Olympia High School 1901–1970
Despite the long period of time since the closings of not only the Olympia High School but also the elementary school and the conversion to a middle school, the memories are still fresh for former students such as Jake Jaco.
Jaco grew up across the street from the school where he met his wife, Sherry, both graduating in 1964.
The first Olympia school was established in 1901 after Sumter Moore, the general manager of the Olympia Mill, discovered a need for a school.
According to Alvin Byars book, Olympia- Paci fic: The Way It Was 1895– 1970, Moore contacted Barton Wallace, the superintendent for Richland County and the two men appointed Miss Mamie Boozer to organize the Olympia school. Along with the help of her sister, Lena, and her father, Boozer went door– to– door to stir up interest for the new school
According to Byars, before the first year was ended, the enrollment grew, and another teacher was needed.
By the first day of the 1902 school year, Lena had joined her sister along with Marion Means as teachers of the Olympia school, and the school increased from one to three rooms.
The school day lasted from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and students were taught history, arithmetic, geography, writing, drawing, and reading.
During the school day, the students were allowed an hour for lunch, and sometimes students would use the time to take lunch to their parents who worked at the mill.
Over the summer the teachers were required to attend summer school classes, so they could keep up with current trends on teaching.
Enrollment continued to increase and a new facility was needed. Reverend
C.E. Weltner of St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Olympia, ran a night school for children and their parents. In 1909, he said no child under 12 could attend the night school, and they were required to attend the Olympia school.
In 1910 a new, two– story building was built for the then 200 students. When the child labor law increased, the minimum work age in 1912, the enrollment doubled.
Additional rooms were added to the school, and in 1913, Olympia became the largest public school in Richland County.
Under the leadership of Charles Lockwood, superintendent of Olympia schools in 1923, Olympia began offering courses in fields other than millwork. Also the 10th and 11th grades were added.
Over Lockwood’s 17 years as superintendent, the size of the curriculum increased from eight courses offered in 1926 to 34 in 1938. A vocational building and gymnasium were also added to the Olympia campus. Basketball, baseball, and football were introduced as intramural sports.
In 1928, L. Gilbert Barre became the first football coach and guided the team to the Richland County Class B Championship. A year earlier the basketball team advanced to their first Lower State Championship.
Because of The Great Depression, all the sports at Olympia, except for basketball, were discontinued until 1936. That year Reverend C.K. Wise, pastor of St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, and Dr. Jimmy Cameron, a supporter of Olympia, approached the supervisor of Pacific Mills, Harry Shealy and persuaded him to coach Olympia athletics. The football team was reinstated and with Shealy’s help was able to get jerseys, pants, and equipment through a donation from the University of South Carolina.
The 1936–1937 year was one of the most successful in Olympia athletic history. The boy’s basketball team won the district 3 title, the girls’ basketball team lost to Taylor’s High School in the state championship game, and the football team lost to Lexington High School in the district championship.
The glory period in Olympia athletics can be traced to one coach, Bobby Giles. Giles, a former Olympia student and player, coached three sports from 1951– 1970. During that period he won five basketball titles, one football title, and a baseball title while finishing runner up in numerous other state title games.
His lone football title came in 1953 when his team finished 11– 0, the only football team in Olympia history to go undefeated and untied.
Giles first championship came during the 1952– 1953 when his teams were led by guard Bobby Counts and Reese Stewart, who helped the team establish a solid defense.
Former student Jack Mayo, a 1953 graduate, played basketball during his years at Olympia. The bigger crowds came when the team played against rivals such as University High or Brookland–Cayce High.
During Mayo’s earlier days on the team, Olympia would face teams such as Greenville and Spartanburg in bigger classifications than theirs. However, once the bigger schools decided it wouldn’t be a benefit to play Olympia, they quit scheduling games together.
It was at that point that Olympia began playing more schools in Columbia.
During the 1950s, Giles’s teams never won less than 19 games in a season. As for Mayo, he also played baseball under Giles. One of Mayo’s recollections is when the baseball team needed a new field. Columbia Dairies, a business across the street from Olympia High School, helped by giving a part of its property to the school.
When Giles’ coaching career came to an end in 1970, he had amassed 653 wins in three sports.
Giles was one of many former students who came back to Olympia to coach or teach. Another former student George Martin became an administrator and a principal for the Olympia school.
Olympia was a close knit community. Jim Jaco, 1947 graduate, said, “It was a unique situation. You walked to school together. It was just like a family. My mama would cook a big dinner, and my sisters always brought someone home for dinner. We would have 30 minutes, and then we walked back to school.”
Superintendent H. Moody Henry knew a guidance program was needed, but it was too expensive. The issue wasn’t resolved until 1965 when Dorothy Smith, a former Olympia math teacher, became the first guidance counselor.
The relationship between the community and school went beyond the students. Women in the community that worked at the Olympia school prepared lunch for the students, while the men would help out with the concessions at sporting events.
More changes happened to Olympia in 1951. According to Warner Montgomery’s book Columbia Schools: A History of Richland County School District One; Columbia, South Carolina 1792– 2000, in an effort to consolidate school districts, the State of South Carolina tried to force the Olympia School District 4–A that consisted of four schools to merge with Lower Richland to form a new district. The members of the Olympia school board said it would be better to merge with the Columbia City Schools. The Richland County School Board of Education allowed the referendum and the Olympia Schools merged in 1952 and became part of the Columbia district.
Changes continued in 1970. With financial problems becoming a bigger issue and integration beginning in American schools, Richland County School District One had to find some solutions.
Olympia High School’s enrollment had begun to decrease. After many studies and three votes, Richland District One decided to shut down Olympia High School and convert it to a junior high school. The students were sent to Booker T. Washington High School, another school that was later shut down.
In 2001, school officials, decided to renovate the school building but most of the school was destroyed by fire. According to Jake Jaco the only remaining original part of the school is the gymnasium.
Despite the setback, Richland School District One did rebuild the school and a rededication of the school was held in 2004 and became a learning center.
As for the graduates of Olympia High School, they decided to hold their first reunion in 1981 at the State Fairgrounds where between 1,200–1,500 former students attended.
In 2011 only 400–500 former students are expected to attend the reunion. For Jim and Jake Jaco and Jack Mayo, while the stories may have been told before, the memories will always be fresh.