50 Years Later

by Feb 8, 2023Education, South Brunswick

West Brunswick High School celebrates a half-century of Trojan pride.

Fifty years ago students and teachers from Shallotte and Waccamaw came together on a new, central campus in a lovely building complete with the smell of fresh paint and new desks and chairs. The new high school became a beacon of growth for the area and created a sense of community that has only grown in the 50 years since schools in Brunswick County desegregated.

Since West Brunswick High School opened in the fall of 1972, thousands of students have passed through the halls, eaten in the cafeteria and made new friends in the courtyard — all becoming a part of the mighty Trojan family.

This school year, West Brunswick High School is celebrating its golden anniversary. The celebrations began with class reunions at homecoming in October and will end on April 1 with a big welcome home festival on the football field featuring entertainment, food and all types of activities for all former Trojans.

WBHS 50th Anniversary

“Homecoming on October 14, 2022, kicked off the celebratory year,” says Chellie McDowell, school secretary and a member of the anniversary planning committee along with Jonathan Paschal, Jimmy Fletcher, Leslie Reeves, Casey Sellers, Anna Saunders, Rhonda Benton, Michael Stanley and Kippy Hughes.

In the last 50 years Brunswick County has grown from 28,000 people to more than 144,000, but what hasn’t changed in that time is the pride WBHS students take in their high school.

School pride is where Rhonda Benton wanted to focus the 50th anniversary celebration efforts. A graduate of WBHS and North Carolina State University, Benton went on to serve as WBHS principal for nearly 10 years.

“Building on who we were as a school and linking to former graduates and community partners seemed to be the best starting point,” she says. “I also believed that bringing back traditions and bringing our history back to the forefront was important. Thus, the glass case at the front entrance became a reality. We also brought school colors back throughout the building and worked to display our pride for our school history as well as through current students. Everything I did, I tagged it with #TrojanPride … and the vision started becoming a reality!”

Michael Stanley, who entered the school the year it opened, remembers feeling “fear, excitement and apprehension” as a new freshman at West Brunswick High School in 1972.

“Curiosity was most of what we all felt — those coming from Waccamaw,” he says. “I listed fear first because we were scared. Scared of leaving the Waccamaw community’s nurturing atmosphere. Scared of being the little dog in the big dogs’ back yard. But there was a lot of excitement also.”

West Brunswick High School

Stanley, who earned degrees from Elizabeth City State University and UNC Wilmington, was the assistant principal at WBHS for 19 years.

“We were blessed to have not a good but a great principal in Mr. Jonathan Hankins and some really talented athletes,” he says. “Mr. Hankins was stern on the learning environment and equally as stern on athletics.”

Early on, blending the two high schools wasn’t always easy. Each had its own ways and traditions and sometimes things got touchy, but students adapted and overcame and the culture of the school and community changed. Everyone was a Trojan.

Former football coach Jimmy Marshall remembers a great group of students and an athletic program that started with football, basketball, baseball, track and field and cheerleading and grew into 14 varsity and junior varsity sports, including girls’ basketball, volleyball, tennis and softball.

In addition to athletics, Future Farmers of American and JROTC Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps drew students. The JROTC grew so fast that three small mobile trailers were set up on campus as the office and command center.

West Brunswick High School NC

The students and teachers who had been in either Shallotte or Waccamaw schools since elementary school needed to form a united bond, Marshall writes in memories donated to the celebration. The new central Courtyard in the middle of campus was just the place for those bonds to form. It was a great “hanging-out place” before the first-class bell rang, between classes and at lunchtime. It was the place to meet new friends and bond with former classmates. “We had six classes for 50 minutes per day, and the school buses were packed after school because most students did not have a car to drive in 1972-73,” he writes.

By the time Benton arrived in the mid-1980s, the courtyard was the most popular place to meet up before school and during lunch.

“It is where I met my husband!” Benton says.

Current Principal Jonathan Paschal says West Brunswick High School is truly a special school and is surrounded by a community of support.

“We recognize the impact that positive, caring and meaningful relationships have on our students and their ability to achieve,” Paschal says. “On behalf of our students, I want to say thank you to the countless alumni and to our school community for the commitment to West Brunswick High School. Let’s continue to show our Trojan Pride and move as ONE West!”

Photography by Tara Roberts