WJ School History
FROM COUNTRYSIDE TO CITYSCAPE
From the opening of Walter Johnson High School in 1956 to the present day, both the school and its surroundings have undergone constant change. The first Spartans, the cutting edge of the Baby Boom, could not have foreseen a future enrollment decline which would result in the 1987 merger with neighboring Woodward High School. Early graduates remember fondly the cows grazing in the misty meadows each morning. Later graduates would see office buildings and shopping malls, their only reminder of the former pastoral setting being the chimney portrait of "Mighty Moo."
On a sad note, we must inform you that the portrait of Mighty Moo, that exquisite prank of the 1963 seniors, was inadvertently painted over a few years ago. There is a rumor that she may reappear after their 40th reunion...any volunteers?
"What's past is prologue." The prologue here is Walter Johnson's past, not a long past, but one characterized by a growing, changing student body. The spirit of the first years carries through today in the mood and activity of the school. The feeling of newness, of the novelty of the farm and the fields, and the pride of the first students displays itself in all of the events and evolving traditions of WJ.
Certain activities and slogans established themselves with the first graduating class. The fight song and the Green and White remain unchanged, but the Spartan gave way to the Wildcat during the merger with Woodward. The Homecoming dance and the Senior Prom are still major social events, but the Sno-Ball and the Junior-Senior Prom have fallen by the wayside. The Plaque, given by the first Senior Class in 1958, inspired a ritual: sophomores who committed the despicable crime of stepping on this brass Spartan head might find themselves polishing it. The idea for the plaque is said to have come from the James Dean movie "Rebel Without a Cause."
Other changes would be noted if early graduates came back to WJ today. The school day now begins at 7:25 a.m. and ends at 2:10 p.m. The expanded parking lot is apt to contain not the old clunkers and family wagons of old, but Hondas, Toyotas and even the occasional Mercedes-Benz. The dress code is much more relaxed. T-shirts and cut-off jeans are acceptable for both male and female. At lunch time, students no longer wolf down their cafeteria food during one of the three 20-minute lunch periods, as in the early days. Nor can they amble home for a nap, or whatever, in the 1½ hr. break of the 1970's. Today, students can be seen barreling out of the parking lot for a 50-minute "Open Lunch" at Giant grocery store, Montgomery Mall or one of the many fast food joints on Rockville Pike.
A 1958 graduate would also be surprised to find 9th graders at WJ. The junior high has also been replaced by the middle school, grades 6-8, and the elementary is now grades K-5. The long-standing rivalry with B-CC is still fierce, but newer schools, Whitman and Churchill, have been added to the list of foes. There are no more "laps" around the Hot Shoppe parking lot after games and dances because it has been replaced by two towering office buildings. But some things never change: Great Falls is still a favorite destination on Senior Skip Day every spring.
The traditional baseball theme has not only survived but been expanded as evidenced below.
- The Windup-the yearbook
- The Pitch-the newspaper
- The Spectator-the literary magazine
- The Big Train-the PTSA newsletter
- The Lineup-the student directory
- Designated Hitters-peer tutors aiding classroom teachers
- Home Plate-the WJ Website
The size of the student body has varied considerably over the years. From only two classes and 600 students, WJ grew to 2,200 students and a graduating class of over 700 in 1967, necessitating the construction of Woodward High School less than a mile down Old Georgetown Road. Along the way, 16 rooms were added in 1960 and ten more in 1964. Renovations in the mid-70's included the addition of a second gym and a theater/auditorium.
By the time of the merger with Woodward in 1987, each school held some 900 students. With the combined and enlarged student body at WJ, other changes were made. The official mascot became the Wildcat, whose visage was installed beside every Spartan on the premises. New lockers, more trophy cases and seven portable classrooms were also added.
The 2001-2002 school year began with an enrollment of 1,800, facing the challenge of business as usual as the school begins a construction plan which will span the next ten years. During the next four years the plan provides for 19 new classrooms, an art suite, technology suite, cafeteria, music suite, science labs, Media Center, gym, and auditorium. The last few years will see a renovation and modernization of the whole school.
The most exciting innovation for the alumni is the nationally award-winning WJ website. The web page class, with the fabulous support of former WJ social studies teacher Sharon Cohen and former WJ parent Maria Limarzi, has created one of the best school websites in the country! From anywhere in the world one can access the useful data and photos posted there, including information about programs, activities, events, staff profiles and homework pages. The alumni pages include databases for each graduation year, reunion news, pictures from reunions, and an email guestbook. Please visit our site at www.walterjohnson.com, you'll love it!
A special part of attending Walter Johnson has always been the identification of the school with the man for whom the school is named. Walter Perry Johnson was a prominent member of the Montgomery County community as a member of the Montgomery County Council in the 1940's. But he is best known, of course, as a pitcher for the Washington Senators. He was so outstanding that he was one of the first five inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame. This excerpt from the 1981 Windup details his skill:
Walter Johnson set record after record in his 21 year career with the Washington Senators. His lifetime marks of 3,499 strikeouts and 110 shutouts still hold today (the strikeout record was broken in 1987). He led the league in ERA's for five years, in wins for six years, in shutouts for six years and in strikeouts for 12 years. In 1913, Walter Johnson pitched 56 consecutive scoreless innings. He had the third all-time lowest ERA-1.09 in that same year. He was a 20 game winner for 12 seasons, and in 1936 he was elected to Baseball's Hall of Fame.
Besides being a great sportsman, Walter Johnson was also a quality human being. The Johnson name stood for honesty and modesty. He had an even temperament, didn't smoke nor drink, and his worst cussword was "darn". WJ students should be proud that their school is named after such a man as Walter Johnson.
Although the facts about Walter Johnson, the man, are unchanging, the school and community continue to experience change as both become more international in character and more ethnically diverse. But one thing has never changed, Walter Johnson High School's quest for academic excellence, as embodied in its vision statement adopted in 1991:
The Walter Johnson community strives to be a caring, safe environment in which mutual trust and respect foster academic excellence, cooperation, open communication and productive risk-taking. Valuing diversity, curiosity, responsibility, and commitment enables all to reach beyond personal and educational goals.
* Reprinted from Walter Johnson High School Alumni Directory, 2002" published by Bernard C. Harris Publishing Company, Inc.
Before there was Mighty Moo and the Wildcat, there was the Spartan. Mighty Moo
became the official WJ mascot in 1963. That year, the seniors painted a cow on the WJ chimney.
Thirty-five years later, over the summer, the whole school was repainted and the painters
covered the cow with white paint. When the seniors went up to the chimney for the annual
tradition of painting their names, they wrote over the extra white space where the cow had
Another rumored explanation for the appearance of Mighty Moo is that the seniors put a real cow on the roof of our school. The problem is that cows can only walk up stairs and not down.
The Wildcat evolved when Woodward High School was closed in 1987. The Woodward High School mascot was the Wildcat, so the newly merged Walter Johnson and Woodward clusters adopted the cat for WJ. However, Mighty Moo is still considered Walter Johnson's main mascot despite the administration's using the Wildcat on its official stationery and publications. The stained glass window above the gym entrance, depicting three wildcats, commemorates the mascot change.
During the 1997 Homecoming half time, "Wild Thing" was introduced as an additional mascot for sporting events. The SGA produced a video, shown in English classes during Homecoming Week, reporting the abduction of Mighty Moo while he was picnicing with a WJ math teacher. During Homecoming halftime, seniors presented an entertaining skit where the newly introduced Wild Thing and a revitalized Mighty Moo defeated the evil Pink Panther, who had kidnapped our beloved cow.