Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

September 19, 2013
Once a Cowboy, Always a Cowboy

About one-third of the faculty and staff at Grantsville High School were once students in the same place 

When Grantsville High School holds its centennial homecoming Oct. 4, alumni from far and wide flock back to their alma mater. But for many on staff at GHS, returning to those familiar halls has another name: work.

Of the 83 faculty and staff members at the school, 27 — roughly a third — were once themselves students. For some, landing their job fulfilled a lifelong goal, while for others, the opportunity was a little more serendipitous.

“I love it. I loved high school, I loved going to school here, so I can’t imagine going anywhere else. I’d feel like a traitor if I had to teach at Tooele or Stansbury,” said Krista Sparks, special education teacher and 1994 graduate. “I like it because there are lots of friendly faces and familiar faces, and I think the people who are here, they understand the traditions and history. They’re pretty dedicated to Grantsville High.”

Sparks said when she graduated from high school, she had no plans of going into education. That changed when she shifted her priorities. Today, Sparks is in her sixth year as a classroom teacher, and visited the school as a speech therapist in the district before that.

“When I started approaching motherhood and thinking about settling down and starting a family, education seemed like a better fit for me,” she said. “Having summers off, ending my day about the same time they do — with elementary school, it’s nice because I get out about an hour before they do, so I have some time to finish up here and make it home.”

The ability to focus on family is one reason that Shawn Smith wanted to come back to Grantsville High School on the other side of the desk, as well. Smith’s mother, Susan Smith, is a long-time teacher at the school, so he knew early on that he wanted to be a teacher, he said, and he couldn’t think of any better place than GHS.

“I kind of knew I wanted to be a teacher. I liked it here in Grantsville. I figured it was a good place for families,” he said.

The 1997 graduate teaches Spanish, which he said he believes benefits students on a cultural level, as well as academically.

“After my [LDS] mission [to Peru], I was like, ‘You know, it would be great if everyone could communicate with each other.’ So I try to teach Spanish as a way to help the kids communicate with somebody else,” Smith said. “Even just learning about other people, you learn a certain amount of respect for that person. You can see the world through their eyes, so to speak.”

Smith finished up his college education just as a position for a Spanish teacher opened at GHS seven years ago. Now in his eighth year, he said he feels fortunate that all of his teaching has been at Grantsville High School.

David Millward, a math teacher, has also spent his entire teaching career at GHS — though, his path to the classroom was somewhat unconventional. Millward, a 1988 graduate, said he worked for a decade in construction before coming back to the Home of the Cowboys. Even before he had graduated, then-Principal Terry Linares offered him the job.

“It was very convenient. I was kind of merging away from construction and it just opened up. It was really good,” he said.

Although going from construction to teaching seems like a leap, he said, to him, the two professions share some similarities.

“I just like problem solving. I mean, that’s what I liked about construction, because of solving different problems. I got kind of bored with it, because everything was kind of the same, so I figured I could come and help other kids learn how to solve problems,” he said. “I never thought I’d be a math teacher. I never thought of myself as being necessarily great at math, but I enjoyed solving problems.”

Coming back as a teacher was, he said, strange in some ways — where once the other teachers and staff had been higher on the totem pole than he was, they were now peers.

“The weirdest thing when I first came back was that my teachers were still here,” he said. “I remember the very first year, Mr. [Neil] Harding was still there, he’d been there for 30 years or something. I thought, ‘Now I can use the faculty restroom with Mr. Harding.’ I know that’s a weird thought, but I was like, ‘That doesn’t seem right.’ It was really weird walking the halls not as a student.”

Millward said he still remembers where many of the teachers during his time as a Cowboy had their classrooms, though over the years those memories have faded somewhat or been replaced. His classroom now, though, is in a wing of the school not constructed until 2001, which helps cut down on flashbacks, he said.

Scott Mouritsen, whose classroom neighbors Millward’s, said he, too, is glad he was never a student in his room.

“This new hall wasn’t here when I went to school here, so it does feel different,” Mouritsen said.

The 1997 graduate said he knew early on that he wanted to be just where he is today.

