Monday, May 8, 2017

"Forward, forward, Bossier High School"

     The title of this blog piece is the fifth line of the school alma mater, and it is fitting. Bossier High School is about to complete its 100th year.
     Congratulations to all the Bearkats. This week -- OK, a corny line here -- we are all Bearkats.
Bossier High School: a place to appreciate (photo from Wikipedia)
     When I think of Bossier, I quickly think of Charles "Buddy" Roemer, who went from Bearkats' tennis player to U.S. Representative and then Louisiana governor, and of little Tim Dement, U.S. Olympic boxer in 1972, and of the football stars -- Gene "Red" Knight, Robbie Hucklebridge, Henry Brown, Neal Prather, Dick and Joe Reding, Charlie Lewis and Jimmy Blackshire, Tony Moss -- and in basketball, George Nattin Jr. and Cecil Upshaw, and I could list dozens more.
     Those of us who grew up in the area -- no matter which school we attended -- can take pride in the Bossier High's history and what is has contributed to the Shreveport-Bossier community ... and far beyond.
     If you love old schools and are in some ways an "old school" person, Bossier High is a fit.
     It is the oldest existing public high school in Shreveport-Bossier City, founded in 1917. Byrd High opened in 1926, Fair Park in 1928. 
     (But a couple of qualifiers: The predecessors to Byrd were two pre-1900 schools in downtown Shreveport, and then Shreveport High School, on Hope Street, opened in 1910. And what is now Loyola College Prep, the Catholic-based school that was once St. John's and then Jesuit, had its beginnings in 1902.)
     This Saturday, Bossier High's 100th anniversary will be celebrated -- first with an open house (10 a.m.-noon) at the school and then an event, a fundraiser, at the Bossier Civic Center from 3 to 6 p.m.
      The school address is 777 Bearkat Drive (what else?).
      It is an easy trip from Shreveport, just a couple of blocks after crossing the Red River bridges, right near old downtown Bossier (what there was of it). If you are on Interstate-20, you can get a glimpse of the main building (if you know where to look).
      For 4 1/2 decades, Bossier was the only white public high school in Bossier. It was, as you might expect with Barksdale Air Force Base so dominant in the city, heavily populated with Air Force "brats" -- pardon the term.
      Another term, and I hope Bossier High partisans will forgive me, was "River Rats." That was the often-used term of endearment (not!) from Bossier opponents, mostly those of us in Shreveport.
      (Hey, I loved the "River Rats." We knew it was a well-run school, no question. The kids were cool. But it was foreign territory, across the river.)
      Things began to change for Bossier High when Airline, in the northeast part of the city, opened in the fall of 1964. In 1969, Parkway -- in south Bossier -- began transitioning from a junior high to a high school. And then in 1970, the students from Charlotte Mitchell -- the city's only all-black high school located only a few blocks from Bossier -- were integrated into the previously all-white schools.
       These days, population shifts have made Bossier High the fourth-largest high school in the parish, behind Airline, Parkway and fast-growing Benton (north up Highway 3). It has been three decades since Bossier was in the top classification, enrollment-wise, in Louisiana.
       But the Bearkats remain a proud entity.
David Thrash, principal
David Thrash is in his 11th year as the school principal, and he said that when he arrived in the fall of 2006, "Bossier High was in need of a major overhaul. I truly believe God sent me here.
       "The things I have enjoyed the most are helping students and families, and supporting my teachers," and he credits the assistant principals for their contributions.

      The projected enrollment numbers for next year are 603 students in grades 10-12, plus 166 ninth-graders. For competition in athletics, those are sparse numbers. But Thrash considers the whole picture.

