wt woodson

Organizing a 50 Year Reunion For May 2-4, 2014
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Classmates of the Class of 1964


When The W. T. Woodson High School opened its doors to students for the first time in the fall of 1962, it was not only the largest school in Fairfax County, but it was also the largest in the state of Virginia. The Woodson campus consists of a seventy-nine acre tract of land that was an operating dairy farm until the school was built. The size of the site was, and remains, the largest school campus in Fairfax County. Two farm buildings remain, the white house known as "Woodson House" and the one-time dairy barn still used by the county maintenance department.

The original cost of building W. T. Woodson was $3,300,000, a bargain by today’s standards. A unique feature of the new high school was a full planetarium of both the northern and southern hemispheres. Students from elementary and middle schools continue to visit the Woodson planetarium as part of their science curriculum. A vocational wing housed a program drawing students from all over the county for classes in auto mechanics, cosmetology, carpentry, veterinary science, and electricity. The vocational programs were gradually phased out over the years and students interested in such classes now attend Chantilly Academy, a professional technical center located at Chantilly High School. The original athletic facilities included two softball fields, a practice field, two baseball fields, a hockey field, a 5,000-seat stadium, and ten tennis courts. Added to over the years, the stadium now seats 15,000.

The budget for the new school did not include money for stadium lighting. The entire community joined in a fund-raising plan called "The Light Brigade." Local businesses contributed so generously that for at least fifteen years Woodson school activities did not solicit funds from the Fairfax business establishment. Patrick J. Cunningham, the first Director of Athletics at WTW, led this massive fund-generating campaign. Within a year, the stadium was lighted. The stadium is now named the Patrick J. Cunningham Stadium. In 1962, the main gymnasium was considered huge with a capacity to seat 1,400. In addition to the main gym, there was an auxiliary gym then called "The Girl's Gym," and a "corrective exercise gym." During the 1998-99 school year, the gymnasium was named in honor of Paul "Red" Jenkins, a health and physical education teacher who coached basketball at WTW for thirty-five years. The auditorium, the largest in Northern Virginia at that time, had a capacity for 1,200. The auditorium is now called Bedinger Auditorium for long-time drama teacher Joan Bedinger. The W. T. Woodson High School originally opened its doors to 1,800 Cavaliers. By the 1965-66 school year, enrollment reached 3,300, including 150 minority students brought to Woodson as a result of the integration of schools.

The W. T. Woodson High School was named for Mr. Wilbert Tucker Woodson, superintendent of Fairfax County Schools from 1929 to 1961. Naming the school after Mr. Woodson broke a school board rule which prohibited the naming of a school for a living person. The board made an exception for Mr. Woodson, and, when he was told the new school was to be named after him, Mr. Woodson replied, "I appreciate the honor very much, but I think you made a mistake. I still think the old policy was good." Until just a few months before his death in 1983, Mr. Woodson was a frequent and honored guest at Woodson activities and he continued to make his influence felt in the school that so proudly bears his name. Making sure the proper name, "The W. T. Woodson High School," was used took a major effort. Any faculty member referring to the school name without including the "The" was assessed a twenty-five cent fine which went to "The Light Brigade."

The first principal of Woodson High School was Mr. Emory Chelsey. Mr. Chesley handpicked the faculty for Woodson, luring away from other Fairfax County schools some of their most talented teachers. He sought diversity, ability, and strength of character. Not only did Mr. Chesley recruit Fairfax County teachers, he also hired teachers who had been teaching at places such as Duke University, the University of South Carolina, and Johns Hopkins University, in addition to a number of retiring military officers. With his dedicated Cavalier staff and enthusiastic students, Mr. Chelsey established a school tradition of academic excellence, competitive spirit, and school pride that still exists today.

After just one year, Woodson grew by 1,000 students, and, in 1964, Mr. Chelsey proudly held the first commencement exercises for Woodson students in the stadium. In 1965, Mr. Chelsey left Woodson and the assistant principal for instruction, Mr. Robert Phipps, assumed the role of principal. He held this position until his promotion to Assistant Superintendent of Schools in 1968. At that time, Woodson’s third principal, Mr. William P. Ladson, took command. Mr. Phipps returned to the principal’s position at Woodson in 1972 and remained there until his retirement in 1981.

see more history of WTW at www.fcps.edu/woodsonhs/woodhistory.htm

email ruth@haruth.com for more information