The Bethel Park High School Class of 2009 will be the 100th Graduating Class of Bethel Park High School and its predecessor schools. The following is a brief history of Bethel Park High School.
When the Bethel Township School District began on June 21, 1886, education at that time was provided only to students in grades 1-8.
It was not until 1906 that the school district converted one of the classrooms in a three-room school house on Mollenauer Road (Bethel School near Mine Three) into a high school.
In those days, high school was a three year program and students only attended school for half days and for only one semester. The curriculum was basic; there were no electives and students purchased their own books. The high school program changed to a four-year program in 1914. Extra curricular activities began around 1920.
In 1908 the first Bethel High School was erected at the corner of South Park Road and Park Avenue, a building which is still standing today. The original building held two classrooms and an auditorium, employed four teachers and was constructed for $6,400.
The first Bethel High School graduating class was in 1909 with 15 students (10 girls and 5 boys) as members of the inaugural graduating class.
In 1927 a 10-room grade school was constructed near the high school on Park Avenue (the current site of the Bethel Park Community Center), and when enrollment at the high school level outgrew the original high school facility, the high school students swapped schools with the younger students in 1934.
|Enrollment over the years kept increasing, which necessitated additions to the high school on Park Avenue. During the construction of a new addition to the school on July 11, 1939, a fire broke out and heavily damaged the building. But construction continued and on September 20, 1940 a dedication was held to commemorate the new addition to the building.|
In 1949 a gymnasium was added to the Park Avenue school and in 1952 an upper wing was constructed to meet growing enrollment and student educational needs.
|Over the years, Bethel kept growing and so did the student population. In 1956 the Board of School Directors purchased an 80-acre plot on Church Road, known at that time as McCormack Farm, and plans were drawn to create a campus environment. In the fall of 1959, sophomores, juniors and seniors moved to their six-building campus, which consisted of two academic buildings, library, auditorium/cafeteria, physical education building and boiler house at a cost of $4.1 million for construction and equipment.|
The new Bethel Senior High School was dedicated on October 23, 1960, but the campus would not grow to its current size until seven years later. Phase II of the construction was completed in 1964 with the addition of another academic building and the industrial arts building. Phase III was completed in 1967 with the construction of the fourth academic building, football stadium and track, three tennis courts, seven basketball courts and a baseball field, as well as additions to the library, cafeteria and physical education building. Ten classrooms were added to Buildings 2 and 3 in 1969.
|In June 1994 a 26 month, $20 million renovation included new roofs, ceilings, terrazzo tile and carpeting, site work, painting, elevators, plumbing and HVAC, as well renovations to the gymnasium/swimming pool and industrial arts building. All renovations were completed to the eight buildings by 1996.|
Currently, Bethel Park High School is the only campus style secondary school in Pennsylvania, where students traverse the eight campus buildings on a daily basis--rain, snow or shine. In February 2008, the Bethel Park Board of School Directors voted to construct a modern, new high school building on the site of the current practice fields along Church Road. The current campus will continue to be used until the new building is constructed; then it will be demolished and the practice fields will be relocated in its place.
|But what happened to the first two Bethel High Schools? In 1972 the first Bethel High School was converted into the School House Arts Center and in 1990 was given historic landmark designation by the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Association.|
When the high school students moved to their new campus, the former high school on Park Avenue was used as a junior high school until it was put up for sale in 1974. It was sold to the Municipality of Bethel Park in 1975 for $1 and closed in 1980. It was demolished in 1990 and is now the home of the Bethel Park Community Center. Before the school was demolished, the Bethel High School compass-style floor emblem that was in the vestibule, linking the gymnasium and auditorium in the old school, was carefully removed. The emblem is 9’2” in diameter and constructed from terrazzo, and now proudly adorns the lobby of the Community Center.
The history of Bethel High school is sketchy from its early days until 1931, when the high school published its first yearbook, The Beacon, a name that still is attached to this annual publication.
