Chalk Dust Memories
Charles Murphy (1961)
When disputes arose among boys at SI, they settled them in a place we called The Pits. There had been a large building in Golden Gate Park across from St. Mary’s Hospital, but only the foundations remained. It was a big deal in the 1950s and 1960s for kids to go there to fight after school, and sometimes those fights would draw hundreds of students.
When I started at SI, only four or five lay teachers were on the faculty. Most had another job. Some worked for the Chronicle delivering papers in a truck; my dad worked for Hamm’s and Burgermeister Breweries. I was in a unique position being the first (and at the time, the only) child of a faculty member to attend SI. The school, in those days, represented much of what it does today: strong academics with extracurricular involvement. As an eighth grader, I had to decide which high school to attend when I took the entrance exam. It wasn’t a hard decision. I always wanted to go to SI because my dad worked here, and SI sports were always in the news.
Kids today don’t realize the impact the media had on high school sports. Every week in the News or Call, you would have two full pages on high school sports coverage, where you would see caricatures of star athletes. They were bigger than life. I knew who all the top high school athletes were in the city. The coverage rivaled that of the pro teams.
Schools competed to see which game would draw the highest percentage of students to attend. SI and SH would always win the award and always tie each other with 100 percent attendance. The numbers were huge.
The climate in the school was very much top to bottom. You knew your place. Seniors were gods, the Block Club was the most powerful organization in the student body — much more powerful than the Student Council. Everyone knew who the Block Club officers were, but not the Student Council officers. Rallies were optional and not always attended by everyone. SI could be a hard place for some kids. It took a strong kid to break away from the mainstream, as there was tremendous pressure to be a part of the team as a spectator. It gave you a feeling of togetherness. When SI won, you felt you had a part in the victory.
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