Let’s turn the calendar back about 30 years or so when Wiscasset Middle High School was Wiscasset High School. Mid-winter was the time of year when many of us looked forward to Friday night and basketball. Fans would pack the high school gym to watch the games. At halftime, the WHS Pep Band would take the stage and play the theme from “Rocky,” “Eye of the Tiger” and more. They finished with the school’s theme song sung to the tune of “Marching Through Georgia” ending with the rousing chorus: “Rah, rah, rah for Wiscasset!” The ballgames ended with the fans giving a well-deserved round of applause to the players and coaches. They were good times.
William Cumming was principal of Wiscasset High School and he rarely missed a basketball game, or other event the high school was hosting. Sadly, Mr. Cumming passed away at his Wiscasset home in June 2018. He served as our principal for 22 years. When I first met Bill, he and his wife Joan lived in a two-story white clapboard home on Churchill Street. That’s where they raised four children: Cindy, Duncan, Scott and Jeffery; all were graduates of WHS.
Bill was raised up country in “The County.” He played basketball for Easton High School in Easton, a small town just a few miles from the Canadian border. Looking back, I think one of Mr. Cumming’s proudest moments was when Wiscasset High School won the boys Class C State Basketball Championship in 1991. The team’s coach was Tim Flanagan who taught mathematics at Wiscasset High for many years before retiring. Chris Hammond, a member of that 1991 championship team, now teaches math at WMHS. Chris was named the team’s “most-improved player” after the season.
“Mr. Cumming always put his students first,” recalled Mr. Flanagan when I contacted him this past week. “Many nights, he kept the high school open just so the kids would have a safe place to go.”
Tim’s wife Judy Flanagan, a former Wiscasset select board member, referred to Mr. Cumming as both a good role model and mentor. “His office door was always open to everyone – staff, students as well as parents. I think one of his real strengths was that he let teachers teach in their own style. He supported a lot of different teaching techniques that greatly benefited students,” she told me.
After Mr. Cumming retired from being principal he stayed on as director of Wiscasset High School’s adult education program. I got to know Bill better because I was teaching a class in beginning photography. The late Clark “Woody” Freeman, another old friend, taught an adult ed class in welding in the high school’s industrial arts room. Joe Murphy, a WHS teacher, had a class in film appreciation featuring a series of classic movies in the mini-theater. Every night of the week, there was something of interest happening at the high school.
When I think back on those times, a story comes to mind. It happened in the early part of June. For my newspaper, Wiscasset Times, I had gone to the high school to see about the graduation schedule. I can’t remember which graduating class it was. Evelyn Hanson of Wiscasset was the administrative secretary in charge of the front office. “Mr. Cumming isn’t at his desk Phil but I think you’ll find him down in the new wing,” she said.
The new wing which is two stories is on the west side of the building. I found Mr. Cumming on the first floor just outside the hallway that leads into the gymnasium. He was walking along the row of lockers opening one locker door at a time. There weren’t any locks on the lockers then or now. Mr. Cumming would swing open a locker door, take a peek inside, then quickly close it and move on to the next one.
“Hello Mr. Cumming,” I said. “What are you looking for?” At that same moment, he swung open a locker door and hundreds of metal spoons spilled out onto the floor.
Mr. Cumming crossed his arms and stared down at the pile, shaking his head. “You know there isn’t a spoon left in the cafeteria,” he said. “They started disappearing months ago. The kitchen staff has been buying plastic spoons for everybody to use. Well … I guess we know now where they’ve been going.”
“Principal Cumming solves mystery of missing spoons. That’d make a swell headline for this week’s front page. I’m just kidding but I have to admit this was a pretty good senior prank. Don’t you think?” I asked.
Mr. Cumming turned to me and smiled. “Yes, I guess it was at that!”
Phil Di Vece earned a B.A. in journalism studies from Colorado State University and an M.A. in journalism at the University of South Florida. He is the author of three Wiscasset books and is a frequent news contributor to Wiscasset Newspaper and The Boothbay Register. He resides in Wiscasset. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org