Friday, March 24, 2017

Magic words: Fair Park High School

Fair Park: A beautiful sight ... always
        The news came officially earlier this week, not unexpectedly and not satisfactorily: Fair Park is no longer going to be a high school in Shreveport.
      Aw, nuts.
      Don't like the sound of that. To not see "Fair Park Indians" regularly in stories about athletics does not seem right.
      Of course, this is much more about education than athletics, but for me and so many of my old friends -- and we're old, folks -- it was athletics that brought us to Fair Park so many times. 
      So 89 years is enough, right? So much for tradition and history. One of Shreveport's two oldtime white public high schools is going away or, in this case, being "demoted."
      C.E. Byrd opened in 1926, Fair Park in 1928 ... and, by gosh, it would be hard to find anyone in Shreveport who would dare to suggest that Byrd be closed. (No way it should be.)

      My e-mail and Facebook "friends" list includes about 75 people with Fair Park ties -- mostly former students -- and I probably know about three times as many Fair Park people altogether.
      I feel sure that if we took a vote whether or not Fair Park should no longer be a high school, it would be many-to-zero.
      Oh, there might be a few who don't care because it's been so long since the 1940s, '50s, '60s and '70s when it was the school we knew, and so many loved.
       But the only vote that counted was the Caddo Parish School Board's vote. And that was 10-2 last Tuesday to merge Fair Park High students with Booker T. Washington High students, to be housed at BTW.
       Fair Park will become a junior high -- middle -- school.
       Which is OK because -- as the lengthy discourse on the school and its history, and recent-events updates on its excellent alumni web site notes several times -- after many building renovations and some additions, "it remains both a functional and beautiful facility, standing proudly, to serve the students and the surrounding community."
       There is going to be a middle-school vacancy in the area because the School Board also voted to close Lakeshore -- which has been one of the main Fair Park "feeder" schools for as long as I can remember.
       The other main junior high in the area -- in fact, within a mile away -- was Midway, which was moved a few blocks from its original site and is now an elementary school.

        Back to Fair Park, and what's happened. There was much anguish about this, much written in the Shreveport paper and much said/argued, pleas to the School Board, and the old-line and current Fair Parkers had plenty of company in opposing this.
        I am not qualified to make judgments on the School Board's business; I leave that to others. I read it is about financial matters, dropping enrollments and "failing" schools.
        It is also, though, about emotional ties. Obviously, I am not as emotionally tied to Fair Park as its graduates, but I do feel for them. So many made such strong efforts to convince the School Board -- and the superintendent -- how wrong this was.
         Have to be honest, when a few years ago there was talk of closing Woodlawn -- which is now labeled a "leadership academy" rather than a high school -- it did not bother me.
           That might rankle my Woodlawn friends and leave others puzzled. But I've been gone from Shreveport for so long (since 1988) and haven't even been back to our old school in maybe 15 years, and have rarely been in the neighborhood in that time.
           Our old junior high (Oak Terrace) at the southwest end of our old Sunset Acres neighborhood -- a school I attended the first year it was open (1959) -- closed long ago, and that's no problem for me.
           In fact, four of the Shreveport junior highs of our time, the late '50s/early 60s -- OT, Hamilton Terrace, Midway and now Lakeshore -- are going, going ... gone.
           This also brings to mind when Shreveport-Bossier high schools integrated in January 1970 because at that time several of the previously all-black high schools -- Union, Eden Gardens, Valencia, Walnut Hill, Charlotte Mitchell -- were "demoted" to junior highs. Only BTW, Bethune and Linear (soon to become a junior high and replaced by new Green Oaks High) remained mostly (or all) black high schools.
           Point is, it happens. Time moves on, neighborhoods and institutions change. School boards do what they think is right, supposedly what is best for students and education.
           I don't doubt that there is more to this, and maybe some selfish, or misguided, motives on the part of School Board members. Not my call, and I leave the second-guessing to others.
           I do feel for the Fair Park people who tried so hard, especially Cathy Ridley Bonds, who has been the school's alumni director for more than a decade and so instrumental in organizing projects to boost the school's physical facilities and its public image.
           And if it's any consolation, here is what I offer: Think of the memories and the people.
           My allegiance to Woodlawn, and to Shreveport-Bossier, North Louisiana and the state, is about the memories they gave me, the people I met who became lifelong friends.
          Same for Fair Park. All those memories, the wonderful people it has sent into the world, who have done so much for Shreveport and beyond.
           Thinking of Fair Park ...
           -- Black and gold -- a beautiful uniform combination.
           -- That majestic presence off Greenwood Road -- Highway 79 -- with its steeple right across from the home stadium (once State Fair Stadium, now Independence Stadium);
           -- The mosaic school logo embedded in the front lobby (don't step on it!);
           -- The turn off the side street (San Jacinto?) to park in the lot next to the gymnasium (opened in 1956, a carbon copy of the Byrd gym), the split-level gym with the dressing rooms and classrooms downstairs;
           -- The trophy case in the gym foyer with the 1952 state football championship trophy (the only one in a glorious football history), with the Nos. 10 and 12 basketball jerseys retired, with the 1963 basketball state championship trophy and then 2006, and several state runner-up trophies, plus dozens of district championships;
           -- The baseball field down the hill from the gym, where Fair Park was a powerhouse with four state titles (1957, 1963, 1965, 1970) and dozens of outstanding teams and players.
           -- A ways from deep left field in baseball, the football practice field, and track/field facility (the 1980 state track champs and, again, dozens of individual state champs).
           -- The tennis courts, in the valley just below the third-base side (the Indians' home bench) of the baseball field.
           -- Byrd vs. Fair Park, Turkey Day football. Round the Reservation week.
           -- The "Big Indian" dance.
           -- The Pow Wow (school newspaper) and the Sequoyah (yearbook).
           -- I could give you the great names of athletes -- and sportswriters -- from Fair Park, but this is already long and I could spend the next week doing that. We're talking nine decades. I have written about many of them. Better yet, I consider many my good friends.
           The place was special, still is. The building is historic, and it remains. We have the memories and we know the people. 
           Go big Indians. Forever.


