HISTORY OF ZEPHYRHILLS HIGH SCHOOL
The Decade of the 1970’s at ZHS
When you think of ZHS in the 1970s, the headlines shout, “year-round school system, a new facility, the end of innocence, honor in politics, social conflict and change with rules that moved from rigid to free!”
Life at ZHS in the 1970’s brought a change of venue—namely a new physical plant and transition from a small-town protected coziness to a multifaceted diverse population. In April 1975, ZHS students moved into a new 3 million dollar facility—designed by architect, Eoghan (Owen) N.Kelley. Bernie Wickstrom of the local newspaper said, “the school has wide curving halls, a large student commons area with a stage, a raised cafeteria and a sunken media center.”
The principal said of the moving day— …“it will be a busy day Wednesday of next week when ZHS moves into a new 3 million educational plant on the Hercules property on 12th street.”
This school had been planned for some time and was needed to accommodate phenomenal growth. A new facility had been proposed by P.H. Murphy, school board member from Zephyrhills, in November 1970 who advocated the school board sell 40 acres of the Hercules Tract and use it to build a new school. Population growth also occurred in the younger ages and a new school, Woodland Elementary, was opened on the same campus as ZHS in February of 1978.
To address the burgeoning school growth, a year-round school system, an extended school year, came in the fall of 1973. An extended school year committee was appointed by the Pasco Superintendent Rodney Cox and the committee recommended that Pasco County adopt the 45-15 Plan for year round schools. Schools started double sessions in 1971 with 1000 students at the high school (up from 854 students enrolled the previous year), and the county was desperate to find some relief. The growth was steady throughout the decade and graduating classes were larger also. The 1975 ZHS graduating class was almost 50 percent larger than the 1974 class going from 111 to 163.
Begun in 1973, the 45-15 extended school year program (a system in which students attended school within one of four geographical tracts on a 45 day attendance/15 day vacation interval with three of the four tracts in school session at all times, rotating among the four) was innovative and did serve to educate students at a time when school buildings to house them were just not adequate. It had some inherent implementation problems at the high school level…causing several teachers to leave the school and eventually becoming quite unpopular with school stakeholders. By 1977 at the conclusion of the 45-15 extended school year, Principal Stewart congratulated the seniors of 1977 on their accomplishments in the four years they attended the School. Stewart commented that times had been tough for them because of 45-15. He said, we’ will not miss 45-15 but we will miss the class.
The country experienced some upheavals in the decade of the 1970s. The Watergate scandal was in the news and affected perceptions of everyday events. Ironically as the US was coming to terms with unethical behavior in national politics and felt some disillusionment, Pasco Schools and particularly Zephyrhills were experiencing examples of sportsmanship in politics that were somewhat unparalleled with a political gracefulness and wisdom that was displayed by Raymond Stewart, Tom Weightman and James E. Davis. The ZHS principal received the following news:
The appointment of ZHS Principal, Ray Stewart, came in the aftermath of the rather sudden death of School Superintendent Rodney B. Cox. Tom Weightman, a political rival of Ray’s had been acting as superintendent in the months following the death of Cox, until the official appointment of Stewart. James E. Davis who had been a member of the ZHS faculty since 1966, and was officially appointed principal of ZHS.
Just eighteen months later however, Weightman and Stewart were opponents in a political election in which Weightman was victorious. The ZHS faculty was in the precarious position of supporting Stewart, their longtime leader in the election, and the tension was very real on campus as teachers feared there might be repercussions from their political support. Both Weightman and Stewart proved to be outstanding leaders but they were particularly admirable in their treatment of one another. Although political rivals, they respected each other and continued to work closely together. Both were careful to make sure the other had a professional position. After Ray’s defeat in the Superintendent’s race, he returned to ZHS and new principal, James E. Davis, graciously assumed the junior high principalship. History has to judge all three of these individuals-Stewart, Weightman and Davis as true gentlemen of character and all three served as role models for the school!
