Leave Louis Spilman’s name on the WHS auditorium

WaynesboroI was a bit confused at first glance of the article in The News Virginian this week that led with confirmation that the Waynesboro School Board isn’t planning to rename the auditorium at Waynesboro High School.

The article didn’t mention any genesis for the notion that there was a movement afoot to rename the auditorium, but a review of The News Virginian website’s letters to the editor section shows a raging debate.

The idea being floated is to rename the auditorium for Daryl Brooks, a Waynesboro native with an impressive resume, including four Black Excellence awards, three Black Alliance Theater awards, and two Joseph Jefferson Award nominations.

Brooks is revered on the Chicago theater scene.

Thing is, the auditorium at the high school is already named for somebody. It’s the Louis Spilman Auditorium, named for the founder and long-time publisher of The News Virginian.

As a cub reporter at The News Virginian, I was tasked back in 1997, the year of Waynesboro’s bicentennial, to write a piece on the history of the paper, and combed through the archives at the paper and the city library to learn as much as I could about its founding.

Spilman founded the paper in 1929, and think about that date. If you remember from history class stock market crash and beginning of the Great Depression, you’re right.

It was also the year that DuPont came to Waynesboro, so 1929 would be a momentous year in Waynesboro history for a few reasons.

Spilman was also instrumental in securing funding for the construction of Waynesboro High School, lobbying Congress in his capacity as newspaper editor and vice mayor of Waynesboro.

Ground was broken in 1936, at the depths of the Depression, and the school opened in 1938.

It was Spilman who coined the nickname for the WHS sports teams, the Little Giants, after the Little Giants of his college alma mater, Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind.

What I’m getting at here is that it’s not just a name on a building. Louis Spilman founded the newspaper, served on the city council, helped build the high school, named the sports teams.

All direct impacts on people in Waynesboro, for generations.

Daryl Brooks has done a lot in the Chicago theater world.

He’s a role model for local students who dream of making it big in the world.

I’m just not sure that what he has done in Chicago is enough to merit taking the name of somebody who made Waynesboro a better place to live off the auditorium.

Column by Chris Graham

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