Enrollment has not been a steady climb. The number of graduates decreased from 15 in 1909 to two in 1914, but by 1936, there were 63 graduates that year. The Class of 1957 had 181 graduates, with 41 percent of them attending a four-year college. In 1969, there were 570 grads, with 66 percent going on to college. The 1970s showed the largest enrollments, with the Class of 1977 the largest graduating class in Bethel Park history—790 graduates. In 1988 the graduating class was dramatically smaller—336 grads, with 64 percent going to a four year college after graduation. The 1990s saw a slight increase in enrollment, with graduating classes numbering in the 400s. In 2008, 467 students comprised the graduating class, with 80 percent planning to attend a four year college, 13 percent attending a two year school, six percent attending a business or technical school and one half of one percent entering the military.
|Academics at Bethel Park are valued. Forty-three percent of the Class of 2008 graduated with a QPA of 3.5 or higher, with 111 students maintaining their standing in the National Honor Society, by keeping their QPA at 3.85 or higher. The SAT scores of the Class of 2008 were 93 points higher than the State average and 55 points higher than the National average.|
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
While a commitment to academic excellence has never changed, there have been many things that have changed over the years, including the name of the school and its configuration. Back in 1886 when the school district was formed, Bethel was a township, so the name of the school district was the Bethel Township School District. In 1960 the Borough of Bethel changed its name to Bethel Park to avoid confusion with another Bethel located in northeast Pennsylvania. However, the school name did not change automatically with the town name. The school was called Bethel High School until the campus high school opened in 1959, changing the name to Bethel Senior High School. It was not until 1964 that the school district added “Park” to its name, becoming Bethel Park Senior High School. Around 1996 “Senior” was dropped and the school is currently known as Bethel Park High School.
|AN ALLEGHENY COUNTY FIRST|
Did you know that the first school cafeteria in Allegheny County opened at Bethel High School in 1930 and was staffed by students who earned one credit toward graduation for their participation?
Curriculum in the 1930s consisted of English, History, French, Home Economics, Social Studies, Music, Latin, Science and Math.
|Events such as the May Day Celebration, class banquets, Halloween Parties and a New Year’s Dance were part of school life. Operettas were presented instead of the Musical. Clubs such as Girl Reserves, Hi-Y, The Secret Sixteen and the Junior Birdmen were popular among the students.|
Sports were limited to Boys Basketball and Football. Girls Basketball was an intramural sport.
The 1940s saw an end to the Depression and the beginning of World War II. Like other schools, many young Bethel High School male students were active in the war. Female students did their part for the war effort by participating in organizations such as the Girl Reserves to knit mittens and socks for the soldiers. Because of war conditions, several interscholastic sports were cancelled. After the war, school life got back to normal, with music and dancing in the cafeteria during lunchtime for those who stayed.
|Dancing was an important part of school social life in the 1940s, with Student Council holding weekly dances in addition to the Prom and May Dance, which were held in the gymnasium.|
The curriculum expanded to include classes such as Shorthand, Wood Shop, Art, Physical Education, Spanish and Penmanship.
Student clubs of the 1940s included the 8x Owls and Miracle Book Club. Sports grew to include Boys Golf.
As Bethel moved into the 1950s, the high school began to grow. A new gymnasium with a divider enabled boys and girls gym classes to be held simultaneously. The addition of bleachers meant that students could attend sporting events and cheer for their teams from the stands.
Student organizations included the Canteen Committee, Sub Deb Club, Technician’s Club, Radio Club, Forensics League and the Future Teachers of America. Rifle was added as a sport.
One of Bethel’s great traditions was born in the 1950s—the Powder Puff Football Game, that pits senior girls against their junior counterparts for a friendly game of flag football. This event, now more than 50 years old, “kicks off” the annual Homecoming Week festivities.
As Bethel rocked and rolled into the 1960s, the average student changed considerably. Events such as the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the onset of the Viet Nam War prompted students to break away from conformity.
