Central High Coach Morley Fraser explains the history of the old gym as he directs a tour of the building by members of the Class of 1957.
CENTRAL HIGH SHINES: 95-Year Old School Sparkles Like a Teenager
Class of 1957 Marks 60th Reunion with Tour of Grand Old Castle
August 27, 2017
By: Dave Rogers
Out of curiosity, mainly, this columnist went along on a school tour with the Central High class of 1957 even though my class had graduated two years before.
Organizer par excellence Jerry Jopke, retired Oldsmobile executive, had arranged the tour, and some of the weekend's reunion activities for about 100 of his classmates, their wives, husbands and/or "significant others," as they say.
The school principal Tim Marciniak had promised an official, without naming the person, to open the building at 10 a.m. Saturday and show the group around. Jopke and the other classmates were surprised to be greeted by none-other-than the well known and respected football coach and former athletic director and assistant principal Morley Fraser, now retired but still coaching one last season.
Fraser enlightened the crowd, and this reporter, about facts of the school's recent history that have put the building and the Elmer Engel Stadium in tip-top shape despite its nearly centenarian status.
The alumni were shown the new media center that occupies the space formerly the main office, the "Wolves Den," encompassing the former pool, now covered with purple carpet, shops, band and choir rooms, the "new" gym, opened in 1995 and gleaming cafeteria fit for a modern employee-friendly work site.
Uplifting phrases and academic terms are posted throughout the school, including on the risers of the stairways, to more fully engage the students in pursuing their educations positively.
An entire hallway on the east side of the building shows off the athletic history, with scores of championship teams and outstanding players, runners, swimmers and other performers pictured. Outside, on a high wall overlooking the stadium is the number 500, representing the number of football victories achieved over the life of the school.
After Supt. F. A. Gause solicited comments from the public in 1918, planning for the school progressed and lamented that a previous bond issue vote in 1916 had been defeated by 122 votes.
In June 1919 the Times-Tribune reported the Dupont Powder Company had rejected Bay City as a site for a huge new factory to make a leather substitute because of inadequate educational and water facilities.
The Board of Commerce and a joint committee of the school board and citizens came out strongly for a new completely equipped central high school and a new junior high, pushing for voter passage of a $1 million bond issue.
Eastern High Principal Norman Sloan spoke to the Bay City Kiwanis Club in 1921, explaining that there were 783 students enrolled but only 537 seats for them. The seniors had to be turned loose,
Sloan said, commenting that they were wandering around in the afternoons, smoking cigarettes, and getting into "even worse" trouble.
The Bay City Times-Tribune headline screamed: "BOTH HIGH SCHOOLS UTTERLY UNFIT FOR THE PURPOSES INTENDED."
Voters, led by those living in wards with the higher value home assessments, passed the $1 million bond issue on July 2, 1919. Only property owners who had lived in the city more than three months were allowed to vote. Two sites proposed were on Fourth and Sherman and at the foot of Washington. The Board of Education, however, selected the Columbus Avenue site later.
Central was opened March 27, 1922, and Handy was opened the following year.
A third floor was added to Central to accommodate Bay City Junior College and the County Normal teachers' training program, both of which opened concurrently with the high school. Tuition at the junior college was $30 a year for school district residents, $75 a year or out-of-district students. BCJC was succeeded by the tri-county Delta College in 1961.
A $15 million renovation project in recent years has upgraded the old building, creating a learning atmosphere that rivals many newer facilities. The Central High Booster Club kick-started a $2 million renovation project 20 years ago for the stadium that was crumbling and becoming dangerous. Fraser explained that, with Board of Education backing, the renovation was completed in the summer using a boom from mixer trucks suspended over the wall from outside. Water had to flow over the concrete in the curing process.
The stadium was built in 1924 after a Thanksgiving Day football game against Flint Central drew an overflow crowd estimated at 10,000 that slogged in mud in the field then located in back of the school.
The stadium's 7,100 seating capacity put the Bay City high school stadium third in the state in capacity at that time, topped only by the Michigan Wolverines and the MAC Spartans facilities in Ann Arbor and East Lansing, respectively.
The 1924 debacle galvanized the Bay City Chamber of Commerce to raise $45,000 and build the stadium that last year was voted, statewide, "the best high school stadium in the state."
The story of education in Bay City has been one of citizen involvement, personified by the history of Central High School. We look forward to the school's 100th year in 2022. It should be greatly celebrated by all.
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On August 28, 2017
at 12:56 PM
Another informative article Dave. Nice to see you at the game last Thursday. Central High School is in beautiful condition and the upgrades made during the latest revocation make it state of the art.
On September 04, 2017
at 04:52 PM
I enjoyed taking a tour of the high school during our 40th reunion in 1980.It brought back many nice memories.
I also had lunch with Coach Engel.
Enjoyed your article!
Dave Rogers is a former editorial writer for the Bay City Times and a widely read,
respected journalist/writer in and around Bay City.
(Contact Dave Via Email at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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