The end of the Vietnam War and the re-entry of veterans was a challenge. These turbulent times impacted the country’s self-concept. At ZHS reactions to these events were felt as well. While eroding of political pride affected the country so—there was a similar end of innocence that came to ZHS. A devastating traffic accident in 1973 took the life of a community patriarch and a significant part of the Reutimann Racing Team of Zephyrhills legend— tragically killed were Emil Booby Reutimann, himself a ZHS graduate of 1931, and his son, Dale Reutimann, a June 1973 ZHS Graduate and a ZHS sophomore, Gordon Stone—all of whom were returning from a race. The school stood still in collective grief. The author began teaching at ZHS the following summer, and recalls that teachers and students could not talk of the event many months later without tears and emotion. The city of Zephyrhills issued a proclamation in their honor and the school was impacted tremendously.
To add to this tragic timeframe, in the summer of 1972 a car struck down the popular ZHS junior class president, Karl Wickstom, on his bicycle, on Fort King Highway. The repercussions of yet another tragedy reverberated through the town double-fold as Karl was the son of Bernie Wickstrom, the loyal news reporter and school activist/stakeholder. Bernie printed the Zephyrhills Bulldogger for over twenty years and covered every school event, often editorializing on decisions and directions of the school. Yet today, these tragedies are recalled with pain and yearning and from a historical perspective, they served to end the naive belief of a generation of youth of the immortality they often feel and the sense of invincibility, and certainly to impact the character of the school.
This was the age of the mini-skirt and it became symbolic for a change in social norms, even at ZHS. At the beginning of the decade, there was a rigid view of rules and their application. Mrs. Alpha Gill, ZHS Dean of Girls, told the local newspaper that it had become necessary to set standards since a few students were unwittingly attiring themselves in immodest skirts. She said:
ZHS was concerned about the mini-skirt and the ZHS PTA formed a committee of parents to make recommendations and advise the school, most of which fell on Mrs. Gill to enforce the modesty. Rules moved across the spectrum gauge however by the end of the decade. In fact by 1978, the school had implemented its own student smoking area, and allowed students to smoke cigarettes on school campus.
Curriculum was flexible in the 1970s. In the mid 1970s, quarter long classes (nine weeks in length) were in place and numerous creative elective courses were offered. Yours truly taught six subjects in 1974 which included a course in Philosophy, Major Religions, Minor Religions, Psychology, Sociology, and Government. Vocational classes continued on the rise and by 1972, 60% of total school population was in vocational educational programs at ZHS.
The arts were celebrated in the 1970s and with the preponderance of electives, there was room in student schedules for art and music. The ZHS art program flourished under Judy Mason and the new band director, Paul Steuart, carried on the traditions of John T.V. Clark. He incorporated several annual band trips—1976 march at Kennedy Space Center, 1974 trip to the Apple Blossom Parade in Winchester Virginia. The band was also an integral part of the Homecoming celebration which had grown larger and more creative every year with parades, contests between the classes, and homecoming dances.
With the new school, graduations occurred in the commons area of the school plant but the air conditioners were taxed beyond capacity, more and more each year. The 1979 commencement was an outdoor ceremony which was held in the brand new football stadium. The principal remarked that the stadium would hold 1,800 on the home side so seating would be plentiful. He had not anticipated that there would be some frolicking by the graduates to the tune of a string of firecrackers at the conclusion of the ceremony, and this was in fact, the last outdoor graduation to date.
Noteworthy stars of the decade were many. A particular star of the decade was 1971 graduate, Lois Ann Wells, who became a star in the world renowned Rockettes Dance Troupe at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. Joyce Stover Statts, also a Miss Zephyrhills, was quite an activist at the school and also entertained at the school and in the community as an accomplished ventriloquist with her dummy, Wesley.
Title IX was passed in 1972 and brought a revolution to school sports with the inclusion of women in sports program. Title IX basically said that no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation. Irene Graf, a ZHS 1970 graduate was quite renowned as a pioneer in women’s rights—she was the first woman commander of the ROTC Corps at the University of Florida when she was a senior chemistry major (a squadron of 166 males and 16 women) and then went on to be a member of the first group of girls admitted to the Air Force Academy in 1976.
Donald Harrison, a 1975 graduate, guarded the first lady, Nancy Reagan, on Air Force One. The Zephyrhills News reported:
The United States 1976 bicentennial was celebrated across the country —two history classes combined to present a Bicentennial program at the Pasco Fair on in February 1976 with a slide show by Terry’ Turner’s U.S history class and a play by Madonna Wise’s government class.
