- Associated Press - Thursday, September 4, 2014

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP) - Ed Cole couldn’t help but notice before last Friday’s Central High School football game all the “old-timers” stood in honor of the school song, “The Rouser.”

While the retired EVSC educator admitted he didn’t see many younger generation students following suit, Cole, 75, believes the pride of being a Central Bear is still as powerful now as when the school was established 160 years ago today.

About seven years before the Civil War, Evansville High School, the city’s first, opened on Sept. 4, 1854, with an enrollment of 17 students - eight boys and nine girls - according to “Central High School: Its First Hundred Years,” by Henry A. Meyer. After Reitz High School was built on the West Side in 1918, Evansville High School was renamed Central High.

Central is regarded as the oldest free public high school in continuous operation west of the Allegheny Mountains, a saying almost as sacred and well-known as the school song. It was located Downtown for 103 years.

Until 1868, the school was located in a number of rented locations Downtown, according to a plaque in Commons Area of the current building.

From 1855 until 1863, the school shared a new building with Evansville’s elementary grades on Canal Street. But in 1868, the plaque states, students moved to their own building on the southwest side of 7th Street between Vine and Court streets. Classes remained in that location until 1971 when faculty and students moved to the current location on First Avenue.

The Historic Evansville website reports the old Central building was razed in 1973, except for its gymnasium which is now used by the Downtown YMCA.

Central sporting events have been a vital part of Cole’s life since he was about 8 years old. Now 75, he has cheered on every Central football and basketball team since 1948. He often sees many people at games and events that are older than him, a loyalty he admires.

“I don’t know if the young people today graduating have the same loyalty for their high school that people did years ago,” Cole, president of his 1957 senior class, told the Evansville Courier & Press (https://bit.ly/1qzDoDr ). “It’s just something that you were raised with; your parents went there, you went there and you just had it ingrained inside of you.”

Even though Central has been on First Avenue for more than 40 years, Cole laughed and said he and the other “old-timers” still refer to it as the “new Central.”

Current Central Principal Darla Hoover said pride in the school and its history occurs throughout the halls on a daily basis. Community members regularly donate memorabilia to Central, which Hoover said is organized and dispersed in display cases around the building to constantly remind students of the school’s past.

Hoover, who graduated from Bosse High School in 1991, said many people who aren’t from Evansville don’t understand the “strong allegiance” to one’s high school. She said most people think someone is inquiring about their college degree when asked, “Where did you go to school?” But whenever that’s asked in Evansville, alums always respond with their high school.

“But I think there is an enormous amount of pride around Central that is unique because of its longevity,” Hoover said. “Because we’re talking grandfathers, great grandfathers, great-great grandfathers that went to school here. … Albion Fellows Bacon was a 1883 Central grad, that’s very cool. … And I think we continue to do the Hall of Fame because for us it’s an opportunity to show our students the great things that Central graduates can do.”

A 1996 Central graduate, Andy Owen has served as athletic director for five years. While a student at Central, he played football for his father, Mike Owen, who has been employed in various roles and coaching positions with the high school since 1978. He can relate to having a long-standing tradition with Central sports because he started attending events when he was around 2 years old.

Throughout his time at the high school, Owen said he always hears people comment on the building’s renovations and improvements, including changes to the media center, computer labs and new weight room equipment.

“Just how the times have changed, Central has kept up with it,” he said. “So the structure and everything has changed, but the sense of pride of the people belonging here has remained the same.”

Cole agreed that in Evansville, there is a sense of loyalty to the high school a person graduates from that lasts a lifetime. He remembers the school’s 100th anniversary when he was a freshman at Central. Meyer’s book was published, and streets were closed to have a weeklong celebration with dancing, he said.

Cole’s parents graduated from Central, and during his 38 years as an EVSC teacher, he taught his two sisters, one brother, as well as his three children. He also taught Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke and Courier & Press editor Tim Ethridge, who are both Central graduates.

Cole taught for 10 years at the “old” Central location and about 27 years at the new Central, and he said he noticed a difference.

Cole said everyone loved the new facility that had ample parking spaces, a physical education facility, plenty of restrooms throughout the building and central air-conditioning. But he said people who attended the original Central, now a parking lot for the YMCA, still consider it the “best” because it was their school.

He and retired Vanderburgh County Circuit Court Senior Judge Carl Heldt, a 1962 Central grad and class president, didn’t want the community to forget where Central originated. So in 2010, after about five years of organizing and planning, a monument was erected using bricks that had been saved from the old Central building. The monument was designed and built by local bricklayer Mark Singer, and includes plaques describing the high school’s history, as well as an old photo.

As of Wednesday, Central’s enrollment was 1,123 students. And 17 of the teachers or administrators are Central graduates because people want to return, Hoover said.

In 2013, the yearbook theme was Rising, and when Hoover asked where it came from she was surprised and pleased that her students replied that they notice the school is continuously getting better - athletically and academically. Hoover noted that the state assigned her school a C letter grade, but the next year students scored higher on standardized tests and the school earned a B. She was happy they noticed the positive changes.

Central has many programs for the feeder schools, and the Medical Professions Academy is housed at the school.

“Central is a great school for a lot of different types of students,” she said. “I really do think we have enough variety of classes and extra-curriculars that kids can find a place of belonging here and find a way to be successful.”

Cole said although the pride with Central graduates may not be as strong, he doesn’t think it will ever disappear.

“I would hate to see the tradition stopped,” he said. “I don’t think it ever will. I think you’ll have a fight on your hands from the alumni of Central High School.”

Hoover said the future generations of Bears are currently in kindergarten. As long as her students continue to “attend, engage and achieve,” then she doesn’t see any reason traditions would change.

“We are constantly showing students here possibilities through our graduates,” Hoover said. “We have a 160 years’ worth of possibilities, there’s a lot you can talk about.”


Information from: Evansville Courier & Press, https://www.courierpress.com



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