My Denver Public School journey was mostly great. The only awful part was worrying about possible violence. That feeling is too commonplace for everybody now.
George Washington High School sits like a monument on high ground overlooking Colorado’s Front Range. Immediately inside GW’s South Monaco Parkway entrance awaits a massive auditorium. Head west and you enter the historic Chauncey Billups gymnasium.
CU football Coach Deion Sanders has cherry picked special student-athletes to come with him to Boulder to win immediately. So did legendary high school basketball Coach Bill Weimer when he and fellow coaches fled East High for better jobs at GW in 1960.
How else can you win a Colorado state championship in basketball in a school’s first year? GW beat Pueblo South 70-69 in overtime to win State in 1961. The year before, Coach Weimer’s East team had lost in the championship game by two points to Greeley.
Tom Asbury was a sophomore on CU’s 1960-61 state basketball championship team, then became star captain at WAC-winning Wyoming. Eventually, Asbury became a bigtime college head coaching success at Pepperdine, Kansas State and elsewhere.
Coach Asbury shares my thrill at his 2023 induction into the GW Hall of Fame. Asbury remembers Bill Weimer as a superior role model. Asbury lived near East High, but followed Weimer to GW.
GW was a calm place where students thrived in the early Sixties, but that ended, and violent tension emerged at GW when I was a ninth grader being bused to extremely tense Hill Junior High. The New York Times had this headline on its Sept. 26, 1970 story, highlighting GW. Denver, With Only Minor Violence, Begins Its Second Year of Forced Integration in Schools.
Violence escalated all semester until “minor” no longer fit. With nine injured and seven arrested, GW’s riot(s) made national news. It was terrifying. Repercussions lingered during my three years at GW, but it only made our class stronger.
Two Thursdays ago, I returned for a GW pep rally I’d been invited to attend as a new GW Hall of Fame inductee that weekend. I was introduced, and led a “Go Patriots!” cheer. Dance teams and cheerleaders performed. Games were organized, including spirited games of dodgeball.
I was marveling at the school spirit and noting the diversity of the student body. It was wonderful. But then it happened. A fight broke out some distance away in the hot sun. I could not see much other than a big crowd gathered, and it lasted way too long. There was lots of security. Everybody was told to leave.
An enormous student was pinned to the ground for five minutes by the staff. I did not see anybody badly hurt, but I did see four DPD cars show up to arrest the apparent aggressor. One violent act by one violent person ruins things — again and again throughout history.
Fear of violence at school, and elsewhere, extends far beyond fisticuffs nowadays. Stochastic MAGA violence is out of control — and spews out of the mouth of Donald Trump enforcers like Mike Huckabee and Matt Gaetz who warn of violence if legal cases in Denver and elsewhere go the wrong way.
Last Saturday night, dressed in his standard tuxedo, DPS piano prodigy Peter Simon, GW Class of 1967, was back entertaining at the high school he loved. Playing with the school band and choir, this pianist, who has performed at Carnegie Hall, brought the GW auditorium alive.
A medley from The Sound of Music mesmerized — the classic story of good people wrecked by Nazi violence. GW’s fight song was performed, but without its normal ending of “Fight, Fight, Fight.” Military anthems were played with gusto.
We came to our feet following Simon’s spectacular rendition of Rhapsody in Blue. Jacob Gershwine, better known under the name he eventually adopted, was commissioned in Autumn 1923 to come up with special music to perform on Abe Lincoln’s birthday. The Wall Street Journal review in February 1924 reported, “Gershwin’s fusion of jazz and classical traditions captures the thriving melting pot of Jazz Age New York.”
We were taught at GW that a melting pot represented the ideal vision of America. Diverse people coming together could create a rich United States’ stew. But some violent bigots want to knock the pot off the stove.
Gershwin’s song rocked the Roaring Twenties. But we know what came next — western civilization’s existential fight against violent fascism.
Gathered with GW parents, students and alumni, all things seemed possible at last Saturday night’s musical fundraiser. After all, young Gershwin, and his older brother Ira, two Ukrainian-American Jews with little, had become professional songwriters.
Jacob even decided to anglicize his name, changing it to George. Can you think of a better American name than George? I can’t.
GW lives inside of me and countless other Patriot alums. The school is alive and well at 655 South Monaco Parkway. GW is a terrific place to catch a basketball game, hear a piano recital, and for Denver students to achieve their maximum potential. That thriving can only happen in a violence-free environment.
As GW goes, so goes the nation. Let’s go Patriots!
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