A SCHOOL IS BORN
By James Hogan
Iredell’s citizens, much like today, were often polarized over how best to fix problems with public schools. Before the conception of the county’s consolidated high schools, students attended local community schools. These K-12 institutions were centerpieces of their towns and hamlets. Opening South and North Iredell meant closing seven other high schools, which created resistance.
Yet the citizens understood that their children’s futures were at stake. Consolidated schools meant better academic and vocational opportunities that could not be as extensively or equally offered by smaller town schools. With this new vision of success, people campaigned, voted, increased taxes to raise funds, and planned two state-of-the-art schools.
South Iredell was planned for 34 classrooms that could accommodate 1,100 students. The county school board (remember, Statesville City schools did not merge with the county until 19TK) intended for both campuses to house 10th-12th grades, and leave ninth-grade for junior high schools.
However, few things follow even the best-laid plans. The identically designed schools were built for a total of $3.3 million (Adjusted to inflation that would be $19 million for two schools. Current plans to add to ISS have been estimated to cost upwards of $30 million for one school). So when county officials lacked the facilities and money to fund junior highs, the schools were then designed as four-year high schools.
The original campus plan called for the two-story academic building (known as A building), a vocational building (B building) with a cafeteria, shop, and gymnasium. Though the design called for an auditorium and football stadium with permanent lighting, budget cuts forced school officials to scrap them.
Construction progress on the South Iredell campus was slow. By July 1966, it became apparent that the facility would not be ready to open in August. The school buildings were nearly ready for inspection, but furniture and equipment had not been installed. Superintendent T. Ray Gibbs pushed back the start of school until the second week of September. To keep construction moving forward, county residents quickly passed a bond resolution to fund the auditoriums and stadiums for both schools, which were completed later that year.
In the end, building principals, supervisors, and even the superintendent himself pitched in to assemble furniture and equipment for the school. Over 1,000 students filed through the halls when classes began on Monday, Sept. 12, 1966. They haven’t stopped since.
Notable achievements from that first year include the wrestling team winning its conference and girls basketball beating crosstown rival Statesville High. Then 1968 brought more success, including new varsity teams in track and baseball. Varsity football went 2-8, but that included a 13-0 shutout of North Stanley. But the recently created JV squad gave hope for the future, going 5-3-1 with shutouts of North Iredell and Central Davidson. Eight athletes received All-Conference honors, including junior David Cash for football, wrestling and track. Randy Freeze, Tommy Thompson, Barry Ostwalt, and Donnie Carrigan all received honors for wrestling, as did Steve Rankin (baseball), Annette Harrington (basketball), and Ernie Pope (basketball).
The addition of new teams and squads required more revenue, so students and parents created the “Viking Activity Bus” as a project of the Athletic Booster Club. It quickly became very successful.
In 1969, Cash was the talk of the school in his senior year. He was the MVP in every sport he played, coming in second place in wrestling and captaining football. He helped football defeat North Iredell 67-0 on homecoming as did Terry Thompson who led the North Piedmont Conference in scoring. Cash also finished second in the conference in wrestling, ahead of teammates Barry Ostwalt (third) and Mike Walden (fourth). Cash eventually signed to play football for the University of South Carolina.
Iredell County was a very secluded area until I-77 and I-40 were completed in the late 1960s. Many students took the bus to school, but there were also many that drove to school. There were an abundance of trucks, along with muscle cars from the 1950s that filled our student parking lot. Once students got to school, they would face rigorous academic challenges. After school, students were very physically active. If you did not play a sport for the school, you would often play with neighbors in the backyard. Popular activities for students after school included basketball, baseball, football, and especially hunting. Everyone listened to the Beatles and Rolling Stones on AM radio except the African American population, which preferred the sounds of Motown. “There have never been that many blacks at South, but back then blacks and whites didn’t really socialize,” said Mr. Gary Sherrill, a PE teacher at SIHS. He attended a segregated black school until SIHS opened in 1967. Troutman High School, SIHS’s predecessor, was a racially segregated school. South Iredell has been integrated since its inception. Though there were not many blacks, discrimination towards black students was nonetheless present, and there were some fights due to racial tension.
In addition to listening to rock n’ roll and Motown, students religiously watched classic television shows like The Beverly Hillbillies and The Andy Griffith Show. Popular hangouts of the time included Allison’s Woods and the Village Inn Pizza Parlor in Statesville, NC. Of course, there were many students who were satisfied just to play sports and games with their friends.
South Iredell was a simplistic environment that mainstream America did not reach until the 1970s. There were no major drug problems, and students were well behaved.
|Students watch David Cash sign his letter of intent to play for the University of South Carolina.|