Rags to Riches, the History of OHS


Roslynn Besel, Reporter

Olympia High School has been around for over a century constantly growing and changing, but over time its complex history along with many old traditions has been lost, remaining unknown to the newer generations of students.

The initial founding of Olympia High School, known back then by several different names, is hazier than most people realize. Contrary to popular belief, Olympia High School wasn’t founded in 1907 but was actually founded in the 1800s. According to OHS principal Matt Grant, “A lot of people think it’s 1907, but I’ve been corrected on this many times that they don’t have the exact date but the records go all the way back to the 1880s.” From the late 1800’s up until 1907 the school moved from building to building, never finding a permanent place due to limited funding, until Mary Miller donated the land to build a brand new school. Miller later named the school after her late husband William Winlock Miller. The new school burned shortly after in 1916 and the current OHS wasn’t built until around 1960. OHS alumni Cheri Keller said, “The halls used to be separate buildings connected by a series of covered walkways.” Since its current location opened it has only been remodeled once, in 2000, when they combined the separate buildings into one.

The history of the school isn’t just defined by its architectural past, but also by its past traditions. While Olympia High School is still full of numerous traditions, there are many that have died out and been forgotten over time. Some popular traditions included all the seniors letting out a giant scream by the mural in the main hall at the end of the year and the tradition of having big bonfires, which eventually got shut down by the fire department. A more recent tradition that ended was the Spaghetti Bowl, a big football game between Olympia and Capital High School. The rivalry between Capital and Oly has been a tradition in and of itself, spanning back decades. According to Grant, “The height of the Capital / Oly rivalry was second to none. It was so intense, especially in the 90s.” The rivalry got so heated that even the parents would get into fights with each other. Keller said, “Rival CHS would sometimes paint the rock cougar colors. We repainted quickly and once we topped CHS in response and the picture ended up in the Daily Olympian.” There have also been some questionable traditions over the years like an old one where seniors would be auctioned off to freshmen, which Grant canceled his first year as principal saying it was “bad form” as it resembled a slave auction. Other miscellaneous traditions included a Christmas dance in December, cheerleaders using empty kegs of beer as props, and football players doing a striptease at the homecoming game.

The past students of OHS also make up part of its history. Olympia High School has a large alumni association with very involved former students who still come to cheer on their alma mater at sporting events and even give out scholarships to current students, like the class of ‘51 scholarship of $5000. The school recognizes its impressive alumni in the Hall of Fame, though Grant would like to update it soon, “There are a lot of people that aren’t in the Hall of Fame that I would like to nominate like Roni Han, who was trafficked at a young age.” Han has gone on to appear on the Oprah Winfrey Show and now talks to people all over the world about human trafficking. Other alumni include the first woman professor at Caltech, a man who cured a type of blindness, and someone who was in Shrek on Broadway.

From its alumni to its old architecture and traditions, there are a lot of different components that make up the history of OHS and a lot of opportunities for current students to continue on the legacy of Olympia High School in the years to come.