But while fashion and attitude were changing dramatically, school spirit remained. School clubs that were formed in the 1960s included Future Nurses of America, Leathercraft Club, Photography Club, Future Business Leaders of America, Mechanics Club, Electronics Club and Vernissage.
|Boys Swimming and Cross Country, as well as Girls Gymnastics, were new sports of the 1960s. In 1967 the Bethettes retired their batons in favor of the now-famous pom-poms, but the uniforms have remained basically the same over the years.|
The spirit of rebellion continued into the 1970s, accompanied by a great deal of self-evaluation, as students became skeptical that they could change the world. But the Bethel student body was victorious in bringing change to their school. For example, Bethel students won the right to an Honor Study Program, the right to drive to school and have an influence on the curriculum. But as conservatism dominated the late 70’s, many of these privileges were revoked as the curriculum headed to a “back to basics” philosophy.
|1970s student clubs reflected the interests of the day, including the Psychology Club, Chess Club, Coin Club, Radio Club, Last Resort Club, Monopoly Club, Flat Earth Society, Future Secretaries of America and Astronomy Club.|
Social events in the 1970s included the Sadie Hawkins Dance, Christmas Dance, Sock Hop, Sweetheart’s Dance and Campus Carnival.
The 1970s saw the creation of several girls sports teams, including Volleyball, Swimming, Tennis, Softball, Golf, Track and Cross Country. Boys Ice Hockey had its inception in the 1970s as well.
Graduating classes in the 1980s declined from more than 700 students in 1980 to 479 in 1989.
The curriculum included some interesting offerings such as an Independent Living Relations Class, which held a Greek Orthodox Mock Wedding. The reception was catered by the Gourmet Cooking Class.
Girls Soccer was added to the athletic offerings in the 1980s and the clubs reflected students’ interest in pop culture, with the Rubick’s Cube Club and EPOCH (Europeans for the Preservation of Our Cultural Heritage).
Activities in the 1980s included the Snow Ball Dance, Cupid’s Connection Dance, a Beach Party and a Tombstone Twist.
Issues such as drunk driving, brought about the creation of a SADD group in the 1990s, as well as a Newcomers Club to welcome new students to campus. Activities included the Club Coca-Cola Dance, Colonial Day, Twin Day and Mardi Gras Week. Traditions which had their inception in the 1990s and still continue today include Senior Appreciation Day, the Cheerleaders annual Fashion Show to benefit Make-A-Wish, the SGA Volleyball Tournament and the ever-popular Man of the Year dance competition, which debuted in 1991. The Goofy Awards began in 1995 and continue today.
1990s new sports included Boys Lacrosse and Fencing. Classes included Research Techniques and Speedwriting.
THE 21st CENTURY
Bethel Park High School traditions continue into the 21st century from decades back, including the Homecoming Parade. Tributes to the past now include a 70s Dance and an 80s Dance.
|Activities have changed with an eye toward community service and making the world a better place, with Christmas Giving Trees, participation in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, a Dance Marathon for Darfur and a backpack drive for orphans in Zimbabwe. Girls Lacrosse and Boys Inline Hockey are two of the newer sports students have an opportunity in which to participate.|
The curriculum has expanded to over 200 classes to prepare students for college and beyond. Curriculum offerings include Sculpture, Advance Web Design, Entrepreneurship, Nutrition, Prenatal Development and Child Care, Transportation Power and Energy Systems and Democratic Leadership, 18 Advanced Placement and 25 Honors courses, in addition to the “basics” of English, Math and Science. The district also partners with local colleges and universities to offer classes that carry college credit for successful completion.
