History of Bingham High School
HISTORY OF BINGHAM HIGH SCHOOL
(Updated October 2020)
By Scott Crump
It was the fall of 1908 and with Eugene S. Hart as the supervising teacher; Bingham High School was established as a branch of Jordan High School. Classes began on September 9, 1908 with 12 eager freshmen in some rooms located above Canyon Hall in the old town of Bingham. In January 1910, the Jordan District School Board voted to make F. G. Eskelson principal of Bingham High and made the school independent of Jordan High. E. E. Dudley was appointed principal for the 1910-1911 school year at a salary of $1,200 for ten months. The high school had a faculty of three whose salaries ranged from $65 to $100 a month. The first graduating class at Bingham was the class of 1912, which totaled five students.
In 1910 Jordan School District started construction of a new school along Bingham’s Main Street. The total cost of this two-story red brick structure, which opened in 1912, amounted to $35,000. Students from the towns of Bingham, Copperfield, Highland Boy and Lark were brought to this new school with buses pulled by horses.
During the years the high school was located in Bingham, many traditions were started. From its beginning, Bingham High’s colors were royal blue and white and it was only natural that its nickname be the “Miners.” Bingham’s first yearbook was published in 1918. At first it was called the Metal, but this name was later changed to the Coppertonian (a name taken from the Bingham Copper Mine). The student newspaper began publication in 1919 and was first entitled the Apocalypse, then the Arrow (because it got straight to the point) and finally the Coppertonian. However, this name was later changed to Hi-Lights and then, in 1961, to the Prospector to avoid confusion.
The school year of 1926-27 saw the addition of another annual student body activity as the student officers started the tradition of whitewashing the “B” on “B” Day. Norma Olson Nichols, who was student body vice-president, commented that since Pleasant Grove and a few other high schools had their letters on the sides of mountains, that Bingham High needed a letter on a mountain as well. The student body officers thought that this was a great idea and spearheaded the project. After the idea for a mountainside letter “B” was approved by the administration, a search was begun for a suitable location. The first site chosen was on the mountain behind the mine precipitation plant. However, it was soon found that a “B” could not be seen very well at that location. The present site was then selected, situated above the old Bingham and Garfield Railroad line on the north side of the canyon’s mouth.
The construction of the block letter “B” took place on April 8, 1927 and the 1927 Coppertonian recorded this about the event: On April 8, 1927, the school doors were locked for the day and the students and faculty were transported to the ball park for an official holiday. The boys were marshaled in companies - each led by a spirited captain. They then trekked up the steep mountainside and erected a “B” to show the affection we hold for the school and the town. After completion of the “B”, the girls served luncheon to the hungry and worn-out boys. The rest of the afternoon was spent in games and other competitive activities.
Tommy McMullin, a Bingham teacher at the time, recalled that moving all the rocks to form the block letter “B” was hard work for the boys, but by early afternoon most of the rocks were in place. Trails were made and whitewash was carried up the switchbacks to complete the project. In the next few years, the “B” was enlarged each spring when it was whitewashed, until it reached its present size. Other activities were soon added to the annual spring sprucing up and this became known as “B” Day.
In 1930 Bingham’s student body conducted a contest to select a school song. Two earlier songs proved to be unsatisfactory. The winner of the contest was Jack Smith, a 17-year-old senior who later settled in Riverton. To the tune of “Sons of Burgundy,” a popular 1920s song, he wrote the song “Bingham’s Sons and Daughters.” At an assembly held to announce the winner, Principal H. R. Atkin announced that Jack Smith’s entry had been selected and called him up to the stand. There he presented him with a check for $7.50 and said, “Now Jack will sing his song.” The husky athlete blushed, handed the check back and said, “Like heck I will,” and walked away. Even though Jack didn’t sing that day, students have been singing those words ever since.
Bingham’s school hymn was composed in 1953 by Lowell Hicks and Robert Knotts. Robert Knotts, an English and debate teacher, had recently completed writing a poem entitled “Dreams of Bingham High,” that he felt paid a fitting tribute to the school he had grown to love. Two girls in his class, who had heard him recite the lines, took his composition down to the auditorium where Lowell Hicks, the Bingham music teacher, was playing the school’s newly purchased Hammond organ. Showing him the poem, they asked if he could put the inspiring words to music. He agreed and over the next few days he composed the music for Bingham’s school hymn. This hymn was not intended to replace the school song, but has been used so that students have had something more solemn to sing at functions like graduation and the conclusion of school assemblies.
