The group of friends from Walt Whitman High School’s class of 1970 provides enough material to fill a book on the now 50-year-old school on Whittier Boulevard.
“For a lot of communities across America, the high school is a gathering place and a bonding place,” said class of ’70 graduate Matthew Maury, “and certainly Whitman is that.”
Maury and fellow 1970 graduates Barry Kemelhor and Rick Neumann have gotten together often over the years for class reunions and other get togethers.
Maury’s two kids graduated from Whitman. The group stays in touch and up-to-date to what’s going on at the school today.
Last year, they found Gary Browne, the All-Met basketball star from 1966 to 1968 who once scored 62 points in a game, and invited him back to be inducted into the school’s athletics Hall of Fame.
On Oct. 12, Maury and Neumann will play with their 1960′s rock music cover band at a show in the bumper car pavilion at Glen Echo Park, an event open to Whitman alumni from a number of graduating classes and perhaps the closest thing to a 50th anniversary celebration.
It’s out of a love for the school that hasn’t faded even as they’ve grown older. (The kids who used to play little league baseball together had a collective 60th birthday celebration earlier this year.)
One of Whitman’s longest-running strengths has been its nationally ranked academic program.
“Whitman was a great school and we were aware of that,” said Kemelhor, who, like his brother and sister, participated on Whitman’s “It’s Academic” team. “It sounds snotty to say, but you were supposed to win “It’s Academic,” you were supposed to get into an Ivy League school. We were aware of that. You took that seriously.”
It’s also produced a group of alumni that include movie director Spike Jonze,’87, U.S. Senators Gordon Smith, ’70, and Mark Pryor, ’81, the billionaire Rales brothers (Steven, ’69, and Mitchell, ’74), celebrity news personality Giuliana Rancic, ’92, and football star Anthony Dilweg, ’84.
There was the 2006 boys’ basketball 4A State championship (what Maury called a “Hoosier-like run,” referring to the popular film) the success of the speech and debate team and the well-recognized journalism program.
There has been only three principals in its five-decade history.
In 2004, Dr. Alan Goodwin took over for Jerome Marco, who died in May. Goodwin accepted a proclamation recognizing the school for its 50 years during yesterday’s County Council session.
“Anniversary dates are significant because you remember,” Goodwin said. “This school would not be what it is…if it wasn’t for the interaction between the staff, the students, the parents and county council.”
To the class of 1970, perhaps nothing identified Whitman more than “the dome,” the one-of-a-kind geodesic dome roof above the school’s gym until the school’s renovation in 1992.
It became what Whitman was known for and a natural target for what Neumann labeled as “creative” graffiti.
He recalled one such incident thanks to a student in the class of 1967. As legend has it, the student was caught painting a particularly inappropriate message on the dome in huge letters three hours before school was to start on a Monday morning.
The cops said they would let him off with a warning if he could remove the letters (he was two letters short of finishing the sentence) before the first bell. He found some varsol to remove the paint. It ended up removing the silver paint on the dome as well.
“Monday morning was quite a memorable one, so many years ago,” Neumann said.
In 50 years at Whitman, there have been quite a few more.