Here’s to opening new doors

Jeff Gilliland Staff columnist

Jeff Gilliland Staff columnist

It was nice to be in attendance this week when the Hillsboro City Schools Board of Education voted unanimously to start accepting bids for the construction of a new auditorium at the high school/middle school.

The proposal calls for an 800-seat, 23,000-square-foot addition to the existing high school with two locker rooms, and it fulfilled part of a personal Christmas wish list from 2017.

Just before Christmas in 2017, I wrote a column that was basically a wish of list things I would like to see happen in the following year. One wish read: How about an auditorium for Hillsboro High School? Making students who like to participate in plays, concerts and the like perform in the current “cafetorium” has set them back nearly 100 years, to the times before the previous high school was built. The old place had a two-tier auditorium and pit area for the band. We don’t need all that, but about anything would an improvement.

I am not naive enough to think that my wish actually had anything to do with the school board’s decision. But at least it’s nice to know we’ve been thinking along same lines.

Last summer, the school board announced that it was exploring the construction of an auditorium, baseball and softball fields, renovating the Cassner Building on the old school campus, and a possible field house that would be attached to the concession/restroom building at the relatively new track/soccer complex.

But Superintendent Tim Davis said this week, “The auditorium took precedent of the things we needed most. The other things are still on the table, but priority No. 1 was doing something for the fine arts. It’s something we had in the old building, and it will be a great addition to our new building.”

During my school days back in the 1970s, athletics (well, that and girls and general orneriness) were the focus of my attention. But the old auditorium held enough memories that when it was tore down, I salvaged two sets of chairs from it and still have one set at my home.

Most of my time in the auditorium was spent in assemblies and watching schoolmates perform on stage. I always admired those who performed, maybe because they had skills and courage I did not possess. But I did have two performances on that long-remembered stage.

The first came in second or third grade. The high school needed a group of little kids to fill a role in a play. Somehow I was picked to be one of them. So, were all dressed up in these bear-like outfits and made a brief appearance in a play. About the only things I remember are the costume and the bright lights.

In the years after that, I avoided like a plague anything that might cause me to be on the stage. Then came my junior year. The junior class play was coming up, auditions were announced, and because they were involved, my girlfriend and some of her girlfriends kept prodding me to try out. I said absolutely not. But they kept pestering me and, well, after a while it became hard to keep telling a bunch of good-looking high school girls no.

Then it dawned on me. Why not try out? With no acting experience whatsoever, there was absolutely no way I’d get a part, so why not keep the girls happy and try out?

So I tried out. And they gave me a part. And of all things, I was to play a male cheerleader from like the 1920s or ’30s in the play “Cheaper by the Dozen.”

It was a small role with only a few lines, but it ended up being a positive experience, and showed me that I could step outside my comfort zone and still have fun.

Since my role was very small, I had lots of free time during rehearsals to chat with the ladies and find other mischief. Most of the mischief was innocent, but for some reason, one evening a male classmate and I decided to take a female cast member’s vehicle for a drive.

Don’t ask me why, or where we intended to go, but we did not make it far. Actually, I was driving the girl’s car, with the other guy in front of me driving my standard shift Chevy Vega. The guy told me he could drive a standard shift. But either he lied, or he had little practice. Because just as we were turning out of the high school grounds, and starting up a slight incline, he started rolling backward. I tried frantically to put the girl’s car in reverse, but there was not enough time, and my car rolled back into the girl’s car I was driving.

My car suffered no damage. But the driver’s side door of the girl’s car had a massive dent.

So, like the stand-up boys we were, we slowly made our way back to the auditorium, explained the situation — including that we had stolen the girl’s keys — and begged her not to tell her parents.

When I think about it, I still feel bad to this day. The girl was one of my best friends in school — a good enough friend that she took the blame.

That was a low point. But it was about the only low point of an experience that taught me many things and opened doors I had previously been afraid to walk through.

Soon, a new generation of kids will have the opportunity to perform in a fancy new auditorium. No matter how large or small their role, they will likely remember it for decades, just like I have.

So, here’s a tip of my hat to the Hillsboro Board of Education.

Jeff Gilliland is the editor of The Times-Gazette. He can be reached at [email protected] or 937-402-2522.

Jeff Gilliland Staff columnist Gilliland Staff columnist