First Class

How the Page Pirates got their swagger

By Billy Ingram

In 1958, three seemingly unrelated events would lead to unforeseen inevitabilities, all but assuring that life in America would never again be the same — the nation’s first satellite was blasted into orbit, credit cards were test marketed in one small city and an obscure Texas Instruments’ engineer developed the first microchip. But, as far as teenagers around here went, they were under the thrall of Kookie’s comb and Wham-O Hula Hoops.

An assembly was held at Aycock Junior High in the spring of 1958 during which ninth graders were asked to come up with a mascot for Greensboro’s brand-new Walter Hines Page High, the school where most of those students would be attending in the fall.

Ironically to this day, it remains something of a mystery why the school was named for Walter Hines Page. The student body came up with “Page Pirates.” Perhaps apropos when one considers that, in addition to that enormous lake to the north of the property, just beyond the trees in front of campus sat another large body of water where Sherwood Country Club and Fountain Manor are today. Surrounded on all sides by lagoons and tall pines, Page High School was essentially an island unto itself.

On Thursday, September 4, 1958, around 500 students along with 30 teachers and administrators began a scholastic journey that continues to this day. A ready-to-go opening with varsity football, junior and varsity basketball, wrestling, cheerleaders, majorettes, band, along with girls speedball and basketball teams. Extracurricular activities included Junior Engineers, Hi-Y, Civitans, and Junior Optimists. Page was the first school in North Carolina history to earn accreditation in its first academic year.

Casual school day attire for men consisted of Madder-Tone shirts, polished cotton slacks and penny loafers. Male students were no longer required to wear coats and ties on a daily basis but it was still de rigueur for picture days. In a photo of the first senior class walking toward the camera, some subversive beatnik in the front row has no tie on, clad in a windbreaker instead of a sport coat. That guy’s cruisin’ for a bruisin’!

Co-eds strolled the halls in Kerrybrooke car coats, pullover sweaters, sensible blouses with Peter Pan collars, pleated calf-length dresses, with nylon stockings tucked into E-Jays saddle shoes or black ballerina flats. Single strand of petite pearls optional. Slacks? You’d be sent home to change into something more ladylike.

In Mrs. Luther’s Family Life class, students were subjected to educational films instructing kids on how to navigate the boundaries of a polite society, with titles like How to Say No: Moral Maturity, The Bottle and the Throttle and Duck and Cover (“when an atomic bomb explodes”).

Page’s Cafeteria was up and running on day one but students with wheels peeled out at lunchtime for Alpat or the snack shop inside the GI 1200 store, both on Bessemer. State Street Grill was closest to campus. No fast food chains, the city’s first McDonald’s on Summit was a year away from opening.

On Thursdays after school, cool cats and kittens pointed their jalopies toward WFMY’s studios to make the scene on the RC Dance Party, airing live at 5:30 p.m. Sponsored by Royal Crown Cola, Twisting teens gyrated to the sounds of The Big Bopper, Teresa Brewer, Ricky Nelson, and The Purple People Eater by Sheb Wooley. Like endsville, man!

Changing out of school clothes, that’s when girls slipped into their pedal pushers, Blue Bell Jeanie capri pants and tight, pink cashmere sweaters (“Daaaad . . . all the kids dress like this!”). Date nights began with a fellow in his Sunday best appearing at the door, gotta chat up the old man before escorting his dish for a night on the town in his ’55 T-bird meatgrinder.

Daddy-os and dolls burned rubber to the edge of town at night for curb service at the Boar and Castle, a ‘Flake Shake’ with two straws at Monroe’s, making goo-goo eyes over a “Bucket Full” of spaghetti for only a buck at McClure’s Sky Castle, or catching — not necessarily watching — a double feature at the South Drive-In Theatre where guys hoped to engage in some Back Seat Bingo (“Hey baby, I’m layin’ it down but you’re not pickin’ it up!”).

With no athletic field to speak of, Pirate home games were played on the football field at Greensboro High School, soon to be renamed Grimsley. Taking to the gridiron on the Friday night after school started, it was a blowout, Fair Grove whipping Page 14-0. Next week was even worse, 21-0 in favor of Mebane. Finishing the 1958 season 2-8, it wasn’t until 1960 that Pirates and Whirlies squared off against each other, sparking a never-ending rivalry.

Yes, 1958 may have been an inauspicious beginning to the proud Page Pirates dynasty but at least a dozen athletic stars went on to impressive professional careers including Michael Brooks (Chargers, Cowboys), Lamont Burns (Jets, Eagles, Redskins), Lee Rouson (Giants, Browns), and Mo Spencer (Cardinals, Saints) who all played for the NFL. Former professional basketball player Danny Manning is currently head coach of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons.

The most famous Page alumnus would have to be pro tennis great John Isner, who twice reached the quarterfinals at the US Open, and physician turned actor Ken Jeong (Knocked Up, The Hangover).

Never underestimate the underdog, our landlocked Pirates continue to thrive on their veritable island of imagination, opportunity and individual visions for the future. Isn’t that the ginchiest?  OH

Billy Ingram attended Page High from 1971–74. He went on to a career in Hollywood as a movie poster artist and is the author of five books including Hamburger², a book (mostly) about Greensboro.

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