The high school’s first building was used until December of 1924. At that time due to the overcrowding created by over 200 students, Bingham High was moved to a blackish-blue brick three-story building, known as the Bingham Central High School, located a few hundred yards up the street in the City of Bingham. But even this new school building wasn’t big enough for long, and in 1931 a newer $282,362 structure, with 26 classrooms and a gym, was completed at the mouth of Bingham Canyon, in Copperton. Although many Binghamites were very unhappy about the school moving out of their city, they soon adopted it as their own. During that year, which was the shortest year in Bingham’s history because of the Depression, Bingham High had an enrollment of 616 students, which included a senior class of 40.
When the city of Bingham was torn down in the late 1950s and early 1960s, it seemed as though the high school, which was designed for 1,000 students, would have plenty of room for years to come. However, in 1957 the Jordan School District School Board voted to change the boundaries of Bingham High School. The towns of Herriman, Riverton, Bluffdale, South Jordan and West Jordan, which formerly sent their students to Jordan High, were now assigned to go to Bingham along with the students from Lark, Copperton and Bingham who already attended Bingham. This aroused the protest of parents in the valley towns, especially in South Jordan. Nevertheless, the new students soon felt right at home traveling up the Bingham Highway to Copperton every day.
As a result of the population growth in the Salt Lake Valley’s southwest section in the 1960s, Bingham High grew from 231 students in 1957 to 934 pupils in 1971. At this time, it was decided that still another high school would have to be built. The site selected for the new school was in South Jordan at 10400 South 2160 West. At the urging of the student body, the school board decided to retain the name of Bingham for the new school. The fourth Bingham High School was erected at a cost of nearly $11,000,000 and opened its doors in September 1975 to 1,246 students. Designed on the open classroom plan that was faddish at the time, the building was dedicated in April 1976. Permanent interior walls were erected in 1991 and 1992 when the open plan proved unworkable. The gymnasium was remodeled and expanded in 2002 and then connected to the main building with classrooms and an enlarged cafeteria. The academic areas of the school were renovated in 2003.
Bingham’s student population grew to nearly 3,000 in 1980, which necessitated the opening of West Jordan High School in the fall of 1981. Enrollment continued to explode in the 1990s making Bingham the largest high school in Utah by the middle of the decade. The opening of Copper Hills High School on the New Bingham Highway in West Jordan in the fall of 1995 helped to reduce crowded conditions at Bingham. The diminished Bingham attendance boundaries included pupils from the towns of Riverton, South Jordan, Bluffdale and Herriman. Bingham’s population grew again to over 3,000 by 1999 when Riverton High School opened. The new Riverton School reduced Bingham’s student body by nearly one half. Nevertheless, in the first two decades of the new century, new construction in South Jordan (Bingham’s new boundaries), and the southwest part of the Salt Lake Valley, continued to increase the student bodies of Bingham and Riverton High Schools. Herriman (2010) and Mountain Ridge (2019) high schools would be constructed to accommodate that growth. These new schools would make a total of six high schools serving the area that was once served by Bingham High School in 1975. By 2020, there were a little over 2,500 students enrolled at Bingham.
Old traditions were continued and new traditions were added at the New Bingham High School in South Jordan. Since a successful miner is one who strikes pay dirt, a Pay Dirt Club was organized in 1976 to honor successful “Miner” graduates. The Pay Dirt Club is Bingham High’s version of a “Hall of Fame.” Each year new members are chosen by an alumni committee and formally inducted during homecoming week. Inductees include doctors, teachers, generals, a former U.S. Treasurer, professional athletes and prominent businessmen. Reminiscent of old-time miners, Bingham students symbolically begin each year with a reenactment of a miner’s search for pay dirt. Donning a miner’s hat and using an old double jack and a drill bit, students drill a rock taken from Bingham Canyon. This tradition, started in the 1980s, symbolizes the quest for success during the year ahead. Graduating seniors who achieve this goal are awarded the Pick & Shovel Award. The Pick Award is given to students who render outstanding service and scholarship. Another tradition is the Candlelight Service, which was inaugurated in 1937 by Joel P. Jensen, then Bingham’s music teacher. This is the school’s annual Christmas program presented by Bingham’s performing arts groups. The Candlelight Service Award was instituted in 1976 to honor those individuals who have rendered outstanding service to the school. Reminiscent of the homecoming bonfires in the early Bingham years, a tradition was started at the new school of burning a large block “B” wrapped in rags. It is burned twice a year—at homecoming and graduation. Lighting the “B” takes place when a team wins a state championship. A gas cauldron surrounded by four large metal “B”s, located south of the gymnasium, is lit announcing state championships to all who pass the home of the Miners. Rich in tradition and full of memories, Bingham’s Homecoming celebrations date back to the 1930s. Over the years homecoming traditions have included: white-washing the “B”, a parade, a foot race down the “Miner Mile” (the designated street name for 10400 South in front of Bingham High), the “Tour de Bingham” bicycle race from the old Bingham High in Copperton to the school in South Jordan, a battle of the bands, a powder puff football game, a pep rally with the burning “B”, a homecoming assembly, the homecoming dance (held at the old Bingham High School in Copperton for many years even after the school moved to South Jordan) and a football game.
