Tony Pearson admits he got “pretty excited” when he picked up his newspaper a couple days ago and read about Heizer reopening as a Hobbs middle school. The News-Sun article was accompanied by a picture of teenager Ashley Flores standing in front of a black and gold hornet she painted at the school’s entrance.
“When I saw that young lady there, I thought that was the keenest thing. I thought she did a great job on the Hornet,”Pearson said. “The colors are different – but that’s okay. It’s the same mascot.”
Even better was when Pearson read about Heizer principals being on the hunt for Hornet memorabilia. Their idea is to pay homage to the thousands of true blue students who attended Heizer during its 49-year existence as a junior high school. (Heizer transformed to the Hobbs Freshman High School in 2003, then was shuttered last year while the district ramped up for the Aug. 15 switch to a middle school system.)
Turns out Pearson, who owns TP PawnWagon, has more than a passing interest in memorabilia. Plus there’s the fact that the 73-year-old Hobbs man was one of the first students to cross Heizer’s threshold when the building opened in 1954.
“We thought it was pretty great that we had a school over on the south side,” recalled Pearson,then a ninth-grader who had spent the previous two years walking “across town,”to Houston. “I remember on that first day everything was brand new and painted and we were proud of it. We kind of pretty well took care of everything. There wasn’t any graffiti back in those days.”
Pearson recalls that one of the first orders of business for the new school was a student election to determine colors and a mascot. Next was rounding up some uniforms for a football team. Because the opening of Heizer coincided with the closing of Booker T. Washington as a segregated school, plenty of equipment was available.
But BTW’s leather helmets were green and white. “I remember we painted over them,” Pearson said. “Not spray-painted but hand painted them blue.”
The painting memory is more vivid for Pearson than his blurry recall of attending school with African-American students for the first time.
“I think there was a radio station that first day. Some (media) showed up down there thinking there was going to be this big riot,” he said. “ But (desegregation) didn’t bother us. Back then we had a lot of teachers and people involved in school who really put a heart and good effort into helping us understand each other.”
As a captain of the first integrated junior high school football team, Pearson also believes that sports were a unifying factor for students more concerned about scoreboard points than political points. Unfortunately those first Heizer teams weren’t particularly successful when facing off against Houston, a new archrival that regularly “trounced” the young Hornets. “It didn’t matter. We developed alot of pride in our school,” Pearson said. “It was a close-knit deal.”
Which isn’t to say Pearson wasn’t above some junior high orneriness that resulted in him becoming acquainted with the wrong side of a principal’s paddle. Pearson’s teenage transgressions included smoking cigarettes and holding hands with girls. “But we didn’t have any dope back then,” he stressed
Pearson, who managed to make it out of Heizer, Hobbs High School and eventually Hobbs, eventually moved away for new adventure. He returned to Hobbs from Santa Fe 22 years ago and soon after opened his pawnshop – a place where locals gather to hock as much as talk. When a friend mentioned during one of those exchanges that he had some discarded Heizer football items at home, Pearson made a bee-hornet line for the man’s house.
One of the treasures he instantly recognized in a dark garage that day was a blue leather helmet. “I was overwhelmed,” Pearson said last week while standing in his pawnshop and tenderly rotating the helmet. “I thought it was the greatest thing in the world.”
Regrettably, Pearson said he peeled the blue paint in an effort to reveal the helmet’s green and white BTWlayer. In doing so, he stripped all of the paint. “I used the wrong stuff andit all started coming off,” Pearson said. “I wished I’d never touched it now.”
Nonetheless, the item was a conversation piece that drew plenty of customer interest. “But I wouldn’t have separated with that helmet for nothing in the world,” he said. “I turned down $400 for it many, many times.”
When Pearson read about Heizer’s re-opening and goal to collect vintage items, however, he immediately phoned the school district. Heizer, he decided, would be the perfect place to display the helmet along with some other items he’d manage to collect over the years. They include a blue Heizer welcome mat and photo of the school’s first homecoming ceremony.
Because Homecoming Kings were not yet a tradition in 1954, the football team captain had the honor of escorting the Homecoming Queen on the field. “Her name was Kay George and I got to kiss her,” Pearson laughed.
Assistant Principal Rene Cantu, himself a former Heizer Hornet, said Pearson’s prize items will be placed in one of nine glass display cases quickly filling up in the school’s front hallway.
Another case will contain the cheerleading skirt, beanie, spirit button and homeroom class picture that Linda Manseau dug out of mothballs after she too read the newspaper article.
A Heizer cheerleader from 1961-62, Manseau has not-so-fond memories of trying out for the position during a schoolwide assembly. “Back then you were voted on by the student body,” Manseau said, explaining that girls were required to perform a routine in pairs. “I wasn’t interested in doing it but I had a friend who wanted to try out so she talked me into being her partner. When I made cheerleader and she didn’t, that was pretty bad.”
Another thing that was pretty bad was the heavy wool cheerleader skirt extending well below her knees that Manseau and her pom poms sweated through many a hot football game in.
“Things were a lot different then than now,” she laughed.
Which really is the whole point.
Heizer administrators are striving to pay tribute to school history while creating new generations of Hornets who are proud to identify with their school and neighborhood.
“A lot of people who went there have wonderful memories of that school,” said Manseau.“There’s so much tradition."
“South Hobbs always has been a blue collar area. When I was growing up, we didn’t have a bunch of stuff but everybody was in the same boat,” Pearson added. “Reopening the school is a great way to bring a sense of community back here. I’m proud to say this is my side of town. I’m excited the Heizer tradition is going to live on.”