'Mellon heads'? A half-century on, they're glad it's Centennial

'Mellon heads'? A half-century on, they're glad it's Centennial

CHAMPAIGN — Fifty years ago, the choice was between Centennial High School and Mellon High School.

And the members of Centennial's first graduating class who got to vote on their new school name didn't want to be known as the Mellon Heads.

During the 1967-68 school year, Centennial's then-seniors got to make some pretty important decisions about the future of their school, voting on the name of the new high school, mascot, colors and school song.

Administrators suggested Centennial, because 1968 marked Unit 4's 100th year of education, and Mellon in honor of E.H. Mellon, the "well-liked" retiring superintendent at the time, according to Sally Shores, a member of the first graduating class.

"We didn't want to be Mellon High because the swim team would've been called the water-Mellons, and people probably would've chanted something like 'Squish the Mellons!' We all really loved the superintendent, but we couldn't handle that," she said. "Everyone ended up voting for Centennial."

Shores and several other classmates from back then have spent a lot of time reflecting on their time at Centennial these past few months as they prepare to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first graduating class. Shores heads a committee of peers that's working to arrange gatherings throughout the 2017-18 school year to commemorate Centennial and their classmates, who were selected as sophomores to attend high school at the new building — or the "annex," as it was called at the time.

"They hadn't finished the building when we first started there. We didn't have a gym, cafeteria or library. I distinctly remember we got dressed in regular classrooms for PE and had to put towels over the window. We did gymnastics in the math classrooms," Shores said. "Year by year, they added a section of the school, but we were still very much a part of Central High School, which was called Champaign High School back then, even though we went to a different facility."

"But it was really nice when we finally got our own identity," said Pam Chavez, another committee member and Class of '68 member.

The students voted on the tri-colors idea because they thought it would be unique and chose the Centennial Charger as the mascot mostly because "we didn't want to be Maroons," Shores said. The new school was placed in the Capitol Conference for sports for several years because the administration didn't want to provoke an in-town rivalry, but everyone knew a healthy version of it was inevitable.

"We had such a sense of camaraderie and team spirit back then. We had homecoming parades and pep rallies. It was so much fun," 1968 graduate Elaine Harmon said. "The school district even paid for us to go to away games to cheer on our classmates."

The 50th anniversary committee plans to spend the summer planning events, with the official launch of celebrations set for Sept. 29 at Centennial's homecoming football game. There will be a chili dinner fundraiser for the Class of '68 before the game. Those who come out that night will have reserved seats at Tommy Stewart Field and will be recognized at halftime.

A school tour and casual gathering at Jupiter's is scheduled for Sept. 30, Shores said. Also planned: a gift to the school and special T-shirts available for purchase. Any 1968 grads interested in participating in the planning can contact Shores at shores.sally@gmail.com.

"We are really excited about this," Shores said. "When the school was first built, there was nothing over here, and we slowly watched the community around Centennial grow. It was like something we were creating.

"It gives us a lot of pride to see how far we've come."

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illiniearl wrote on May 05, 2017 at 8:05 pm

Great article!   Thanks for sharing your memories of Centennial's history from when it all began.  

Earl - Chargers Class of '84