If Wheaton High School could talk, it might ask, "Where's the rest of me?" Wheaton, the imposing gridiron home of the famed Knights, scene of countless pep rallies under The Clock, host to 27 soulful, sweaty senior proms, sits empty today, its corridors deserted and its doors bolted.
1,122 students, 76 teachers, 1,500 desks, 50,000 books, two printing presses, one cosmetology lab, virtually its whole interior -- is now down the street about two miles.
This summer Wheaton High School was moved.
"Oh, the kids were apprehensive about it at first," said principal Andy Wilcox of the school's relocation to the former Randolph Junior High on Hunters Lane -- a move necessitated by a two-year renovation project at Wheaton High. "They've been very enthusiastic. The only thing I've heard is that people want the clock over here, the one they used to have the pep rallies under."
A simple-enough wish for students who were worried sick last year when they heard that the Montgomery County School Board had pegged Wheaton High for a $13-million overhaul -- scheduled to begin in October. Some expressed concern that they would have to wait longer than two years to get back inside their alma mater. School board plans call for a new paint job, new air conditioning, new heating, new bathrooms, new kitchen equipment, new lockers, new floors, new blackboards -- the works.
After that, the plans call for splitting Wheaton High in two, turning half the school into a regional vocational and technical high school center, which will accommodate two shifts of 400 students a day.
The other half of the school will continue to be Wheaton High, only smaller.
The number of students enrolled in Wheaton dropped from 2,400 after the school was built in 1954 to 1,120 this year.
"We were just beginning to rattle around in the place, it was so big," said Irene ("Mrs. T.") Treuenfels, a math teacher who has worked in Wheaton schools for five years.
During the past 10 years, the number of students enrolled in Montgomery schools has dropped from 129,000 to 95,000. This year, the school board was forced to close four junior high schools. Currently, 31 elementary schools are on the list to be studied for possible future closings.
As the students will tell you right away, at the new school the lockers are smaller.
But that's about as serious as the complaints get.
Oh yes, they said, maybe the cafeteria is more crowded, and so are the typing classes. But otherwise the move has been "Okay," "Fine," "Better than we thought."
What about the idea that the several teams will have to practice at the new fields but be bused to the old ones for games, while a few other teams will have to practice at the old fields and play their games at the new fields?
"It's okay," said tight end Ron Stump.
"I don't think it's going to be a problem," said tackle John Ginyard.
"It's just a matter of catching the bus," said Susan Carny, a senior and a pompon girl.
What about having some of their classes in the 20 portable classrooms?
"It doesn't bother me at all," shrugged student government president Patricia Cruse.
And what about having to be back at their old old junior high?
"I wondered what people would think about it at first. I didn't want people thinking I was graduating from a junior high and all," said Ginyard, "but nobody's noticed it, so I don't care."
Some teachers said that enthusiasm and school spirit surpass last year's, because students have been determined to make the move successful. "If anything bothers them at all," Wilcox explained, "it's the fact that they wanted to graduate from the old school."
Junior Richard Dyson agreed. "We were just waiting and waiting for the day when we could graduate from Wheaton like our brothers and sisters had before us. . . . But I don't mind being here because there's a good sub shop across the street."
Last June, Wheaton High School needed a few good men. They weren't hard to find.
"I guess most of them were on the football team," explained Ken Brace, Wheaton High's relocation co-ordinator, referring to the 13 students who moved the school's furnishings and equipment.
It took two months for Brace and his team of movers -- who were paid $4.14 an hour for their labor -- to strip the inside of Wheaton High and transport the equipment to the new school. Using two county trucks, they moved two 1,000 pound printing presses, 5,000 boxes, three kilns, several 800-pound engines from the auto shop, desks, chairs, books and filing cabinets.
"I'd say one of our biggest accomplishments was when all of us lifted a baby grand piano from the ground up onto a truck," said Brace, who also coaches the football team and teaches history. "The driver thought we were crazy, but we did it."
And they cleaned, too.
"When we were going through the bomb shelter in the basement, we found food provisions from 1962," Brace remembered. "We called the civil defense department and they told us they were no good, so we threw them out."
Brace likened the moving effort to coaching a sport, complete with inspirational pep talks and a stress on teamwork. "We really grew together as a group," he recalled of the summer-long effort.
Principal Wilcox called the relocation process "a great accomplishment, a real showing of the kids' pride in Wheaton."
"We took 13 big, strong, All-American boys -- don't call them jocks or they'll get angry -- and we made it work," he said.
Wilcox shook his head, "One time, one of them walked in here his new office carrying a filing cabinet and he placed it down right over there. When he left I thought I'd move it over a little bit. I mean, the kid had lifted it like it was a piece of tissue paper," he sighed. "I almost got a hernia."
"I don't want to brag," Wilcox blushed. "But 95 percent of my kids are good kids."