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Steve Novotney Says, "Once a Bishop, Always a Bishop"

People are still bothered by the consolidations that took place to form Wheeling Park High School.

Until the mid-1970s the city of Wheeling possessed three public high schools, one in Warwood, one in Center Wheeling, and the third situated along National Road near the Dimmeydale neighborhood. Each had its own nickname and identity, and if you are a graduate of one of them, you must be beyond or very close to your 60s.

The consolidation conversation started in the early 1970s, and in 1976 Wheeling Park High School opened, and the Patriots were born in the nation's bicentennial year. Red, white, and blue were the selected colors, and the Vikings, the Wildcats, and the Little Reds were tucked away in the history books.

The members of the county school board were very careful as far as the location of the new high school was concerned. According to the late Sam Andy, who was a board member and was teaching and coaching at Wheeling High when the consolidation was orchestrated, the farmland situated along Park View Road was chosen because it was neutral ground and not in any of the neighborhoods that lost its school despite the predicted issues with transportation in inclement weather.

And people continue to resent the decision.

That is why I do not expect my friends with roots at Bishop Donahue High School to feel any different any time soon. A week ago it was announced by officials with the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston that the school will close after the current academic year, and parents wishing for their children to continue in the parochial setting will receive stipends during the next three years for Wheeling Central Catholic High School, and transportation will be arranged via school buses.

There will no name changes or alterations to the team colors, the school's curriculum, the schedule, or to the religious teachings that are a daily constant on the corner of 14th and Eoff streets near downtown Wheeling, and those facts have irked the families who have attempted to change the leaders' minds. What was referred to as a "Blue Ribbon Commission" was formed nearly seven years ago to peer into the operation and solvency of both Central Catholic and Bishop Donahue, and at that time Bishop Michael Bransfield opted to give the Donahue family, friends, and administration an opportunity to grow.

Initially, that's exactly what took place, and the innovations involved community, technology, the curriculum, and in numbers, but when officials took another look this year, they found only 101 students in four grades with a senior class of 30 students but a freshman class of only 15. Meanwhile, parents have had a choice in the McMechen area just as they do today in Ohio County – public, parochial, or private. They could send their children to Bishop Donahue High or to The Linsly School and pay tuition or choose John Marshall High School for a high school education that is free and complete with taxpayer-paid breakfasts and lunches Monday through Friday.

Unfortunately for the Bishop family, the enrollment at John Marshall is more than that 20-times larger than at Bishop Donahue, and nearly 300 pupils report to Central Catholic each morning these days. Additionally, the two schools are located less than six miles from each other.

The region's population decline did not help matters much. During the 1950s when Bishop Donahue was opened to ease the squeeze at Wheeling Central, 3,500 folks lived in McMechen, and nearly 40,000 resided in Marshall County. These days fewer than 2,000 citizens call McMechen their home, and the county's population has shrunk to 32,000.

It's very real, and the reasons are real, too, even though no one wants to hear them. Instead, fingers are being pointed, and accusations have been levied using what recently has been dubbed as "alternative facts."

But one statement that's been repeated often the past week is very true, and that is that, inside those walls at Donahue, there's a tough bunch of folks that helped create a community which relishes the size of the school because it's always meant more after all of those academic and athlete victories over the Goliath opponents over the years.

That's why the saddest reality of all in this situation is dealing with the death of an active, proud family tradition because it's a painful, present-day goodbye to that green-and-gold pride. Without knowing it, the Bishops played the final football game in November and the boys beat Linsly this week in the team's last regular season game.

The students, faculty, administrators, parents, and alumni now will encounter many more of those "finals" and "lasts" during the next few months, and then the concluding commencement will take place in May. Seventy-one underclassmen will then transfer to new schools, and it is unknown how many Bishops will become Maroon Knights. The Wheeling high school soon will schedule a private open house for Donahue students and their parents in hopes the current curriculum and recent capital improvements made to the school's interior and to its gymnasium will be enough to persuade those families to shift a little north.

None of this is going to be easy just as it wasn't for the people connected to Warwood, Triadelphia, and Wheeling high schools 40-plus years ago, but today's Bishops won't forget that feel just as alums have never lost touch. If you are a graduate of Bishop Donahue High School, you're proud of it, you defend it, and you tell tales about classic class pranks, formal dances, and those championships.

And even after the doors close, you'll always be Bishop Donahue.

Categories: Commentary