Without a Country.” We, as a class, were “shit outta luck!” And we had done nothing to deserve any of this mess!
The school’s solution was, actually, clever, given the lack of options; we did not have to go to Eastland. The “high school” was to be the junior high building in which we were 6th graders through 8th, a building, it will be recalled, that was to also be replaced by the new bond (The junior high site was actually two blocks in area — mostly open playground — between W 11th and W 13th Streets and between Avenues H and I. A block-long section of W 12th St. was “chopped out” of this street’s route by this site.). Junior high was to move to a series of company buildings in “Humbletown” in SE Cisco, buildings the Humble Oil Co. was not using anymore as part of its withdrawal from Cisco. Consequently all kinds of students were to be bussed back and forth to the lunchrooms at the junior high site (read “high school”) and at West Ward Elementary (increasing the busing for lunch that was always done from East Ward to junior high). High school science labs would have to be held at the labs at CJC (Cisco College), starting extra early in the morning on lab days (usually Mondays — (!)) so as not to interfere with the college labs. High school assemblies would have to be held in the junior high gym we had used while in junior high, and the stage in the gym would have to be used as a classroom.
Piled atop these uncomfortable physical plant conditions were announcements to remind us Seniors that the year we had been waiting 11 years for would see no Senior trip and no Senior play, Cisco High school traditions torn from our grasp by unruly classes on trips from about three years before in the case of traditional class travel, and by the lack of a safe auditorium in the case of the traditional play.
Moreover, a new coaching staff was hired, Billy Bates being the new football coach (Coach Joe Turner, the one we thought would be the next head coach after Coach Rice, declined the promotion, as he had little patience with the downtown armchair QB’s with whom all Cisco coaches had to contend.). Coach Bates began turning the football program topsy-turvy, just like the town’s school sites. We, and by “we” I mean we managers, a group headed up by Berry and me, had to play a major role in moving the football field house from the west end (SW end) of the field to the space beneath the north (NW) bleachers of the community gym; our backs were among many “sorely” asking “Why?” The old field house became the new visitor’s dressing room — an exact switch of team facilities. It began to look like changes were being made for the sake of change, as well for necessity. Consequently, as the team’s “washerwoman,” I had to transport back-and-forth all the laundry from the new field house to the old, where the washer and dryer remained unmoved!
And, as if that was not enough, the school had a new superintendent in T. M. Roach, who seemed as determined to put a “new stamp” on the district as much as Coach Bates. Emphasis was placed upon the building of the new schools, the new high school and the new junior high school, de-emphasizing the “hard luck” that had become the fate of we Seniors 1964.
As President of the student body, of the Student Council, I became the face, along with that of the President of the Senior class, Berry’s face, of student leadership to try to do what we could to make what we knew to be a junior high into a high school. It was maddening and difficult, but we tried. Black and gold (the school’s colors) wooden letters spelling out “CISCO HIGH SCHOOL” were cut and painted in my back yard and nailed atop the flat roof of the “high school” walkways and hallways facing Avenue H. The Student Council ordered all kinds of baubles and trinkets, in addition to the football spirit ribbons, to promote school spirit, like pens, buttons, and a Lobo decal I designed. (I caught a lot of artistic criticism over my lobo being too lean and skinny, instead of being “fluffy.”)
The school was reluctant to let us do more, so we took matters into our own hands just as school was starting. Adling, Berry, Lee, and I tried to start a fraternity-like service organization among the leading guys of the school, calling ourselves the “Shahzadas,” but our only official action was placing apples with a welcome tag on the desks of the teachers. Because the Shahzadas were not officially sanctioned (We had not asked for permission.) and because the start of the year was so time-consuming for all of us, interest in our “fraternity” faded exponentially. In reaction to our not being able to have a Senior trip, Berry headed up a group of Seniors, with some non-school-sanctioned parental support, to form a “Senior Club,” a group intending to sponsor dances to raise money so that the class could go on its own private Senior Trip (Adling, not a socialite or a dancer, called the Senior Club “Berry’s Club.”) — again, a non-school sanctioned act frowned upon by both the new coaching staff and by the new district administration. Though the Senior Club’s dances would not interfere with the Student Council’s “official” dances, many thought this might be a “rift” between Berry and me, especially given the fact I never danced at even the dances I helped sponsor and set up (Ode to William L. (Bill) Adling [May, 2012]). On the contrary, I thought the Senior Club idea was a good one; I was present at its organization at Berry’s house, though I never participated in its events, except to help Berry and his “staff” clean up after the dances on late Saturday nights.
With the football season underway, a distasteful political scene began to take place, drawing Berry and me to come to each other’s support. Berry (one of two Senior managers for Coach Bates) was under fire from the school’s administration over the Senior Club, especially from Coach Bates, who claimed the dances encouraged his football players to break curfew; rumors of under-aged drinking at the Senior Club’s dances began to circulate. Coach Bates began pressuring me to change the Student Council dances from after every home game to only games that we won, calling them “Victory Dances.” Backed by Council sponsor Mr. Roy Hathaway (Crashing the Cisco Beauty Pageant — Night of the Long Knife [June, 2013]), I, who was Coach Bates’ Senior head football manager, remember, reminded Coach Bates that the dances had to be set up well before kick-off; and to have to “strike the dance” if we lost the game would be a waste of time and money. I soon realized I was the messenger between Hathaway and Bates, between whom a gap of disagreement grew. I felt like a ping-pong ball going back-and-forth, and I did not like them using me to speak for either of them; those two needed to have a “meet Jesus” meeting and leave me out of it!
This was the school year to which our class had looked forward? No new high school building. No old high school building. Forced to attend a “pretend” high school building. No Senior Trip. No Senior Play. An inconvenient field house location. A new, strong-willed head coach committed to change. A new, strong-willed superintendent committed to change in disregard to school traditions. Pressure to dissolve an attempt to raise money on our own. Pressure to jeopardize school dances.
Circumstances never before seen in Cisco schools focused upon us Seniors 1964 and upon the three other classes. We understood that flux, change over time, was necessary under these circumstances, but we never thought that our response at school’s start as part of that flux would be resisted; it was disappointing and frustrating that our attempts to change adversity into an opportunity, to put as positive a spin on a difficult and challenging situation as we could, were being stone-walled by an adult mix that was not going well for the student body.
In our few collective moments of paranoia, there was a feeling among the Seniors 1964 that the effects upon our class of the coming new school facilities, the “temporary fixes,” if you please, were becoming the excuses of the new administration and coaching staff for dealing “carte blanche” change without regard to what it meant to our last year of high school. We were, it seemed, being ignored and marginalized, as if we were “also-rans” in a race pushed aside and foul-riddled by the winners of the race, who were leaning toward the finish line (the new school being built) much too prematurely. Many in the faculty, the administration, and the coaching staff seemed to be dealing us “busy work” instead of opportunities to involve us toward solving the special problems of this special school year. It was as if the school and, indeed, a lot of the town, were over-anxious to get the school year 1963-1964 out-of-the-way and done-with — all with a disregard of what they were ignoring and pushing aside — namely, our class.