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WHS at 20: Residents fought to get Waccamaw Neck its own high school

By Sarah L. Smith
Coastal Observer

As Waccamaw High School marks its 20th anniversary, the community that built the school with its taxes and time, fundraising and sometimes, physical labor, can step back and reflect on its accomplishment.

Athletic, academic and art awards line the walls inside the glass atrium. New classrooms were added in 2000 and 2005. A new media center and more classrooms are planned for the future.

“I am very proud of the accomplishments of the students and staff,” said Vida Miller, a former school board member and now a state representative. “We are recognized by other school districts as one of the most outstanding school communities in the state.”

Waccamaw would never have had that opportunity for success if residents hadn’t lobbied the Georgetown County School Board for a high school.

Board members argued in the mid 1980s that there were not enough students to fill another high school, that the area did not have a large enough tax base and that building a new high school would hurt Georgetown High.

“At that time, we did not have the students and we needed repairs and additions on buildings we had already,” said Susan Sawyer, a former school board member.

The board was chaired by Mary Alice Williams. Members were Woody Cox, Barbara Huell, Charles Knox, Ellis Means, Lucius McInnis, Houston Parson, Sawyer and Virginia Skinner. Cliff Dodson was superintendent.

They listened to parents and students talk about how the drive to Georgetown meant they couldn’t take part in sports or use the library for projects. But the board was not convinced.

It wasn’t until L.H. “Sonny” Siau Jr., the county auditor who had lost a leg in World War II, hobbled to the podium on crutches that opinions began to change.

Siau had watched the area grow during his 26 years in office and believed it would only continue to prosper. He was the first public official to support the school and died before it opened.

“He said people on the Waccamaw Neck deserved to have a new school, and that this county could afford it,” Miller recalled. “He got a standing ovation.”

In retrospect, Skinner and Sawyer said building the school was the right thing to do.

“We didn’t have that many people over here,” Skinner said, “but in the next couple of years, boy I tell you, we were blooming.”

To pay for the project, Parson called for a $10 million bond, but Huell proposed an amendment that called for the bond issue “not to exceed $13 million.” It passed.

The building package included additions at six other schools as well as $984,500 for athletic facility improvements at four high schools.

The board hired a Florence architecture firm to design the school and awarded Dargan Construction the $7.3 million contract.

“It sounded like billions and billions at the time,” said Miller, who served on the school school board during the construction.

The cost of the school is equal to $13 million today.

The architect, Munford G. “Monk” Fuller, described the 104,000 square feet with room for growth, as the “best plan I’ve ever come up with.”

In the original plan, the glass atrium extended farther into the building, but it was shortened to cut costs.

By August 1990, the school was complete.

The district hired Burke Royster from Northwestern High School in Rock Hill as principal at Waccamaw High. He interviewed and recommended the school’s first teaching staff.

Students did their part, too.

During the spring of 1988, students who would make up the first classes at the new school got a chance to vote for their choice of mascot and school colors. Dodson called it a “historical moment.”

“You may not think the selection of the logo is important, but the selection that you make will stay made for years and years and years,” he told students.

They picked the Warriors over the Hurricanes and Wave Warriors, and opted for a Native-American warrior over a Viking-style warrior. Red and black were the clear favorites for colors. Blue and white were a distant second.

The Warrior mascot has changed over the years, but the warm and community-focused atmosphere the original staff and students helped create stays the same, said Cara Cook, one of three original teachers who are still at the school.

And it feels like that, teachers said, because of the amount of effort and time students, parents, teachers and staff put into making the school what it is today.

Will Dieter was one of the students who contributed. Now a real estate agent with The Dieter Co., he entered the high school as a seventh-grader in August 1990.

The next year, Dieter played baseball for the school, but in order to play a game, the team first had to have a field.

The district was unable to provide funding for sports fields for the school, so parents and students raised money and provided labor.

“As the baseball team, we all got together and picked up rocks and laid sod,” Dieter said.

When students started practicing football, they had to go to Waccamaw Elementary School.

After a field was fenced in at the high school, and bleachers were added, Dieter remembers his father, Tucker, rented a crane, a portable audio system and what he described as a large “bucket” for the announcers.

“A lot of people gave a lot of time,” said Dennis Lee, another one of the original teachers and its first football coach and athletics director. “We’ve come a long way with very little money from the district.”

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