“I was in seventh grade when I started thinking I wanted to be a teacher. And then when I came into the high school, I really started enjoying math,” he said. “I just thought, ‘That’s what I want to do. I want to teach math.’”

In college, though, Mouritsen started worrying that he wouldn’t be able to support a family comfortably on a teacher’s salary, he said. He tried to find another career path, but nothing fit like the thought of being a teacher.

When Mouritsen was preparing to do his student teaching, a position opened at Grantsville Junior High School, and, as he was interviewing for that job, another came available at Tooele High School South Campus, now Blue Peak High School. He took the job at the high school, but kept his eye on GHS for a job opening there. After two years, a job opened at GHS, and he requested a transfer, which was granted. Eight years later — and anticipating the birth of his sixth child next winter — Mouritsen said he is glad he stuck with his dream.

“I’ve enjoyed every bit of it,” he said. “I plan on being here as long as I can.”

Mouritsen said while he did not anticipate coaching, it has been a rewarding experience of its own. When teaching at South Campus, Mouritsen was an assistant football coach at GHS. Since then, he has also been involved with coaching basketball, tennis, track and, currently, cross country. He said he feels coaching and being involved with extracurricular activities helps build a cooperative atmosphere between teachers and students.

“I love it. It gives me an opportunity to be with students in a different atmosphere, and it helps in the classroom, I think,” he said. “Life is plenty busy, and then coaching the non-traditional sports, it makes it hard for me to go to some of these things, but I still wish I could or I did more.”

Conversely, coaching is what drew Rick Harrison into teaching.

“I didn’t even expect to be teaching when I initially left. I was looking at sportscasting and different things like that, and then partway through college I decided I wanted to coach, so I got involved in the teaching end of things,” he said. “I kind of wandered around for 20 years and ended up back here at the end of my career.”

Now in his 28th year of teaching, and ninth year at GHS, Harrison has taught at several schools, including at Tooele, but said coming back to Grantsville was a good fit, in part because he lived in Grantsville and his children attended the school.

Unlike some of the other alumni working at GHS, Harrison does not have the same memories of his high school years at his workplace — the high school he attended through his graduation in 1979 burned down five years later. However, he said, it still feels like the same kind of place he had school pride in when he was a student.

“It seemed like a good fit to come home, to spend time with my kids, to give back to a school I really am proud of,” he said. “I feel like I got a lot of great things out of Grantsville High School as a student here, so it was fun for me to think that I could give back to some kids what I got.”

Beyond just being an educational institution, the high school holds a starring role in the surrounding community, said Linda Wingfield, hall monitor and on-call substitute, and even functions as a sort of community center, for both high school events and things like the Old Folks’ Sociable. And being such a focal point of the town brings a closeness to people in the area, said her son, Justin Wingfield.

“What I like most about Grantsville High School is that it’s a community,” said Justin Wingfield, who graduated in 1995. “It’s great to be able to give back.”

Justin has been back at the school in some capacity since 2006, when he started as an intern, and is now the public relations specialist for the Tooele County School District, based out of GHS. Linda Wingfield started back at the school 18 years ago as an aide for Justin, who has cerebral palsy, but was hired on full-time a few years later to fill in where needed. Neither expected to be back at the school, but both are about as die-hard as a fan can get.

A lot has changed in the hundred years of Grantsville High School. Even since Linda Wingfield graduated in 1960 — her class, incidentally, she said, started the egging tradition at Prom — the school has changed locations, kicked the seventh and eighth grades out, burned down and been rebuilt. Class sizes have swelled, rules have changed, technology has bloomed and students have many more opportunities than before. Despite the different face of Grantsville High School and the world around it, though, she said, some things are written in stone.

“Tradition has stayed the same. We have people who come back all the time to the games. They come back to see people, and the history of it — our school is very traditional,” she said. “Once a cowboy, I guess, always a cowboy.”

Lisa Christensen

Staff Writer at Tooele Transcript Bulletin
Lisa covers primarily crime and courts, military affairs, Stansbury Park government and transportation issues. She is a graduate of Utah State University, where she double-majored in journalism and music, and Grantsville High School.

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