School spirit is still celebrated with events such as Spirit Week, Fall Games, Homecoming Bon Fire, Tailgate, Parade and Dance; Senior Appreciation Day, Man of the Year, the Goofy Awards and more. Throughout the decades, the faces and events have changed, but one thing remains--the unquenchable spirit of Bethel Park High School students. May that spirit continue to burn brightly for at least another 100 years!
|THE HISTORY OF THE BLACK HAWK|
Did you know that up until 1951 Bethel’s athletic teams were known as the Bees? Originally, they were referred to as the “B’s” (for Bethel), but the football uniforms in the late 1940s sported orange and black stripes, which made the athletes look like bees, hence the change in spelling to Bees. The male athletes never liked B’s or Bees, thinking the name did not sound “tough” enough, but were rebuffed in their efforts to have the principal change the name to something more ferocious.
But how did the school get the Black Hawk nickname?
|Legend has it, that in 1950, the school wanted to start a Girls Basketball team, but there was no money available for uniforms. The team’s coach went to a local sporting goods store to buy whatever jerseys could be found in black and orange. The only jerseys available were the jerseys worn by the National Hockey League’s Chicago Blackhawks, which at the time used orange and black as well.|
The coach purchased the jerseys, cut them to fit the girls, and they took the court as the Bethel Hawkettes. When asked to develop an original logo for the school’s new nickname, the High School Art Department--unaware that the Blackhawks (when spelled as one word) were actually a tribe of Native Americans--produced a logo featuring a bird of prey. The nickname was spelled as one word until the mid-1990s, when it was changed to two words—Black Hawk—so as not to offend any Native Americans, even though the symbol has always been the black bird.
|SOME THINGS NEVER CHANGE|
In the 1950’s T.M. Buck, Bethel High School’s Supervising Principal and the first Superintendent of the school district, wrote this in the Bethlan student handbook: “High school provides the place and opportunity, but only your desire and will to work can make these good things result in qualities of scholarship, leadership and character for the individual; and only these will result in the kind of school we want. Good citizenship is the first step, and every one of you can take it. If each teacher and pupil ‘gives’ to the school, there will be plenty for all to ‘take.’”
The past 100 years have been filled with tradition, spirit, change, excitement and excellence. Here’s to the next 100 years of graduating Bethel Park High School seniors!
|THE BETHEL PARK HIGH SCHOOL ALMA MATER|
Oh Alma Mater, Bethel High
All hail to thee.
We sing thee praises every one
With love and loyalty.
From atop the summit’s brow
Keep a watchful eye.
We’ll always love thy colors true
Our Bethel High.
|On Saturday, September 12, 2009 a Groundbreaking Ceremony was held on the practice field across Black Hawk Drive where the new Bethel Park High School will be located and on January 30, the new Bethel Park High School opened its doors. The new building is home to 94 classrooms, a 1,300 seat auditorium, a 2,350 seat gymnasium, eight-lane swimming pool, large group instruction room/small theater, television studio, band room and cafeteria with a connecting outdoor courtyard.|
The new Bethel Park High School was designed to provide students with a safe and secure environment. It enables the district to support its educational philosophy and deliver a world-class educational program that will prepare students for their futures.
Classrooms are outfitted with technologies that will allow for flexible use and interactive instruction. The new school creates an environment that fosters collaborative learning, to actively engage students in the learning process.
A variety of sources were used to compile this history, some of them with conflicting accounts. The majority of this history was compiled from the Bethel Beacon Yearbooks, 1931-2008. Thank you to Dr. Paul Novak and his staff at the Bethel Park High School Media Center, and Yearbook Sponsor Susan Baker for sharing their resources. Other sources include Cathy Born and the Bethel Park High School Records Office, newspaper clippings from the Bethel Park Library, Bethel—Our Home by John Biewener, From Acres to Charter Acres by the Bethel Park Junior Womens Club, and The Bethel Park Centennial 1886-1996 Commemorative Book. Thanks also go to BPHS German Teacher Christopher Tobias, Mayor Cliff Morton and Ron Evans for their input on the history of the Black Hawk. Anyone who has additional information to share is invited to contact Vicki Flotta, Director of Public Relations at 412-854-8438 or firstname.lastname@example.org.