  1. From Stan Tiner: Beautifully said. Sad day for me and many.

  2. From Scott Ferrell: Well done. Fair Park coach told me lot of students/athletes have been transferring out. Apparently to parents there is a FP-BTW rivalry.

  3. From Sue Turner Carter: So sad what's going to happen. They stripped the beauty out of the interior and the copper dome went away so long ago. It's just wrong.

  4. From Ron Hill: Good article, and since I went to the "feeder" school Lakeshore -- Midway was the other -- a lot of my Fair Park friends don't like this move. I totally understand what you are saying and agree. To me it's the connection and the emotion as well now that my Lakeshore Lions Den will no longer be as we knew it. My uncle, Howard Hill, did the art work for the first Sequoyah yearbook in 1931. My father, F.A. Hill Jr. was the winning pitcher when Fair Park won the state baseball championship in 1939. So many Hill cousins went there, as well as a boatload of friends. Thank you for the article.

  5. From Harlan Alexander: Time marches on, seasons come and go, I still have my memories (for now at least) and they are good ones. Hope it works out for the students both short and long term. ... FP Class of '65.

  6. From Tim Looney: Sorry to hear about it. Many fond memories of athletic contests against Lakeshore Jr. High and Fair Park (as well as Oak Terrace, Midway, and HT).

  7. From Judith S. Rugg: I went to North Caddo. To us, Fair Park and Byrd were the 'city' schools.

  8. From Susan Maddox: Great post. Although I went to Woodlawn, my mother, aunt, two uncles, cousin and many friends went to Fair Park. It's hard to see these changes.

  9. From Karen Ann Bryant Dye: My dad went to Fair Park, and my cousin (Benny Hunter) played on the 1963 and 1964 basketball teams ... watched them play in the state championship games at Hirsch. I loved Woodlawn, but Fair Park was a close second in my book.

  10. From Lynn Chance: This brings back memories. First, this is the high school where my mother graduated, and then the first apartment I remember living in was just north of Fair Park. We moved from that apartment to an apartment on Lakeshore Drive just east of Lakeshore Junior High, where we were living when I started 1st grade at Queensborough Elementary. I had to walk from the apartment along Lakeshore Drive to Hearne Avenue and then along Hearne to the school, which I did for all of 1st grade and one month of 2nd grade when we moved to Sunset Acres.