Perhaps the bicentennial spawned patriotism but irregardless of the motivation, numerous outstanding students were admitted to the military academies in the decade, namely: Mike Cox in 1973 to Air Force Academy; Scott Boyd in 1977 to West Point; Aaron Gray to Annapolis in 1979 and James Whitacre to Air Force Academy in 1977. These boys were hometown heroes and we followed their success; when Scott Boyd appeared on the televised USO show with Bob Hope as the cadet selected to cut Hope’s birthday cake, we all smiled collectively at ZHS.
The news also reported that the class of 1978 had six Eagle Scouts (relating that the average was one Eagle for every 300 scouts, making ZHS way above the national average). Eagle Scouts were Homer E. Brooks, III, Bruce W. Clark, Jeffrey A. DeWitt, Willie T. Quick, Jr., Michael Schaffner, and James K. Waddey.
Sports stars included Paul White who set a new school record for the 2-mile run and was recruited by Oral Roberts University. Track and football quarterback, Wendell Maple, broke a seven year school record in the discus throw in 1977. With football growing in significance at ZHS, Defensive back, Dennis Farr was named a member of the Class 2A All State football team selected by the Florida Sportswriters Association in January 1976 and Coach Alan Knight was ecstatic.
The 1970 ZHS baseball team went to the state championship and pride still reigns for Ricky Giles, Rick Moore, Keathel Chauncey, Rubin Pickett, Bill Porter, Jeff Brown, Cliff Brown, and John Harrelson. To add to this joy, Keathel Chauncey was drafted after high school by the Los Angeles dodgers and became one of the first ZHS professional athletes.
The ZHS Girls Golf Team won the Class 2A State Championship in 1978. Andra Douglas, the number one player went on to be a star on the national championship women’s ruby team at FSU in 1983 and became Creative Director of Money Magazine. Later she was the first woman quarterback of the New York Sharks Professional Women’s Football Team, which at this writing (2007) she owns in New York City. Ray Stewart, the Principal, was also a local hero at a July 1, 1976 school bus driver picnic at the home of J. W. Williams. When a child was in distress in the pool, he saved the teen’s life. The news report read:
Although PTA was less prominent in the 1970s, parents were still involved at ZHS. As issues arose, they were involved. The school dealt with the same social issues as the remainder of the country. Racial unrest came to light a few times in the 1970’s In 1970, Mr. Stewart called a parent meeting and dealt with the following issue in an effective manner.
A dominant theme of the 1970’s was school integration. Pasco and Zephyrhills were indicative of the State of Florida in their reluctance to quickly embrace school integration. The process had been set into motion by the Supreme Court in its 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education, ruling that African-American schools provided inferior education services to white schools. A ruling in 1955, Brown II, dictated that placing black and white students in the same school was to be done at “all deliberate speed.” At the time of the 1954 decision, laws in 17 states (including Florida) required that elementary schools be segregated. Little progress was made in addressing the federal ruling until a few parents, including some in the neighboring counties of Pinellas and Hillsborough, sued their school districts. Eventually also the US passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed school segregation. Integration progressed slowly, and by 1967, 22% of African-American students in the south were in integrated schools.
School integration came to Pasco County in 1970. The Pasco School Superintendent, Chester Taylor, oversaw the desegregation of the schools. Until racial integration of the schools in the 1960s, African-American students attended separate schools
At ZHS the leadership during this tumultuous time of integration was provided by Raymond Stewart. Undoubtedly Ray’s strength of character, ability to listen to all viewpoints and warmth as well as sense of humor were assets. He was not afraid to deal with controversy and stood for what was right, even when it was unpopular. Ray’s physical attributes were of importance as well; Ray was a large man in stature—tall (over 6’5” and rugged in appearance, analogous to John Wayne) and wielded a respect from students, parents and stakeholders, not only because of his intellectual insights but also his physical presence. Students used to say, they knew when Mr. Stewart walked into a classroom, auditorium or sports event-that the expectation was to behave, understanding intuitively that displays of outburst or skirmishes would be dealt with decisively by Mr. Stewart himself!
Zephyrhills was progressive in the school district in its hiring during the early 70’s of Melvin Dennard—the first African-American administrator (serving as Assistant Principal) at ZHS in 1973. Mr. Dennard’s presence and excellent verbal skills and role modeling were helpful during this timeframe when the schools were integrated, and through his leadership and the keen insights of Raymond Stewart, the transition was smooth.