In 1960 the Emery County School Board proposed to close North Emery High School and South Emery High School and combine them into one. Then in a bond election enough people voted "yes" to carry it through, leaving almost as many who had voted "no" very upset. Not only the two high schools, but three elementary schools were closed at that time Castle Dale, Emery, and Elmo. The new high school was finished in 1962 in time for the new school year to begin.
The Emery County Archives has had a grant this past year from Utah Humanities Council and the Utah Historical Society to gather oral histories from some of those students who attended that new school in those first years. I collected a few full histories from some students who experienced this change, but we also held an Archives Open House where year books were opened to view and a poster with pictures of all the old Emery County schools was displayed. I talked to people and encouraged comments about their school experiences. The reasons for consolidation were economics of the county and reduced population, but this project was seeking some answers: Did the students think consolidating the two high schools a good thing or not? I did not live in the county when I was young, so everything in this article is from what I have learned from others. It was very interesting to hear the different view points and experiences. Following is a summary of the comments from a variety of former students of the New Emery School.
North and South Emery were bitter rivals. Since the schools have been combined into one, there has never been another school that came close to being such a fierce rival to Emery High as the two county schools were to each other.
Examples of this contention are: It was taboo to date someone from the enemy school but "sometimes they would do it on the sly." Girls were considered "bad girls" if they dated boys from the other school.Boys who did the same were asking for fights. Some kids even avoided driving through the rival towns--they disliked everything about "those" towns. Sometimes there were fights after games or over girls. Kids from the "other" school were referred to by derogatory names such as "Swamp Angels" or "Retards" or worse. Some said, "We hated each other." This rivalry was felt since the 1930s, perhaps before, so some of the parents still held onto their feelings against the "other" school.
This was the climate in the county when all the students were suddenly thrust together and efforts were made to unite all the high school kids (with the exception of Green River). It must have been a daunting time for the school board and faculty, as well as the students. As I started into this project, asking a few people of the right age how they felt, I began to think it was a much easier transition that I had expected to find. I heard many positive things about the consolidation: There were so many more boys/girls to meet and date. So many classmates married a boy/girl from the other part of the county after the merge. Progress and change were exciting. (It was only the parents who had problems with it.) It offered better curriculum and greater choices of classes--a better education. We were no longer Bulldogs and Rangers, we became Spartans. Can't tell you what a positive experience it was. The best teachers were chosen from both schools and so they had "cream of the crop--remarkable" teachers. Everything was new--classrooms, equipment, desks, uniforms--it even smelled shiny and new. The two former high school buildings were so old their options had been limited, such as the tiny gyms--now they had a big, real gym with bleachers and glass basketball backboards. They could finally have a football program in their school and county again. They combined the best of the two sports programs and so they had better teams and were able to compete for State.
The new faculty was made up almost entirely from the two old schools with the exception of sports coach. With the intense rivalry between teams, how could they select a coach from either school and expect fairness? Even if the coaches could show fairness, there was doubt that the kids would accept an enemy coach. The last rival basketball game was won by South Emery. North Emery watched them carry their coach on their shoulders as they felt the bitterness of such a close defeat. Could North Emery have welcomed him to be their coach? So a new coach was brought in from outside the area for fairness--and he also knew how to coach football.
The faculty spent some serious time creating activities that would help the consolidation go more smoothly. The last football game of the season before the new merge was played by North and South Emery at South Emery. During the intermission there was a skit presented about two Indian tribes who were enemies; they counseled together and decided to bury the hatchet. The hatchet was symbolically buried between North and South Emery High schools. Another tool for peacemaking was that the student body officers had equally represent both North and South--the student body president was from South Emery, and the vice president was from North Emery. Assemblies were organized so students from both schools participated and performed in them. The student body officers came down the aisles in the first assembly singing the song "Getting to Know You" from The King and I. Students participated in unification by choosing their new school song, colors, mascot and uniforms--things that would make the school their own. Students were encouraged to submit ideas for each of these things and then the options were voted on.
Some memories of those first choices include the option of an Allosaurus for a mascot because of their abundance in Emery County. It lost out to the Spartan mascot. At first the color choice seemed logical--if you combine blue from one school and red from the other you have purple.That seemed to be the decision. The marching band combined from the two schools early--in the summer--in order to march in parades. So purple uniforms were made for the girls who were the flag bearers and twirlers; purple cummerbunds were worn with the other uniforms. When school started, however, there were other options brought up. The new coach suggested taking purple down a shade or more to maroon which would be a great color to hide the football as a player carried it against his maroon shirt during games. Someone or some group came up with the option of gray, black, and gold. It looked "classy." It won by a landslide, so the girls' purple uniforms were worn only once. Students were also encouraged to submit designs for the various uniforms. Bernice Payne's design won for the drill team. One school song was submitted by Mr. and Mrs. Johansen, but lost out to a song composed by JoAnn Cox and Marie Ware. These efforts to make a smooth transition from two schools to one are commendable, and they seemed to have worked well for some students, but there were many others who found the whole experience very difficult.
Here are some unpleasant memories of consolidation: Everyone had to be bused so getting to and from school made everyone's day longer.
The old schools had been right in town, "kind of in the middle of everything." The new school was off by itself away from any town or park. Their sports practice was done in a cow pasture. It was no longer a close, personal, and friendly atmosphere. Some teachers played favorites with kids from their school. (I really only heard about one teacher who did this, but I heard it from a few sources.) Kids kept their old friends from previous school, so there was little chance to make new friends. Kids from one school ignored the kids from the other--they stayed segregated in many ways. The library had too few books that first year to be helpful. (Sam Singleton volunteered to take all the extra classes and training to qualify as a librarian and had to build the library from scratch.) The curriculum was set up to accommodate South Emery students and not North Emery so the scheduling had to be changed so seniors could all have the opportunity to get the classes they needed for graduation; they were accommodated, but it built up more resentment. Many athletes from both schools did not make it onto the sports teams. There was no alternative to school lunch (like going to Walts in Huntington next to the school). There was intense dislike between students from the different schools, and there were greater opportunities for fights--enemy too close to pass up; name calling of the opposite schools were used directly to people or easily overheard. It ruined the high school experience for some who had been so involved in their old school--now there was no particular place for them.
It seems that if a student participated in an area where they were forced to mingle with each other such as student body officers, sports teams, drama, band, etc. they liked the changes in the school, made new friends and found the transition easy and even fun. The students who were not part of those groups had a more difficult time adjusting on their own to the new situation. There was such a problem over who and how many girls could be on the drill team that they finally just opened it up to everyone who wanted to be on the team--according to yearbook pictures, there were 77. But not all teams and groups could do that and many were left out.
As can be seen by what has been written above, in the course of this project I found some very opposing viewpoints. Some people expressed the opinion that those rivalry feelings were increased by "forcing" the students into a combined school. One man I spoke to who had attended high school a few years before the consolidation said that if they would have tried to consolidate during his school years, he would not have gone to school. He would have enrolled in Carbon County rather than having to go to school with "those guys." Other people shared the view that the rivalry feelings dropped off quickly, and the combining of students and faculty gave them a greater education and brought the county together better than anything else could have. Change is very difficult for some personalities, it is an exciting opportunity for other types. Like all high school experiences, it seems to have depended on one's circumstances, friends, goals, and attitudes whether or not consolidation was a good thing.