The History of Morenci High School
Morenci Schools have been educating the students of Greenlee County for over 100 years, beginning in a one room schoolhouse presided over by teacher Miss Carrie Hunt in 1890. The Red Brick Building, later known as the Longfellow School, was the first brick structure for students and housed grades 1 through 8. A nearby roller skating rink served as the school’s gymnasium for basketball games. In 1906, Morenci had its first graduate, Miss Merna Robinson, who returned in 1909 as a teacher for Morenci Schools.
Morenci High School was first organized in 1906 with a whopping 14 students. Mr. Andrew Lynch was the first principal and stayed for four years. In 1917 Morenci High School had 75 students. Being a mining community, enrollment at Morenci Schools fluctuated as it paralleled the transient population of the area. In 1913 the total student enrollment boasted 924 students, where records show enrollment was only 325 in 1916.
In 1918, a bond election raised $150,000 to construct a new building to accommodate the rapidly growing Morenci High School. Completed in 1920, the school was six stories, half of the building housed the lower grades, and the other half housed the high school. The auditorium did double duty and also served as the gymnasium; the stage was host to both basketball games and school dances. Basketball was the major sport at MHS until 1927, when MHS Football was introduced. The class of 1949 was the last to graduate in this building.
Dubbed “the school on the hill”, former Morenci High School opened its doors in the fall of 1949. The new $739,000 building was three stories and housed grades 7 through 12. Grade 7 was moved to Longfellow in 1955 and grade 8 was moved in 1971 with the completion of Fairbanks Middle School. MHS was built on the site of an old smelter, and the field was located on an old slag dump. The field was infamous for being on the edge of Morenci Canyon. Field goals and extra points were kicked on the north end of the field only, as footballs accidentally kicked on the south side of the field met their unfortunate demise in the canyon.
Existing upon a large body of ore, the dismantling of “Old Morenci” began in 1965. The school on the hill closed its doors in the spring of 1982 with its final graduating class. The new, and current Morenci High School, costing $10.3 million, opened its doors in the fall of 1982 as a new townsite took shape. The building housed grades 9 through 12 until 1988, when a significant drop in enrollment forced consolidation of school buildings. Elementary schools Coronado, Modoc, Humboldt, and Plantsite (aka Longfellow II) doors were closed, and Fairbanks Middle School became Fairbanks Elementary for grades K-6. Grades 7 and 8 were transferred to the high school building leading the High School to be renamed Morenci Junior/Senior High. In 1999, the greenhouse was added to Morenci High School and in 2001 the wrestling program earned the addition of its facility “Padilla’s Pit” with several state championships, led by then Head Coach Gilbert Padilla. The program is still thriving and winning state championships under the direction of Coach Casey Woodall.
Once again, the tide turned for the mining industry, and enrollment increased dramatically for Morenci Schools. Initiated by Phelps Dodge, and completed by Freeport McMoRan, Metcalf Elementary came to fruition and was gifted a new building for grades K-4. Fairbanks Elementary returned to its old name, Fairbanks Middle School, and in 2013 began serving students in grades 5-8 under the direction of then principal Mr. David Gonzales. Morenci Junior/Senior High reverted back to Morenci High School and our existing infrastructure. Then and current principal and MHS graduate, Mr. Bryan Boling, guided the changeover. Mr. Boling has a long, proud history with Morenci Schools as he began his career in the district under the direction of his father, the late Mr. Tony Boling, a former superintendent, and guided by his mother, a beloved former educator, Mrs. Carolyn Boling.
Morenci High School has numerous course offerings and certifications currently available. It has been recognized nationally for its free dual enrollment program, graduating 10% or more students each year with a diploma from both Morenci High School and Eastern Arizona College. It has been an NCAA/AdvancEd accredited school since 1942. Furthermore, the school has been a winner of the 2015 ASBA Golden Bell for the FCCLA/Paw Express Culinary Arts Club and designated an A+ School of Excellence by the Arizona Educational Foundation. In addition, the Arizona School Administrators honored Principal Boling with the 2014-2015 Distinguished Administrator for Secondary Division Award.
Morenci has had a strong tradition of producing graduates that have gone on to change the world. Well known graduates of Morenci High School include acclaimed artist Ted DeGrazia and the infamous Morenci Nine, friends who opted out of a quiz to talk to a Marine recruiter, and found themselves in the midst of the Vietnam War. Only 3 returned, a heartache which still hurts to this day, for a town of this size. Other honored graduates are represented in the school’s Multi-Purpose Room in the “Hall of Fame” where commemorative plaques reside with pictures and biographies of the inducted, each year bringing new additions.
Morenci High School has had a strong tradition of achievement. Whether it was in a one room schoolhouse, on “the hill”, or where it stands presently, Morenci High School has always provided its students with a warm and welcoming experience conducive to lifelong success. Our school site is steeped in tradition and holds a long record of success. The thousands of alumni who have graced its halls have always been welcomed back with open arms which is why it is with great pride we say “Once a Wildcat, Always a Wildcat.”