  11. From Beverly Denver: Bossier High School is celebrating its 100th birthday this year. I'm going back up there in May for centennial celebration, see friends, etc.
    Please write about BHS and all the good friends you have from there.

  12. From Frank Bright: Well put. Same as we remember loved ones who are "gone."

  13. From Cathy Ridley Bonds: Thanks for your very nice article on Fair Park and your mention of all those that are working so hard on the Fair Park issue.
    Midway (Jewella) is still open as a K-3 school. Looks great inside. Pennzoil fixed it up, retaining the beautiful interior and exterior of the school when Caddo Parish and Pennzoil came to an agreement to move the Midway Junior High School to the old Jewella Elementary. I was just in the school last year and it is so nice.
    Hamilton Terrace was closed four or five years ago and was on the market for a while. Willis Knighton purchased it for $600,000 and is going to fix it up for its use, as what, I do not know yet. But that school looks great, too.
    Everyone believes it is political with Fair Park. Week before last the superintendent announced the closing of Atkins Elementary and Queensborough Elementary; less than 24 hours later he changed his mind and is keeping them.
    You can check at the Caddo Parish School Board office for dates of closings. Again, thanks for the very nice article.

  14. From Dr. Leonard Ponder: Great piece on Fair Park. I didn't know it was on the chopping block. I liked your advice to all Fair Park alumni and friends. Nothing is ever lost so long as it is kept in our memories. That is the way I feel about Byrd, Fair Park, Woodlawn, Oak Terrace, Lakeshore, Midway, and all the schools that were so much a part of our history. They are forever etched in my memory and have not changed since I left Shreveport in 1965.
    A few months before Sue Ann died we went to her high school reunion, which was held at one of her classmates' home (think estate) between Shreveport and Mansfield. Before leaving we couldn't resist going into Shreveport. We went by Oak Terrace and our house on Michigan Street (near Fair Park). Oak Terrace looked the same, but it was no longer a junior high. I think it was an alternative school. I could still close my eyes and visualize students all over the campus. It was a great feeling and one that I am glad Sue Ann got to experience. We lived on Michigan Street for less than two years, but while there I planted three or four very small oak trees and a couple of magnolias. I could not believe how big they were until I realized it had been 32 years.

  15. From Tommy Youngblood: Nice piece. There are a lot of great memories attached to all of the things you mentioned. But, time marches on.

  16. From Dick Hicks: What a wonderful article as usual. It really saddens me this is happening. I wonder if any of the [school] board members have any kids or grandkids that will be directly affected by this? I bet know.

  17. From Tommy Henry: Great story about Fair Park -- its "demotion" is so very sad. I loved it when we would take on the Indians in baseball because they had such a rich tradition in baseball, mainly under James Farrar.
    I really did not like the playing field because it didn't have a fence and I believe left field was longer than right field, but we did beat the Tribe 4-3 there the year (1970) it won the state championship under Doug Robinson.
    And how about the Bossier-Fair Park battles in basketball and the Byrd-Fair Park Thanksgiving Day football games at State Fair Stadium? What great memories.

  18. From Jimmy Russell: Truly a sad day. I grew up I guess in the golden times of Byrd and Fair Park. Of course there was St. John's for homecoming for everyone in those days. You have seen it go down, the whole system. Right about Byrd, the bluebloods would stop that. ... Things could have been done, in my opinion, at the schools with what was there, along with the other high schools.

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  20. From Warren Massia: Have felt sorry for the kids at Fair Park for several years. That school got no support from the community or the [Caddo Parish] School Board. We (Natchitoches Central) played baseball there in the late 1990s and their field behind the school had no fence or dugouts. Don't know where they used to play, but that was terrible.
    Went to a football game at Independence Stadium one rainy night and the only people on their side were two policemen who left sometime in the first quarter.
    You are right, the only thing left now is memories.

    1. When Fair Park was an absolute baseball powerhouse in the 1950s, '60s and early '70, its home field had no dugouts or fences. It didn't matter then.