To keep in contact with former “Miners” at homecoming and throughout the year, the Bingham High Alumni Association was first organized in 1916 and re-chartered in 1935 and 1957. The current Alumni Foundation was reconstituted in 1989. The foundation not only informs alumni of high school events, but also raises money to support school projects and scholarships. Other traditional activities over the years have included Pride and Spirit Weeks, Bingham Ball, the Senior Hop/Christmas Dance, the Junior Prom, Senior Dinner Dance, Senior Sunrise, Talent Assemblies, Sweetheart’s Ball and Yearbook Day. All these traditions have helped mold and enrich Bingham High.
Athletics made their debut at Bingham with the organization of the football team in 1910. This was no small feat considering student enrollment that year fluctuated between 30 to 40 students. The Miner’s first sport’s victory came during the fourth game of the season when the gridders scored a 6 to 0 shutout of Park City on Bingham’s sloping and rocky field next to the elementary school in Bingham Canyon. The team was disbanded after its first season and Bingham would not field a team again until 1925. Since that time Miner teams have won 11 state titles under Coaches Bailey Santistevan (1939, 1941, 1945, 1946), David Peck (2006, 2009, 2010, 2013, 2014) and John Lambourne (2016 and 2017). Basketball began during the 1915-1916 school year with the completion of the school’s first gymnasium in November 1915. Basketball teams have since won ten state championships under coaches Udell Wankier (1960), George Sluga (1973, 1974, 1977, 1978, 1989, 1990), Mark Dubach (2006) and Jake Schroeder (2016, 2017). Since baseball came to Bingham in 1925, Miner teams have established a dynasty of state champions. Miner base ballers have taken the state title 22 times (1932, 1933, 1934, 1935, 1939, 1940, 1942, 1947, 1950, 1952, 1954, 1955, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1984, 1985, 1999, 2003, 2011, 2013 and 2018), more than any other school in Utah. Boys’ golf teams have won three state championships (1983, 1991 and 2004) and the track and field team won its first state honors in 1995. The Cross-Country runners made school history in 1995 when they won Bingham’s first national championship in a team sport. The Harriers also have four state championships to their credit (1990, 1995, 1996, and 2003). The boys’ soccer team won its first state title in 2001.
Lady Miner competitive athletics started in a limited way in the late 1930s with the girls’ participation in the Posture Parade held at BYU. Competitive opportunities expanded in the mid-1960s with the organization of a senior girls P.E. class. Before this time, it was customary for only sophomore and junior girls to take P.E., but in the 1965-1966 school year under the direction of Dorothy Peterson, the girls’ physical education teacher, this class was organized and became the beginning of Lady Miner competitive sports at Bingham High. At first these girls participated in after school intramural competitions, and later they occasionally played in district tournaments at the end of the year. By the 1971-1972 school year, under the direction of Dorothy Peterson, the founder and first coach of the Lady Miner sports program, Bingham organized its first official girls’ competitive sports teams in volleyball, track and field, gymnastics and softball. Basketball and tennis teams were soon added. In the early years, girls simply signed up for the sports team and played in every sport. Since these beginning years, Bingham’s Lady Miners have won state championships in track (1989, 2002), volleyball, (1989, 1990, 1991), basketball (1990, 1994, 1995, 2007, 2019, 2020), cross country (1998, 1999, 2000), soccer (2003), softball (1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1996, 2008, 2009, 2010), girls golf (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2017) and drill team (2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2020). The girls’ cross-country team would win Bingham’s second national championship in 1999. The Varsity Cheer Squad won state championships in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2020 as well as numerous first place awards at national competitions. The Bingham High School Marching Band was also recognized as state champions in 2017 and 2018. In addition, teams in wrestling, swimming and tennis have also brought numerous individual state championships and region honors to Bingham. At the end of the 1992, 2002, 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2013 school years Bingham was awarded the Deseret News All Sports Award for finishing the highest in all state competitions involving men’s and women’s sports.
