Shawnee celebrates 50 years in Medford Township

Two longtime staffers reflect on high school’s anniversary

Traditions and memories established by thousands of students and faculty since 1970 highlight Shawnee High School’s 50th anniversary.

This year is different at the Medford Township school, with some students at home, others in school, and employees using technology to teach while wearing a variety of face coverings.

But despite the monumental shift in society caused by COVID-19, many of the traditions and memories at the school remain, say Assistant Principal Barbara Fuoco and physical education teacher Margaret Fanuorgakis.

Shawnee opened 50 years ago to resolve overcrowding issues at Lenape High, the only secondary school in the district at the time. Relocated Lenape students were taught on school buses, trailers or in several finished areas of Shawnee as construction concluded, Fuoco recalled. Then- Principal Gordon Galtere welcomed students into the building the first day of class with an array of sports, activities and academics, and his secretary manned a bullhorn to direct them through the halls.

Fanuorgakis, a veteran of more than 30 years at the school who graduated from Shawnee in 1978, remembered parking lot bonfires on Friday nights in anticipation of Saturday night football and the annual Thanksgiving game against Lenape.

“We would do a week of decorating the hallways, building floats and it was always a big culmination at the end of November,” she recalled.

The school had a number of firsts established within 20 years, including a field hockey team that included Fanuorgakis and claimed a state title in 1977 and Galtere’s run as the first principal.

Fanuorgakis’ 1983 return to Shawnee as a teacher was met with the same traditions and an alma mater song, “Shawnee How I Love You.” She and Fuoco, whose legacy at the school spans 46 years, worked through eight- and often 13-period days, chaperoned dances in the gym and promoted Seneca High School’s 2003 opening.

Moments of celebration were mixed with somber ones, notably following losses among Shawnee faculty, students and alumni. The school motto, Shawnee Strong, memorializes strength and unity during those times.

A recent reflection on 9/11 left Fuoco teary eyed as she remembered teaching students that day. Relating the emotions and the aftermath of that day to current students, some not even alive on 9/11, transcended other subjects, she said.

Fashion and pop culture spanned the decades, from students wearing loafers, buttoned-up shirts, “classy” dresses and plaid skirts to today’s attire of oversize T-shirts and hoodies and straight-leg jeans, to name a few. Popular items and looks that had once included the Walkman and ’80s’ style hair gave way to TikTok videos and faux-hawk hair.

“When we had the shutdown in March, my volleyball girls were all into TikToks,” Fanuorgakis shared. “They (students) go with what’s out there. When Facebook got popular, everyone was about Facebook, and now it’s about Snapchat.”

Both she and Fuoco agree on the wealth of school alumni who made their names in respective fields, whether Olympians, world-renowned doctors, actors and actresses, business people or esteemed members of the local community.

Students have been accustomed for many years to the sound of the transition song “Rawhide” blaring in the halls, reminding them to get to class on time. Fuoco said the idea to change the song was met with vehement opposition from students.

Other longstanding traditions include the phrase, “Always a Renegade,” generated by athletics and the school’s morning show. Fuoco and Fanuorgakis shared that if the first round of students had created a 50-year time capsule, it would have contained a photo of the Renegade Tomahawk (the district has phased out Native American mascots since then); a sports jersey from one of the school’s first teams; the first bell schedule; memorabilia from academics, theatre and band; and the first graduation, which consisted entirely of students from Lenape.

Today’s time capsule, were it opened 50 years from now in 2070, would look a little different.

“There would be a mask in there with Shawnee’s logo on the side,” Fanuorgakis quickly noted.

It might feature an eight-period rotating schedule, a recent sports win or memorabilia, the yearly Disney photo, a newspaper article and photos or artifacts from the band or theater, Fuoco added.

Since 1970, the school has been led by four principals — Galtere, John Johnson, Charles A. “Chuck” Fleishman and current Principal Matt Campbell.

“I have to say, I’ve never felt that, ‘Gee, I wish somebody else would come in,’” Fuoco mentioned. “I think they all had their unique personalities and had Shawnee’s best interest at heart. Always felt supported.”

Both women say they stayed at Shawnee well beyond traditional retirement because of love for their jobs, students, co-workers, the administration and the school’s culture.

“We offered so many sports that schools don’t normally offer, a ton of clubs,  and there’s a lot to do here,” Fanuorgakis noted. “That’s why the two dinosaurs are still here. There’s not many of us who can fit in this room.”