The dazzling new high school was the talk of Toledo and the state of the art. The Blade called it “one of the largest, most modern, and most commodious school buildings [in] the country ... a most flattering specimen of modern and practical school architecture.”
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1,100 students could choose among academic, vocational, and commercial courses of study; each curriculum was assigned its own area in the spacious four-story building. On the first day of classes, the principal — who would stay in that job for more than three decades — told the students that what they did during the school’s inaugural year would establish its reputation.
A century after it opened on Sept. 8, 1913, Jesup W. Scott is now Toledo’s oldest high school. It remains a special place: Just ask the hundreds of Scott alumni who have assembled in Toledo this weekend, many from across the country and around the world, to celebrate the school’s 100th anniversary.
“You feel loyalty to an institution that’s given so much to you, that has contributed so much to who you are,” says Treva Jeffries (Class of 1992), Scott’s principal since 2008. “You can’t turn your back on that place.”
The school on Collingwood Boulevard in the Old West End is named for a former Blade editor who became one of Toledo’s best known philanthropists and civic leaders. Scott packed plenty of history into its first century, and created school traditions that persist today. Its hall of fame boasts alumni who went on to distinguished careers in business and government, including a former ambassador to the Soviet Union and an ex-congressman.
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Scott quickly developed a reputation as a sports powerhouse. The team won four national championships in high school football between 1916 and 1923 — determined by playoff games, not polls. During its first half-century, Scott played an annual Thanksgiving Day game with Waite High School that attracted attention far beyond the city.
Scott alumni have competed in the Olympics and played for teams in the National Football League, National Basketball Association, and Major League Baseball. One of them, Jim Parker, is in pro football’s hall of fame.
The school also has maintained a tradition of excellence in music; Scott’s graduates include legendary jazz pianist Art Tatum. Its marching band, whose members are known as “Fantastic Dancing Machines,” has performed — and won competitions — nationwide.
President Obama, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and Colin Powell all spoke at Scott. Bill Cosby, Run D.M.C., and New Edition have visited the school as well.
Like many other urban high schools, Scott has undergone deep demographic change. Its student body, once overwhelmingly white, is now predominantly African-American and largely disadvantaged.
Yet Scott has not experienced a major break in continuity between alumni of earlier and more recent generations. Ms. Jeffries, a former cheerleader whose father taught at Scott and whose daughter is a sophomore at the school, compares “Scott pride” to serving in the Marine Corps or pledging a college sorority.
“It’s hard to articulate — it’s just the feeling that you get when you’re a Bulldog,” she says. “It’s a family, it’s respect for the institution carried down from generation to generation. We hold Scott dear to our hearts.”
Adds Stan Odesky (Class of 1955), a market research consultant and political pollster from Sylvania Township who chairs the centennial planning committee: “There’s great loyalty. We’ve gone through the institution; now we’re giving back, from all over the country.”
Scott’s history and traditions were jeopardized several years ago, when there was talk of closing the school in response to enrollment declines throughout Toledo Public Schools. In 1931, Scott had nearly 2,400 students. Today, it has fewer than one-fourth that number, although Ms. Jeffries notes that its current enrollment enables the school to maintain an enviable pupil-teacher ratio.
Richard Eppstein (Class of 1965), the president of the local Better Business Bureau, recalls hearing the closing threats.
“I thought, not again,” says Mr. Eppstein, who has compiled a history of Scott. “This school is a treasure of architecture, and it’s part of our identity. We weren’t going to let it become a pile of rubble.”
Scott alumni and neighbors campaigned successfully for a TPS bond issue that was essential to keeping the school open. It underwent a $42 million renovation (the school cost $750,000 to build a century ago) that started in 2010. Students attended the old DeVilbiss High School until Scott reopened two years ago.
Today, Scott is a community hub. Working with other local institutions, the high school provides social services to neighborhood residents as well as its students.
Scott’s centennial observance began last Friday with the coronation of this year’s homecoming queen and king — an event attended by about 30 queens and kings from past classes. Alumni from different decades attended “meet and greets” at downtown restaurants Friday night.
On Saturday, a parade that featured a 100-member alumni marching band preceded Scott’s football game with Woodward at Start High. Scott lacks its own stadium, although Principal Jeffries says a new one is tentatively scheduled to open next season.
More than 700 Scott alumni — the oldest from the Class of 1936, the farthest-traveled from Saudi Arabia — and guests attended a banquet at SeaGate Convention Centre Saturday night. Scott is sponsoring an open house and guided tours today.
After the celebration ends, alumni are working to secure Scott’s legacy for years to come. Mr. Odesky says alumni are creating a college scholarship program for Scott students with an initial endowment of $25,000.
To Scott students and alumni, “Once a Bulldog, Always a Bulldog” is more than a slogan. In the words of the alma mater that the school still broadcasts each morning: “Memories will call us home/To the Scott we love.”
David Kushma is editor of The Blade.