January 26, 2013
Goose Gossage is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, class of 2008, but he’s just as proud to walk through his life as a member of Wasson High School’s class of 1970.
He’s joined the battle to keep the school, his school, open. And he’s battling the only way he knows how.
When Goose talks about his imperiled high school, his voice gains emotion and volume. Goose is not the easiest person to get on the phone, but Friday he called four times to make sure I fully understood the magnitude of his, and others, crusade.
“Sorry to bother you again,” he said on the last call, “but you know this means so much to me.”
Yes, Goose, I know.
This month, Goose walked the hallways of his school, which appears doomed. The District 11 school board may close Wasson at the conclusion of this school year.
Entering a school you attended is similar to stepping into a time machine. Your rational side realizes you dwell in the present, but for a few moments yesterday seizes control.
While walking the halls of your high school, you once again become a confused teen. At some point, the past with all its pleasure and pain overwhelms the present.
“Oh, it flooded my memory back,” Goose said. “Wasson was such a proud school at my time, and it just flooded all the memories back. Every time I go back in there, I’m very nostalgic.”
Goose paused here, as if he anticipated those who will read his words and scoff at his admirable, but perhaps not so rational, devotion to his alma mater.
“But, really, it’s not about my nostalgia,” Goose said. “It’s about the feeling at that school. They’ve really made great strides in pushing ownership of that school to the kids. And those kids are so important.”
Goose earned his plaque at the Hall of Fame with his overpowering fastball. After departing Wasson, he became a pioneer of modern relief pitching, grew a fearsome mustache, won a World Series title and terrified batters for 22 seasons.
He knows all about strikeouts.
“Closing Wasson will be the third strike for those kids,” he said. “It will be their third strike. Those kids have two strikes against them. It’s shocking to me they’re making plans to close the school. It’s absurd.”
As Goose walked the halls, students thanked him for joining the fight to save Wasson. He listened to their stories. Many were growing up in single-parent homes. Many walked to school. He was touched by their polite words, by their sincerity, by their need.
These students told Goose they were devoted to Wasson, told him they wanted to graduate there. He wants them to graduate there, too.
Alas, there is reason to discuss the closing of Wasson. Enrollment is dwindling. At its peak, 2,800 students attended a campus constructed in 1959.
When Goose decided to attend his eventual alma mater instead of Palmer, Wasson was known as “the country club on the hill,” the fancy place to study in our city. Picture Pine Creek in 2013 and you can imagine Wasson in 1970.
The campus where Goose returned this month is now the academic home of approximately 900 students with hundreds in the immediate area choosing to study elsewhere. Administrators believe Wasson’s remaining students can be distributed to other city high schools.
Closure, to the administrators, seems logical and thrifty.
“It’s going to, I believe, overpopulate all the other schools and nobody is going to be happy and these kids will be left without their school,” he said.
This is not a simple discussion. I attended Byers Junior High on the edge of downtown Denver, and it bites my heart every time I drive by the campus, which has changed little since the day I departed in 1974. The outdoor rim where I played basketball with my classmates is still there, beckoning me to take one last shot.
But the doors are locked. Byers was closed by the same brand of budget-minded administrators who threaten Wasson.
Do I wish Byers remained open?
Sure I do, but I don’t pay taxes in Denver.
The argument, and it is a valid, valuable argument, about the future of Wasson has been joined by an aggressive, accomplished Hall of Famer. He wants to make it clear he’s not motivated by nostalgia, and I believe him.
He met the students, heard their stories.
The Goose, proud member of Wasson’s class of 1970, is motivated by the future.