Stories about the ‘Westies’
Two vignettes about life at West Junior High School, circa 1954
With the West Junior High Class of 1954 nearing its reunion picnic Saturday, July 31 from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Thorndale Park, classmates Lloyd Needham
and David Bylund have each penned irreverent recollections. Samples appear below. (Note: Anyone from the West Class of '54 is welcome to the reunion, but must
bring their own food!)
Coach Anderson was a gruff neat guy. Back in those days it was mandatory to suit up for gym. Today they call it PE. His contribution to my life was he taught me to “Tuff it out.” One of his great pleasures was to close off half the gym floor and throw out half a dozen basket balls and it was dodgeball free for all. The hard basketballs hurt, and so it inspired us to try to be the thrower rather than the recipient. One of the valuable lessons and to indicate how schools have changed came in a softball game when I did a bad slide into third base and hurt my ankle. I went home for lunch and my mom took me to Cooper Lidke Drug and talked to the man in the pharmacy. He put an elastic bandage on it and I insisted on a set of crutches. (Playing the sympathy card) When I returned to school Coach Anderson came over and yelled at me for being such a crybaby and shamed me into leaving my crutches in his office till after school. Can you even imagine that in today's times?
Mr. Hinshaw was a kind and understanding man. He and I always got along. One thing I remember about his class didn't involve me but another boy, whose name escapes me. Some of you may remember a toy that was made of plastic and you unscrewed the top and put in caps. You then would throw this toy and when it hit the ground, it set off the caps with a bang. Being Westies, we didn't have the kind of money to buy the toy, so necessity being the mother of invention, this boy fashioned two metal bolts together connected by a nut between them. He loaded the caps in the nut, which was attached to one bolt, then attempted to screw the other bolt on. We were reading and doing busy work with Mr. Hinshaw in the back of the room when “BOOM.” The poor guy tried to hide his “weapon of mass disruption” from Mr. Hinshaw but the smoke from his device kept rolling out from under his arms. Later, when we all got up to leave class, the boy was asked to remain for a chat with Mr. Hinshaw.
The last time I saw Mr. Hinshaw was in the later '50s when I was a Marine in Hawaii and I ran into him and Mrs. Hinshaw as they were enjoying retirement.
The move from grade school to junior high is a big one. I don't think that it has changed that much, in terms of the significance of the change, from 1951 to today. I've had the great honor to view three granddaughters and four grandsons make that move in the last few years (1 other still faces the change) and I think each of them also went to Junior High/Middle School with a great sense of new excitement and fear. New, bigger school, classmates you've never seen before, strange class schedules with classrooms all over the place. How will you ever figure it out?
The FIRST day, however, is the real problem. Stories from my uncle and aunt, who had gone to West Junior not that many years before, did not help. They told of initiation rituals that were common in their day. Getting “de-pants-ed” sounded to me to be the worst. Pants yanked down by huge ninth-grade brutes and right in public for all to see. I'd actually seen some of those ninth-graders and they were giants (just like in Bible times?). My friend, Phil Skelton, lived up on 21st Street where Bijou Street intersected right at his house. This was also right across the street from the West Junior back sports fields. This vantage point had given him valuable and special insight into the school and those who lived further west. His older brothers, Gene and Jerry, had also educated him about the reasons we should remain absolutely fearful of ever setting foot on the holy ground of West Junior High.
Our advisors were also most helpful in pointing out the need to heed the potential risks and dangers to be faced in meeting the legendary “West Side Gang” (perhaps only a legend?). Legend or not, all of the stories from my schoolmate friends and their older family members definitely dispensed great doses of real fear to all newcomers. Our first day was sure to be loaded with danger and we were sure to encounter a full day of mean tricks and initiation rituals. I lost sleep the night before the start of seventh grade.
I, along with my friends, developed a plan. We needed our own gang! We got an early start. Get there before the bad guys are out of bed. This particular strategy still works - bad guys just don't get up early! I don't remember who specifically made up the whole group, excuse me, GANG, but I think it started with a cooperative alliance (like “Survivor”) with a few close friends who resolutely agreed that none of us would face this day alone. I collected a few guys along the way between my house and Phil's. There we created a new Seventh Grade Gang that was made up of tiny, frightened, 12-to-13-year-old, skinny boys huddled closely together (we never thought that the girls may need friends). I know I sacrificed my individuality to become a mere piece of this formidable new organism and disappear into the midst. As we moved carefully in close formation onto the holy school grounds, the new gang-beast grew even larger, nervously inviting any and all with a friendly face to join the new union. Today, I'm absolutely positive that any number of the younger, smaller, possible members of the “West Side Gang” quietly joined this growing mass to just assure their own survival. My limited but valuable natural history education (from “National Geographic”) also kicked in and I sought not to be the smallest or the one most exposed on the milling edge of this mass. The danger of being isolated and picked off like the weakest wildebeest calf was vividly in my thoughts. I wasn't going to be one of them if I could help it.
At the end of day one I still had my pants. Also all of my hair, no black eyes, and I hadn't even had to push a peanut across the field with my nose. Success! Organization! Teamwork! Friends! I think I'll try day two, but not alone. Not yet.
Westside Pioneer article