New Hanover High School to celebrate its centennial anniversary in April

New Hanover High School celebrates a big milestone next month: its 100th anniversary.
Published: Mar. 22, 2022 at 10:13 AM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - New Hanover High School celebrates a big milestone next month: its 100th anniversary.

The school opened its doors in the fall of 1921 and had its first graduating class in 1922. It’s the oldest existing school in Wilmington and at one point was even the largest high school in North Carolina.

Over the last century, New Hanover High has helped educate generations of students in the Wilmington community, producing its fair share of famous alumni: star athletes like Roman Gabriel, writers and journalists like David Brinkley and Peggy Payne, entrepreneurs like Jim Goodnight, even Medal of Honor recipients Charles Murray and William David Halyburton Jr.

Thousands of wildcats have walked the halls of New Hanover, including 98-year-old Jenny King and her siblings.

“I had a sister who was in one of the first classes — I don’t know if it was the first or the second class,” King said. “There were seven of us and we’ve all come down.”

King graduated in 1940, but still remembers her time at New Hanover well all these decades later. She recalls participating in the glee club and attending football games before Legion Stadium existed.

“I had never been to a football game and the first one — I said, ‘okay let’s go,’ so after school we all trooped down 13th Street to Ann and there was a big lot there and football field and that’s where they played football,” King said. “They didn’t have any seats or anything and we walked up and down the sidelines and watched the ball game.”

King said her class was one of the first to graduate from Legion Stadium after it was built in the late 1930s.

Louise McColl, class of 1964, also holds on to the many memories made during her time at Hanover — from dissecting frogs in biology class to storming the senior steps.

“The steps only belonged to seniors, so only seniors could go,” she said. “When you got your ring, the first thing you did was go up and down the senior steps four or five times a day.”

McColl was very involved in sports, earning her the ‘most athletic’ superlative her senior year. She played ping pong, basketball, volleyball, softball and tennis. She did note, however, that women sports aren’t like they are today.

“And I’m left-handed so you had to order left-handed equipment. You couldn’t just go in Canady’s Sporting Center at the time and buy something,” McColl said.

The tradition of Wildcat Athletics runs deep with more than 30 state championships and state titles dating back to 1916. You can’t mention Wildcat Athletics without mentioning coach Lean Brogden, who coached basketball, football and baseball at the school for 40 years. The school’s main gym, Brogden Hall, now bears his name.

New Hanover High School was initially the all-white high school in Wilmington, and Williston Senior High School was the all-black high school. That would change in the late 1960s.

“’66 had its first integrated graduating class,” Linda Kalnen Sykes said of her graduating class.

It’s also around the time when the school was considered the largest high school in the state.

“My graduating class had 793 that we can document at this time. ‘67 had the absolute highest, which was right at 800 — and then from there the school split,” she said.

The school split because Hoggard High School was built. Around the same time, Williston Senior High School was forced to close in 1968 in order to achieve integration. Students and teachers there were split between Hoggard and Hanover. Some New Hanover students were also moved to Hoggard, depending on which side of Oleander you lived on.

New Hanover High School continued on, serving everyone in the Wilmington community in the decades since.

“New Hanover High School has been definitely the center point of the education for this particular town and community for many decades now and we want to honor that,” said Sykes, who is the Executive Director of the NHHS Alumni Association.

The alumni organization will be honoring the school’s history in April, with a Centennial Ball at Cape Fear Country Club and a free Historical Expo at New Hanover’s Princess Street Gym.

Sykes said they have gathered boxes upon boxes of memorabilia from the last century, representing generations of education, memories, and tradition in Wilmington.

“I have them in boxes according to decades — it’s a lot,” she said. “We have some very unusual and unique items.”

They have collected everything from yearbooks and cheerleading uniforms to newspaper clippings, including one article that is written in Spanish from Mexico City when the football team apparently played there.

The alumni association is still accepting donations if you have anything you’d like to share.

This Historical Expo is from 10 am - 1 pm on April 23 and the Centennial Ball is later that evening at 6pm. For more details you can click here.

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