Standing in my school’s parking lot it seems I can hear the deep throaty beat of Gunner Blize’s 1954 Mercury’s dual exhaust breaking the late summer calm. But that would have to have been more than 40 years ago.
Instead, the sounds are those of gunshots exploding inside the old Slater school buildings. It’s a chilly reminder of how things have changed since I walked those halls as part of the student body.
I am waiting to enter the old brick building to document a violence training session — not to attend classes. Law enforcement officers from across Story County are practicing what to do in case of a school shooting.
The bullets are blanks and the students are high school volunteers who got out of classes to be actors.
Newspaper and television people are waiting to enter the building with police officers to get a first hand look at what can — and has happened — across the United States.
A reporter asks me what the old building was once called. "Slater Elementary," I reply, "But before Ballard was formed, it was Slater independent school."
I point to the tall center section and add, "That’s where I attended high school."
She looks at me in disbelief.
That sends me on a mental trip back in time. Back when kids got in trouble, but the worry of a school shooting was never contemplated.
The kids weren’t angels back then. Far from it. We got in trouble and some of us got expelled. But it was for smoking in the furnace room or copying someone’s homework not carrying a loaded gun to school.
It was a time when teachers could discipline their students without much fear of reprisal.
The truth of the matter is that most of the time the teachers really didn’t have to do much to get control. Their presence was about all it took.
A good example was Mrs. Ryg. She certainly wasn’t very big back in the 1950s, but when she walked into a classroom nobody messed with her.
Funny, I can’t remember her ever using anything other than her voice and eyes to gain control over a situation.
I guess by today’s standards that doesn’t make much sense. A teacher, barely five feet tall, weighing less than 130 pounds, snapping her dark eyes at a 200-pound tough guy and having him melt like butter.
But that’s what she could do. That’s why she was the high school principal (along with being the algebra, geometry, typing and bookkeeping teacher.)
Meanwhile, back to reality, it’s my group’s turn to enter the building.
We hurry into the dark building behind four officers with their handguns drawn.
Inside we dash down the hallway that once lead to the superintendent’s office. Students crouch in corners with their hands over their heads. Smoke fills the air and the sound of gunshots echo down from above.
We rush up the steep steps below a cement overhang. Still in the overhang is the chip Ivory Head Anderson is said to have made when he hit it with his head back in 1956.
On the steps ahead a students lies. An officer checks to see if he’s still alive while the others continue.
On the next staircase – the one that once led to Mrs. Wilson’s English class – waits the gunman. He fires at the officers. They return fire. The gunman is killed. End of scenario.
As I walk back down the stairs, the smoke starts to clear. In front of me is the wall where the 1950 girls’ state basketball championship trophy once stood.
The sound of the student actors joking amongst themselves as they walk outside brings back the reality that this was all make-believe.
Outside media people are busy interviewing the students and officers as they leave the building. The bright sun makes everything seem less tense.
I glance back at my old high school.
Times sure have changed!
(The proceeding column ran in 2001. Although twelve years have passed and the building no longer remains it seems even more timely today.)
(Ed Rood is the former publisher of the Tri-County Times. He lives near Cambridge.)