Schools lost to consolidation leave lasting memories

First Posted: 1/20/2015

Following a national trend beginning in the 1950’s, many high schools in west central and northwest Ohio began to merge into larger institutions or united to form brand new schools. Rural high schools like Beaverdam, Cridersville, Lafayette, Ohio City, Buckland, Gomer, Vaughnsville, Blue Creek, Alger, and McGuffey faded into history and began new chapters with a different name.

The high schools in the city of Lima went through a similar transformation. In 1955, South and Central High Schools merged into Lima Senior High. The three small catholic high schools in the city, St. Rose, St. John’s and St. Gerard, also began making plans to consolidate.

In its first year, 1956, Lima Central Catholic High School consisted of students from St. Rose and St. John’s. St. Gerard, which had recently completed the building of a new school, resisted the merger. Under the leadership of Sister Mary Patrice, LCC began with the nickname the Lancers and school colors of red and gold. As with all the institutions merging in that era, combining schools, that were previously rivals, presented numerous challenges and some of them were athletic.

In Lima Central Catholic’s first year of existence, one opponent on its basketball schedule loomed large. On Jan. 11, 1957, the LCC Lancers would be facing St. Gerard’s High School. The anticipation and passion created by this match-up was due to several factors. One of the considerations was simply the fact that many in the north side catholic community were determined to resist the consolidation with Lima Central Catholic and were passionate in their dissent. Also present was the reality of St. Gerard High School’s long history of athletic futility.

In the previous decades the “Gerries” were rarely successful in basketball games against St. Rose and St. John’s. In fact, St. Gerard had lost 17 consecutive games to St. Rose and had only beaten St. John’s twice in its previous 15 meetings. Playing a team now comprised of athletes from both schools presented a daunting challenge for St. Gerard. But the athletic pendulum was beginning to swing on the north side. St. Gerard boasted a promising crop of talented athletes and was off to its best start in decades. Led by their crafty coach, Tom Hannan, the “Gerries” boasted a 10-1 record on their way to the most successful season in school history. They were eager to host the game and believed this was the year the tide would turn.

Allen White, the sports editor of The Lima News, played up the game in the week leading to the showdown in his popular column, “White-Wash.” White suggested moving the game to the brand new Lima Senior High gymnasium that held more than three times the capacity of the St. Gerard gym but was politely told to mind his own business. “If you’re looking for tickets, forget it,” wrote White. “Only 900 tickets are being printed and most of those will go to students. The lucky adults who score a ducat will look like strangers in the crowd.”

Lima Central Catholic entered the game with five wins in its first nine games under the direction of first year coach Bob Williams. Allen White commiserated with the challenge Williams faced as he attempted to blend new players together, writing, “His starters are five strangers from three different schools: Carl Helmig and Jim Bruin from St. John’s, Denny Houlihan and Tom O’Connor from St. Rose, and Steve Madigan who transferred in from St. Gerard.”

The night of the game the St. Gerard gym was packed well beyond capacity and the tension could be cut with a knife. The game began with St. Gerard applying full court pressure and the “Gerries” rode the hot shooting touch of Ricky Warnement and Joe Nester to forge a lead. That lead continued to grow and ballooned to 18 points near the end of the third quarter. LCC then began a furious comeback led by senior Paul Schroeder. The fiery redhead came off the bench to hit 10 of 13 shots from the field. With the crowd at a fever pitch, the St. Gerard lead dwindled to five points in the tense closing moments of the game until Ed Klepper and Warnement sealed the win for the “Gerries” with late free throws. The final score read St. Gerard 72, LCC 65.

The free throw line proved to be the difference in the game as St. Gerard made an amazing 40 of 45 charity tosses. Larry Pitchford canned 18 of 20 from the line and ended up with 24 points. Warnement, their heady point guard, finished with 27 points including 9 of 10 from the free throw line. For LCC, Schroeder led the way with 20 points and sophomores Jim Bruin (17) and Denny Houlihan (13) added double figures. LCC actually made 12 more field goals than the “Gerries” but it was not enough to make up for the difference in free throws.

The game marked the last time the schools would meet. The next year the bishop ordered St. Gerard to consolidate with Lima Central Catholic. It was not the only dramatic change on the horizon.

To orchestrate the blending of three schools into one, the bishop named Father Edward Charles Herr as the new principal of LCC. Fr. Herr, who spent more than 20 years in Delphos before arriving in Lima, wasted little time in establishing himself as the undisputed leader. While traveling in the southwest on vacation the summer before he began as principal, Fr. Herr bought an Indian blanket and became enamored with its artwork. He declared the scarlet and turquoise on the blanket was to be LCC’s official colors and the Thunderbird woven into its fabric became the inspiration for its new athletic nickname. Today, that blanket is displayed in the trophy case in the Fr. Herr Athletic and Convocation Center.

Merging three schools that had been intense rivals proved to be a difficult challenge but Fr. Herr met the test with his indomitable spirit. One of his decisions affected the entire community for decades. When building the new high school on Cable Road, Fr Herr decided to build only a practice basketball facility. After an amicable meeting with Lima City School officials, it was agreed that LCC would share the beautiful new Lima Senior High gymnasium for its home basketball games. The spirit of partnership spawned by that decision had a beneficial effect, not only on both schools, but for the entire community. It helped bring the city of Lima together in a spirit of cooperation, one that has lasted more than 60 years.

The existence of all of those departed high schools, long since faded into memories of days gone by, will never be erased by time. They live on in the high schools that replaced them and in the recollections and spirit of those who loved and cherished their alma maters. They will never be forgotten.

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