In the Beginning. . .
Choctawhatchee High School opened its doors in Shalimar, Florida on Monday, September 22, 1952, with an over-capacity enrollment of 625 students in grades 7-12. The $600,000 building was designed to hold 500 students, and was considered to be the most modern school in Northwest Florida at that time.
The school combined students from Niceville, Ft. Walton Beach, Wright, Ocean City, Shalimar and Destin.
According to Mr. Jim Leonard, Choctaw’s first band director, the original site planned for the school is where the current US Air Force Armament Museum is located. Mr. Clifford Meigs, however, released the land where the school was actually built. This is a photo of the first school sign at the Meigs location. Fall, 1952.
Getting a Name
The local newspaper, then named the Playground Daily News, held a contest to name the school. Leonard came up with the idea to call the school Choctawhatchee…as in Bay and River.
The word is a Creek Indian word that means “Coming Together.” Since students were coming together from all over the county, it seemed appropriate.
Votes for the school name were cast by sending postcards to the Playground Daily News. In the end, Choctawhatchee won.
According to Leonard, a committee of students who had attended school in Niceville and those from Ft. Walton were asked to choose the school colors.
Niceville had the colors burgundy and gold and Ft. Walton had the colors blue and white. “The students wanted to keep white because it is neutral, but didn’t want to choose between burgundy or blue. I suggested green, mainly because it isn’t used by schools much and it is my favorite color,” Leonard said. The students liked the idea.
Uniting for one School
There was some tension among students that first year. It was particularly difficult for the seniors who had to make a change their last year in high school. ““Some students got into scuffles as you can imagine. It was what you would expect any time you put students from rival schools together,” ”Leonard said. Each group of students, those from Niceville and those from Ft. Walton, considered students from the other town different.” Betty Blizzard , a member of Choctaw’s first graduating class in 1953, who lived in Niceville, described the situation. “It was like segregation. Ft. Walton was our rival. Those students were more worldly.” To help promote unity among students in the new school, Leonard said that several teachers helped the students plan a homecoming that fall. The parade route was around the school and down a few streets in the small town of Shalimar, but it helped unify the students.
Blizzard said pep rallies also helped unite the students. “Pep rallies were a fun time. We could sing, cheer and just have a good time,” Blizzard said. That first year was a simple, but trying time for Choctawhatchee High School that led to the formation of traditions that have stayed with the school for fifty years.
Information compiled by Linda Evanchyk, Class of 1974.