Former Graduates Celebrate 20 Years Since BRHS Merged
The first graduating class of the merged high school is celebrating its 20th reunion Friday.
In 1992, two rival schools came together to form one large school, with the hope that everyone would get along—and that’s when Bridgewater-Raritan High Schools East and West became the new Bridgewater-Raritan High School.
“I remember the transition being fairly easy,” said Jamie Clark, who graduated with the first class of the newly merged high school in 1992. “Since the two schools were rivals, I remember there being some concern before the merger about whether everyone would get along. As far as I remember, it was all very peaceful once it happened.”
The 20th reunion for the 1992 class of Bridgewater-Raritan High School will be held Nov. 23 from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. at the Double Tree in Somerset.
Clark said that when the schools first merged, they were at the old East campus, while the West one was renovated.
“That made it especially easy for those of us from the East,” she said. “Our surroundings and the rhythm of the building were nothing new to us. We were mostly just surrounded by lots of new faces in our usual place.”
Despite the merger, Clark said she doesn’t remember preferring one location over the other. She said the East building was very comfortable, and it was small enough so that in every direction, there was a familiar face.
“There was a great comfort in being surrounded by people that you had known for a long time,” she said. “Our class was really cohesive and we enjoyed participating in many years-old traditions, like decorating the alcoves before Homecoming.”
Hugh Farley, one of the teachers at the new school, said he believed there was an attitude of mutual respect in the building from the beginning.
“The ability of the students to accept and enjoy the camaraderie of those who were once their arch rivals made the transition a lot smoother than some had thought possible,” he said. “The difficulty of adjusting was made easier, I think, because it was shared by everyone.”
Farley said he began teaching in Bridgewater in September 1964, and was assigned to both East and West before the schools were finally merged in 1992.
“The comingling of the teachers and staffs actually went very well,” he said. “I would attribute that to the fact that there were numerous occasions where units of common interests had been engaged in combined activities over the years.”
For example, Farley said, English departments from both schools began to join together to cover changes in curriculum, while coaches might have meetings to review changes for athletics.
Michelle Baxter, who was also part of the 1992 graduating class, said she did think it was nice to have the smaller classes and school.
“We knew everyone in the school because we were a fairly small class size prior, 186,” she said. “I think then we doubled and went to 330. High school can be a fun but overwhelming time socially so when you add in new people, it changes the dynamics between friends, boyfriends, etc.”
“That said, we had a great senior year,” she added. “All of our uniforms were brand new, things in the school had to be repainted to be Panther colors, and we had to make new friends and try new things.”
But, Clark said, she also liked being part of the larger school as a senior in the first year of the merged school.
“I met a lot of new friends that year, and it was also nice to have some new teachers thrown into the mix,” she said. “Just as high school got to the point where it could be kind of old hat, everything was new and exciting.”
Prior to the merger, Clark, who served as co-president of the senior class in that merged school, said the administration did a lot of work before on the details about how to combine everything in terms of sports and traditions.
“The colors and mascot were a big deal to everyone, and I remember we also had to factor in the mascots and colors of surrounding schools when we thought of what we’d like to use,” she said.
And from there, Clark said, the student bodies voted on the final mascots and colors.
In addition, Clark said, they decided that it would be fair to handle student government with co-presidents, co-secretaries and more.
“It didn’t seem fair to only vote for one person for each job since we didn’t know half the class when we were voting,” she said.
Clark’s co-president was Baxter, who moved back to Bridgewater seven years ago.
“I have always had a pretty positive outlook on things, and why cause a problem when you can change something,” Baxter said. “So we just did the best we could to create events and opportunities for kids to get to know one another. Kids may complain about change, but when they are given no choice, they usually adjust and thrive.”
As co-class president, Clark said, she met so many new people, and learned a great deal about being flexible and working with new people.
“We all wanted to have a memorable senior year, and it was fun trying to work out the kinks with the other student government representatives,” she said.
Clark said, for example, that she and Baxter spent days working on the different categories for the senior superlatives because both schools had different ones each year.
“I think in the end we probably had as many categories as kids in our class,” she said. “No one could part with their old categories, so we threw them all together and just gave out dozens of awards. It was a fun way to include a lot of people in the excitement of the spring of senior year.”
Baxter, who came from West, said it was hard to adjust to merging with a rival school and leaving their home turf. She said she was part of a consolidation committee to help get the two schools working together before the merge was actually completed.
“Initially, we listened to the students about their concerns and brought them to the planning board, and then later after the decision was final to move forward, we helped to select student council and choose other things,” she said. “For us as seniors, you kind of want to rule the school, so now [we were] suddenly being put together with kids you don’t know.”
Clark said she believes students didn’t feel slighted by the merger.
“I never felt like we were slighted because of the merger,” she said. “The administration did a great job working with students, getting their buy-in and making sure we all really felt like the new school belonged to all of us.”
Homecoming though, Clark said, was a little bit of a let-down that first year, because the big East and West rivalry was over.
“It was very strong and the week leading up to Thanksgiving was always a very fun spirit week with lots of traditions,’ she said. “The Thanksgiving Day East-West football game between the two schools was really a highlight of every year. Although a school was appointed as our new rival, it really didn’t feel the same that year.”
Baxter agreed that the biggest loss was the intense rivalry, particularly that Thanksgiving football game.
“All the graduated students would come back and tell old war stories about who was better and why, and that tradition got lost because the two opposing sides weren’t there anymore,” she said. “I’m sure as time has gone that the rivalry is back with Watchung, but for the first year, you really felt the difference.”
In addition, Baxter said, for some of the juniors and seniors, the volume of students in the school lessened the opportunities to be on varsity sports or hold leads in student council or other clubs.
“There were many more people to choose from,” she said. “And for the underclassman, coming in and securing a spot on the freshman or JV team was no longer an absolute. That was a tough part of the transition as well.”
Clark, who know lives in Glastonbury, Connecticut, said she liked the school spirit of the new building.
“Right away, students embraced the new colors and mascots and had a lot of school pride,” she said. “I have a quilt made of my high school t-shirts, and I think there are as many BRHS ones on here as East ones. We were all really proud to be part of something new, and when the year started out smoothly and continued to go smoothly, I think we were even more proud to have pulled it off gracefully.”