THE HISTORY OF NHS...SO FAR

 

Nineteen-seventy-five: The president was a Ford. The most popular song was the chirpy, “Love Will Keep Us Together,” by Captain & Tenille. Appropriately enough for a seaside town, the top movie was a thriller named, “Jaws.” And with its new high school, you might say Narragansett finally grew up.

Long too small for its own high school, Narragansett had instead bussed off its students to neighboring towns mostly South Kingstown, but North Kingstown and East Greenwich as well. With the opening of NHS in September 1975, those who would have hit the road once more finally had a home to call their own.

Still, NHS almost never happened, and the school wasn’t planned to be built where it stands today.

The idea of a high school goes back to at least 1964, when a study recommended building a junior-senior high school, joining forces with a neighboring town, or continuing to send students to South Kingstown. In 1968, voters considered regionalization, which would have left Narragansett without its own school. S.K. was game, but Pier voters turned down the proposal. The next year, South Kingstown abruptly broke off the relationship. With a fast-growing population, Narragansett now had little choice but to build, and in August 1972, voters gave their approval.

NHS was to have been built at Canonchet Farm, not far from the current elementary school and the South County Museum. But a legal snag developed in acquiring the property, and after a fretful delay, the current site was chosen. Jerome McCarthy, whose portrait now hangs in the NHS lobby, was named the school’s first principal, and he successfully raced time and oversaw construction to get the building ready for September 1975.

Those who entered that year, in grades 7 to 11, remember a gleaming new school and the blank slate it represented so many firsts to be accomplished, whether designing the class ring (student leaders chose from among proposals submitted by several ring firms), publishing the first school newspaper and yearbook, coming up with the “Mariners” mascot (beloved Class of 1977 adviser Robert Kimball credits alumnus Brad Hunt with the moniker), planning the first prom (junior; no seniors that year) and even adopting a school song (an original composition, selected in a contest that drew statewide attention).

In the years that followed, NHS blossomed into a top academic and athletic achiever. Sports teams regularly won division and state titles, and today, there are even hockey and swim teams. The curriculum and activities expanded to include mock trial, speech and debate, math and science teams, model legislature and more. NHS was named a School of Excellence and a Regents Commended School, taking a place among the top-performing high schools in the state. The folly of the money-saving “open classrooms” was fmally seen, and the walls that should have gone up at the start finally took their place. As the town continued growing, the size of the senior class doubled, growing from the 72 students who walked across a stage in the gymnasium in 1977 to a peak of 146 six years ago.

One-hundred-twenty-six seniors are now in residence, and therein lies a new tale of change. The demographic forces that 40 years ago began pushing Narragansett out of its sleepy reliance on neighbors have now reversed. System-wide enrollment is slipping

and the teaching staff has been trimmed, as out-of-towners forever a factor in what happens in Narragansett buy ever-pricier real estate, but contribute fewer kids to the schools. NHS has moved down from Division 1 to Division 4 in athletics, and doesn’t even play what once was arch-rival South Kingstown in football any more, not even on Thanksgiving.

Today, perhaps, old-timers might think loss of that tradition unthinkable. But before 1975, any tradition at all was still but a dream.