      "What best defines Bossier High is our family atmosphere," he said. "Many of our students come from homes where they receive very little academic support and our teachers are always there for these kids no matter the need.
      "It is the relationships that matter most to us. When the relationships are in place, students will learn and succeed."
      Bossier High moving forward.
     Learning and succeeding has been happening at Bossier High for ages. A Bossier High graduate, one of my longtime friends, suggested I write on the blog about the school in relation to the 100th anniversary.
     So I asked some of those with Bossier High ties to contribute their memories and appreciation of the school. We'll publish those the next couple of days.
      First, some facts, and personal memories.
      From the time I was a high school sophomore involved in athletics through my time as a sportswriter (and sports fan) in the area, it was always fun to visit the Bossier High campus.
      It was just across the Red River bridges, just a block or two from old downtown Bossier (what there was of it) and a short way off Interstate-20 (once it opened in the early 1960s). An easy trip. You can get a glimpse of the main school building if you are on I-20.
      Whether visiting in the school office or more often going for football at Memorial Stadium, basketball at E.L. Reding Gym, baseball a few miles away at Walbrook Park (at the Bossier recreation complex), or a track meet on campus, it was a good place to be.
        The memories are -- mostly -- fond ones. Read on.
        About the school itself ...      
       Since 2005, Bossier High has had an active alumni association, which has helped financially with school projects, established a school Hall of Fame, and has a web site, from which we took these facts (so thank you, ...
       · The first Bossier High School was located on Traffic Street in the building that is now Bossier Elementary.
       · The mascot and emblem, the Bearkat, was chosen in 1926, a year after the selection of the school colors (kelly green and white).
       · The new school, constructed from 1938 to 1940, was placed on a historic site -- Fort Smith, a Civil War-era fort.
       A link to the history:
       · The alma mater was written in 1938 by student Robert D. Young.
       · The school newspaper, Bear Facts, was begun in 1939. The yearbook, Les Memoires, was started in 1945. The student council began in 1947
       · In 1959, a terrazzo Bearkat was placed in the center of the mail hall of the school. Tradition is that no one is to step on that Bearkat. (Fair Park has a similar tradition with the logo in its lobby.)
       · A school flag was designed in 1962 -- a kelly green field bearing a Bearkat embracing the qualities of Truth, Honor and Wisdom embossed on a white background.
       · A standardized class ring was designed in 1965 and first worn by the seniors of 1966.
       Personal memories:
       When we were in high school, I remember that Bossier had a terrific, disciplined band, and it seemed to me that -- just the observation of a young man -- that Bossier High had the best looking girls in the area. (I know you're laughing.)
       I was awed by the new E.L. Reding Gym, but then I also was awed by all the fairly new gyms in Shreveport.
       I had heard of Nattin and Upshaw -- Bossier's big basketball stars of the late 1950s into 1960. Until a few years later and hours of research, I knew very little about Bossier's football history and its tradition. 
       Bossier was where I covered my first high school football game as a fulltime sportswriter for The Shreveport Times in September 1969, a rainy night and an upset: Minden 6, Bossier 0. Minden had struggled for a few years; Bossier was supposed to win. The Minden coach, Billy Roach, was elated; the Bossier coach, Milford Andrews, not much of a media-friendly guy anyway, was a very tough quote that night.
       Three years later, 1972, was the closest I ever came to being dumped into the showers after a game. Bossier had a very good team (eventually, a state semifinalist) and it won a game in which I had picked the other team (I forget who) to win (I never liked doing the predictions). The Bossier players got riled up afterward when I went to the dressing room for interviews. Bossier head coach John Thompson heard the commotion, came to the rescue and admonished his kids, and my notes (and I) stayed dry.
       Always loved covering the Bossier Invitational Tournament in basketball. It was early January; people had finally stopped thinking about football; the competition was usually fierce; and the Bossier folks had the best hospitality room. Free eats.
       One of the most amazing stories I covered in all my time in Shreveport-Bossier: Bossier High baseball, 1971-75, but especially 1972-73.
       Coach Tommy Henry -- later commissioner of the Louisiana High School Athletic Association for 24 years -- had a dynasty: five district titles in a row, 74 consecutive district victories, 66 consecutive regular-season victories and, after that streak was snapped, a 20-0 start in 1975.
       And this ...
       Two consecutive Bossier teams, unbeaten going into the state championship game, suffered stunning losses.
       In 1972, it was a 3-0 loss to Minden -- a team the Bearkats had beaten three times -- and what's worse, Minden junior Ronald Martin, on his home mound, pitched a no-hitter against what had been a powerful Bossier offense. In 1973, it was a 7-5 loss to Morgan City at Walbrook Park. Go figure.
       Next: The memories


  1. Nico, your enduring support for student athletes across our region, in all sports, and at all levels of play provided encouragement and opened the doors of opportunity for many athletes. As one of thousands, thank you for your kindness and the memories you helped to shape. Best regards, Michael Mana, Bearkat 1975

  2. From Jeff Jarrell: Not only did my mom and her brother and sister graduate in the 1950s, my brother and sister graduated in the 1970s, my wife and her brother and I graduated in 1988 and her sister in 1984, but our daughter also graduated in 2010. My mom, Laura Carolyn Underwood (Peaches) and my sister Tammy Jarrell Stanfill played the flute, were majorettes and drum major of the best band around. My brother, Randy Jarrell, played football and ran track. My uncle, Roy Underwood Jr. (Dee), ran track there and later was a coach at Bossier.

  3. From Theresa Glasgow Coulter: Class of 1969 and proud member of the great BHS band under the direction of Kenneth Larsen (RIP), whose size 9 shoe could be planted in your derriere if you didn't guide right. My fondest memories of those years was the friends I had and still have today. Well done BHS!

  4. Great job!! Thank you so much!! I didn't know that the "new" school was built on old Fort Smith!! Wow. Brings back lots of memories!