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Wyandotte High School history

The following information was provided by my sister-in-law, Justina R. Sparks, who retired from teaching at Wyandotte this year. The research was done by another teacher, Mr. Craig Delich. She sent it to me before we moved to the D.C. area but I never took the time to get it into a computer file to share with those on the listserve. I thought it was interesting. I hope you do too.

Brief History of Wyandotte High School

The first school in Wyandotte City (later Kansas City, Kansas) was Central School in the town square called Huron Place in 1868. There was no high school in the city until Wyandotte High School got its start one morning on or about the first day in November 1886, in two of the eight rooms of the Riverview Grade School building at South 7th Street and Pacific Avenue.

Thirty boys and girls, with lunch buckets in hand, came to that institution of equal opportunity, the free high school. The headmaster of the school was Professor John Wherrel, who began school promptly at 8 a.m. with the morning exercises, reading a verse from the bible, saying the Lord's Prayer and singing a few church songs.

At noon they ate their lunches, getting water from a hydrant at the side of the schoolhouse. Classes were dismissed at 1 p.m. First year students were called "sub-juniors," second year students were classified as "juniors," third year pupils were called "middle year" and the last year students were called "seniors." Some classes had to meet at the principal's home.

Four courses were offered: English, Latin and Science, Normal Course (teacher training), and Commercial Course (business). When graduation time came, only one girl had met the requirements, but, since the demand for teachers was so great, ten others were allowed to graduate. The ceremony was held at the Dunnings Opera House.

In the fall of 1888, the high school was moved into Palmer Academy, located between 6th and 7th Streets on Minnesota Avenue. 246 students occupied the ten-room building, 76 of them boys and 172 of them girls (only two students were classified as seniors). All the roads around and near the school were made of dirt, and records indicate that on particularly stormy days, the roads were so muddy that even the students got stuck in the mud and couldn't make it to school! The principal, John Wherrel, resigned in 1890 to take up the practice of medicine (for which he had been studying).

The graduating class of May 29, 1891 consisted of thirteen students — all of the girls were required to kiss the boys goodbye before they went home. Most of them did, although a few refused. A state law was passed in 1892 that required all children between the ages of eight and fourteen to attend school at least twelve weeks each year.

1898 saw the cornerstone of the new $90,000 building, now called the Kansas City Kansas High School, laid at the corner of 9th and Minnesota Avenue. The first class in the new building attended class for the first time on October 22, 1899 after the official dedication on May 12, 1898. There were sixteen teachers, 175 boys and 360 girls who attended and taught the ninety-two, fifteen minute long classes that October day before school was let out at noon. Classes the second day were forty-five minutes long with each student attending six class periods.

The school grew very quickly, adding a north wing in 1907 and a south wing in 1910. In 1923, K.C.K. High School won its first state and national basketball titles (it currently has 20 state titles), and a new gymnasium was constructed across the street from the main building on 9th Street.

A tunnel was constructed from the main building, going under 9th Street, and emerging from behind the trophy case in the gym's main lobby. This new building was shared with Kansas City Kansas Junior College, created in 1923, and whose main building was just half a block away in the old Horace Mann Elementary School.

From 1925 to 1928 the school was re-named Central High School, but the name "Wyandotte" was officially adopted for the school as of January 1928. The building at 9th and Minnesota Avenue had no facilities for football, so the school district obtained the land at 16th and Armstrong (the site of the old Carnival Park) to build a football stadium.

One of the biggest events in the school's history occurred on October 26, 1929, when Wyandotte's new football stadium and track were dedicated near 25th and Minnesota at a cost of $62,500 to build. This was the same area that the new Wyandotte was to be built on and operational by 1935. One of the reasons for this new building was the fact that, in 1930, there were 2,000 students in attendance at 9th and Minnesota, and three portable classrooms were already in use to handle the overflow.

The land at 25th and Minnesota, covering 22 acres of land altogether, had once been used by the U.S. Army to train our World War I soldiers, then was purchased by J.A. Hoel, who built Sunflower Golf Course on the site for use by Westheight Manor residents. Hoel, however, wanted to build a residential housing development, and contracted with the school board to trade the land at 25th and Minnesota for Wyandotte's athletic field at 16th and Armstrong.

This deal was made, but Hoel's dream of a housing development on the Armstrong site never materialized, so he sold the land to Ward High School, whose football, baseball and track complex is located today. The construction of the new building had to be speeded up when, at 6:30 p.m. on the night of March 3, 1934, Wyandotte burst into flames, the cause of which was later traced to a custodian's wastebasket. Students returning from Wyandotte's state basketball game saw the orange glow of the flames from a distance, and helped salvage trophies, files and other school memorabilia before the fire could destroy them. Unfortunately, practically nothing remained of the center section of the building, which sustained losses of $750,000 (the building was only insured for $335,000!).

A week's vacation was declared until plans were made to split students up between Northwest and Central Junior High Schools (freshmen and sophomores went to Central and the juniors and seniors went to Northwest). The new building was completed on March 4, 1937 at a cost of $2 million. It could house 3,000 students in 85 classrooms and could provide a staff of 90 faculty members. The new gym can seat 1,900 and the new auditorium 1,800.

The auditorium, like the building itself, was designed in Indian motif. Four workers fell to their death during construction of the auditorium's ceiling, and they are immortalized by four walking figures above the lighted vases to either side of the stage. One interesting side note is that the southwest quadrant of the land at 25th and Minnesota was to have the new Kansas City Kansas Junior College built on it, but that never did occur. The junior college did, however, share the new football field with Wyandotte until 1957, when the college dropped its football program.

While Wyandotte is well-known for its basketball tradition, many are not aware that the school in 1939 had its first and only ice hockey team. The team had a four game schedule (losing all four games) and had to wear the school's football helmets, pads and jerseys, since no other clothing was available (the players supplied all other needed equipment). Also, that same year, Wyandotte had to have set attendance records for any high school football program when they played Ward and Argentine High Schools. Attendance at each game totaled over 7,000 spectators! According to records, the stands were full by 7:15 p.m., and by the time the games began at 8 p.m., spectators were four to seven deep all over the field and surrounding areas!

Wyandotte has twin towers which were given names by then principal J.F. Wellemeyer: the West Tower represented knowledge and the East Tower represented character. According to Wellemeyer, "The west was a land of pioneers, eager and ambitious to achieve and acquire, and they were true pioneers in arts and sciences as well as many newer branches of learning. The east suggests maturity, stability of character, refinement, culture and inspiration."

Today, Wyandotte, the first high school west of the Mississippi River, continues the tradition of excellence in education, serving not only students from Kansas City, Kansas, but to those coming to Wyandotte from outside the city itself, creating yet a new legacy for the future. Wyandotte forever!