The faculty was always changing, but there have been numerous veteran teachers at Bingham who have become virtual legends in the Bingham community. These dedicated teachers helped assist “Miner” students in achieving numerous academic honors. Bingham High School’s strong tradition of academic success placed the Miners in the top tier of schools from throughout the state. Standardized national and state test scores and Advanced Placement test passing rates ranked Bingham High School above Jordan District, state, and national averages. The number of Miners taking concurrent enrollment college classes topped the Jordan School District. Approximately 40% of the student body regularly qualified to be on the honor roll (3.5 GPA), and Miners continued to do well in regional and statewide academic contests. Bingham’s debate team has earned state championships in 1977, 1980, 1982, 1983, 1986, 1990, 1992, 1993, 1994, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2016 and the Academic Decathlon team won state titles in 2002, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2019, and 2020. State Sterling Scholar winners, National Merit Scholars, skilled artists and musicians, award-winning business and vocational students and other academic award winners have all walked the halls of Bingham High School.
Bingham High School turned 100 in 2008. Throughout the centennial year of 2008-2009 this milestone was commemorated in a monumental manner. The motto chosen for the centennial was “Bingham High School—Then, Now, and Always.” The year-long celebration, held from graduation in 2008 to graduation in 2009, included a birthday celebration on September 9, 2008 (the day Bingham High opened in 1908), special centennial Homecoming and Candlelight Service programs, commemorative events at the 2008 and 2009 graduations, centennial football and basketball games with Jordan High School, a Patriotic Assembly and a Champions’ Assembly featuring alumni from most all Bingham’s state championship teams. In-school activities recounting each of the ten decades of Bingham’s past, a centennial history book, commemorative memorabilia, time capsules and reunions of all kinds were held to celebrate a century of Bingham history and achievement. A lasting reminder of Bingham’s remarkable milestone was the creation of the Centennial Plaza. Located in front of the school by the flag poles and paved with Lasting Legacy Bricks engraved with the names of contributors, this landmark also included the 10-foot Miner statue designed by Stan Watts. All these activities and projects, brought alumni and community members back to Bingham High School, provided opportunities for Miners past and present to not only celebrate their proud past, but also to inform them of current school plans and events, and to inspire and encourage them to become a part of the school in the future. All these goals were achieved in a most remarkable way as the Centennial and its legacy catapulted Bingham High into its second century in grand style.
In the early years of its second century, Miners have celebrated a number of significant milestones. Some of these have included: a 2015 gala open house, luncheon and assembly commemorating the 40th anniversary of the opening of Bingham High in South Jordan; the 2016 dedication of a monument to the old Copperton Bingham High School located in the Copperton Park and constructed of bricks from the demolished building; the 2018 Lighting of the B on the Oquirrh Mountains with permanent electric lights (which would be lit on special school occasions); and the remodeling of the art and family and consumer science areas of the school in 2012 and the music, drama and vocational areas in 2018-2020. Due to the Coronavirus Pandemic, the 2019-2020 school year would be historic and memorable with Bingham High School and the entire Jordan School District transitioning, for the last part of the school year, to the first school-wide online instruction and the Class of 2020 having the first virtual graduation ceremonies. A quiet milestone was reached in 2020 when Bingham High marked its 45th year in South Jordan, surpassing the 44 years that Copperton was the home of Bingham High School. For many, it did not seem possible that South Jordan, which had been long considered the home of the “new” Bingham High School, was now the high school’s longest location.
Throughout their history, Bingham’s Miners have continuously built on the school’s proud past, always remembering that its history and traditions are important part of what makes Bingham the school it is today. A story that illustrates this important fact occurred one day when a Miner graduate of the 1920s came to the South Jordan Bingham High School building with its wide halls, carpeted classrooms, modern library, and massive gymnasium and remarked that this school was nothing like the small three- storied structure that he attended in the narrow confines of Bingham Canyon. “No,” he remarked, “It is just not the same Bingham.” Anyone who simply looked at the physical structure of the two buildings would quickly agree and conclude that Bingham’s physical facilities and locations had changed greatly over its first hundred years. However, it has not been the bricks and mortar that have made Bingham High, but its traditions, teachers and students. The foundations of these traditions were laid by hard working Miner students and teachers over a century before in Bingham Canyon. Although the city of Bingham, all the previous Bingham High School buildings, and even Bingham Canyon have disappeared, the spirit of those old time Miners lives on in South Jordan through the Bingham High School traditions that are reenacted on a yearly cycle and in the lives of Miner students and teachers today.