Franke: The Nostalgia of Consolidated High Schools

May 1, 2024

by Mark Franke

In the movie “Hoosiers” one of the students, Ollie, is giving a report in class that is a listing of things thought to be progress. He doesn’t seem convinced of the value of progress, although I venture that he thought more highly of indoor plumbing than of school consolidation. Fortunately for Ollie and his classmates, the fictional Hickory High School would escape consolidation long enough to win the state basketball championship.

What brought this movie to mind was attending the funeral of my wife’s Uncle Don. He was a high school basketball star in Vigo County, graduating in 1950 and recruited by Branch McCracken of Indiana University. Due to family financial issues, he was not able to accept and missed being part of IU’s national championship team in 1953. Apparently college athletes like Uncle Don didn’t have NIL (Name, Image and Likeness) income opportunities back then.

His letter sweater was on display at the funeral home and I noticed two things. First, he had four chevrons which indicates he played varsity basketball for four years, an impressive accomplishment in any era.

The other was that the letter on the letter sweater was an “N.” My understanding of his background, including things he himself told me, was that he went to Fontanet High School. So why the “N”?

It seems that Fontanet was the commonly used name as the high school was located in that town. The official name of the school was Nevins Township High School. Hence, the “N.”

All of which takes me back to the issue of school consolidation. As Ollie seemed to understand, it was a doctrine of educational theory back in the 1950s in Indiana. “Bigger is better” was the mantra so small township schools had to be sacrificed to the god of educational orthodoxy.

My wife’s grandparents lived right on the township line so her father, aunt and two uncles attended Fontanet in Nevins Township. Her mother grew up just south of this line so she attended Otter Creek High School, also named for that township. Both high schools are now gone, having been consolidated into Terre Haute North Vigo High School, commonly known as Terre Haute North.

To continue the Vigo County story, my wife attended Honey Creek High School, now a middle school with that township’s high school-aged children attending Terre Haute South. Sorry, I mean Terre Haute South Vigo High School.

My family’s educational history is the same as my wife’s. Living in Allen County was no sanctuary against rampant consolidation. My father attended Hoagland High School, now consolidated into Heritage High School after having been joined under state oversight with its arch rival Monroeville High School.

My old high school, Elmhurst, is also gone but not due to consolidation. It just got erased from the Fort Wayne Community Schools inventory, name and building alike — just gone. A mile south of the road where I lived was the dividing line between Elmhurst and Ossian High School, also gone due to consolidation with its storied basketball heritage only a memory. 

My mother graduated from South Side High School which is still in business so far as I know. Perhaps I should make a drive down Calhoun Street in Fort Wayne just to verify that South Side is still there and functioning.

I am not so close-minded as to ignore the real problems facing school districts then and now. Rising costs, state and federal regulations and local politics all make their presence felt at school board meetings. Yet there is something that a classical liberal like me appreciates about the value of our democracy operating at the lowest possible level where it is most influenced by the average citizen. Recall the town meeting in “Hoosiers” to determine the basketball coach’s status.

My wife’s parents had a close friend, Jim, who could name every high school in Indiana and which former schools were consolidated into it. He was a walking encyclopedia of Indiana basketball and Hoosier sports lore. 

I wish Jim were still alive so that the two of us could reminisce about the good old days. Perhaps that goodness rests with their being past, but still alive in our carefully curated memories.

One of the highlights of my childhood was following the Allen County basketball tournament. It was each rural town against the others for bragging rights. A current player frequently would have been referred to as So-and-So’s son and then folks would remember what a great player his dad was back in the day.

Most of those Allen County schools have been consolidated out of existence: Hoagland and Monroeville as mentioned above, Lafayette Central, Arcola, Huntertown and Harlan. Most of those township students now attend larger suburban schools with excellent academic reputations.

I guess that constitutes progress. But forgive Ollie and me for being skeptical.


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