• Memories of St. Mary's High School

  • Since The Examiner began its series celebrating the history of St. Mary’s High School in the Eastern Jackson County, readers have been sending in their memories of the high school.

    Some were short and others were long, but thing remained the same, how much of an impact the Catholic high school had on their lives and who they ultimately became. Below are some of those memories that were shared.

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  • Since The Examiner began its series celebrating the history of St. Mary’s High School in the Eastern Jackson County, readers have been sending in their memories of the high school.
    Some were short and others were long, but thing remained the same, how much of an impact the Catholic high school had on their lives and who they ultimately became. Below are some of those memories that were shared.
    Four years ago, when I started at St. Mary’s, I heard one word over and over “FAMILY.” After years in the public school systems, I had never heard the word “FAMILY” used, but at St. Mary’s, family was a word used all the time. Due to the parents, students and all the staff there is a family feeling and one that I will miss.
    --- Rocky Riggs, biology, chemistry and advanced chemistry teacher
    It was the fall of 2003 when I got my first St. Mary’s shirt. It was white and in sky blue writing on the front read “I want to be a...” and on the back “St. Mary’s” with a Trojan head. I wore it to my very first St. Mary’s game as I watched my older cousin play football. I can’t recall the memories clearly, but I can tell you what I remember will always stick out clearly in my head. The first thing that comes to mind is the big hill at the Sugar Creek field that had a ginormous Trojan head painted on it. My cousins and I would roll down that hill and sit on it to watch the games. I also remember the parades that would take place before the games. The court would throw candy at us as we watched and clapped for them. I also remember the cheerleaders. I thought it would be so cool to be one. In the fall of 2012, I cheered my own St. Mary’s homecoming game. From my very first football game to my last day as a student, I have learned so many things. From setting a volleyball to putting up a stunt to learning that the capital of Burkina Faso is Ouagadougou, I can defiantly say I will miss St. Mary’s greatly.
    --- Victoria Ann
    On June 10, 1991, I began my long-time career as the bookkeeper, business manager and Finance Coordinator of St. Mary’s High School. It was a distinct change from working at St. John the Baptist Grade School - more students and dealing with money instead of attendance and every day issues. I am a product of Catholic education. I attended St. John the Baptist Grade School and St. Pius X High School and grew up in the Northeast area of Kansas City.
    Page 2 of 5 - Mike Espinosa was a graduate of St. Stephen’s Grade School in Northeast Kansas City and a 1976 graduate of St. Mary’s High School. He attended the University of Missouri-Kansas City and graduated in 1981. He began teaching at St. John LaLande Grade School and began coaching football and girls’ basketball at the same time at St. Mary’s High School. In 1986, he began teaching full-time physical education and health at St. Mary’s and took on the role of head girls’ volleyball coach. He had a wonderful volleyball coaching career while at St. Mary’s. He took his teams to the state championships five times, enabled 13 players to earn All-State recognition and helped 33 players attend college on volleyball scholarships. He has more than 475 wins. While doing all of the above, he was also able to serve as the vice president of the Greater Kansas City Volleyball Coaches Association, been the Kansas City Regional Representative of the Missouri State High School Volleyball Coaches Association and was also the president of the Missouri High School Volleyball Coaches association. He also was the athletic director, part of the administrative team and member of the booster club.
    When I first walked into St. Mary’s, I was a bit apprehensive of what my job would be like. I knew I would love a school setting because that would allow me to be around my own children and have time off with them according to the school calendar. As a single parent, that was very important to me. I was welcomed with open arms by Mary Puhr, the bookkeeper I was replacing, and she stayed and helped me as long as I needed and was available by phone for questions.
    When Mike Espinosa first walked into my office, I thought to myself, “now he seems like a nice guy.” We developed a great friendship from the start. He liked to tease me in front of others, and I would tease right back. He actually ate, drank, slept volleyball. If you wanted to get to know him, you better love volleyball. He could not believe my freshman daughter, Mary Beth DiCapo, now Cooper, was going to be a cheerleader instead of coming out for volleyball. I said I didn’t want her to get hurt. Three moon boots later from cheerleading injuries, I guess I was wrong.
    Over the years, our friendship grew stronger, and we went through many of life’s changes together - the loss of his father and grandmother and my mother and son’s illnesses. He would come into my office after being in the gym in 100 degree heat and sit there and talk just to cool off.
    We then put our friendship to the test and began dating. Of course, we did everything possible to be professional, and many “guessed” we were dating, but we kept it to ourselves. After a long friendship, our relationship took another more serious turn. The confirmed bachelor actually decided he wanted to get married, and he proposed three years ago. We decided that just the two of us would drive to Estes Park, Colo. to get married on July 7, 2012, for a very personal ceremony in the mountains.
    Page 3 of 5 - As we celebrate our new life together, we had our marriage blessed on April 6, 2013, at St. Mark’s Church, followed by a wonderful reception filled with family, friends, former students and players in the place where our love began - the St. Mary’s Fieldhouse. The day and evening meant so much to both of us, the sun was shining, and there could not have been a more appropriate place to celebrate our marriage than where we had both spent so much time.
    St. Mary’s rewarded both of us with careers, his love of coaching volleyball, an education for my children and a partner to share our lives with. He is the gift that I will grow old with, and together we will continue to Bleed Blue and Forever be Trojans. We will always share so many good memories with so many wonderful students, and God blessed us to do this together.
    St. Mary’s has been a very important part of our lives, and we are both so very thankful for the time and memories we made at St. Mary’s High School.
    --- Rene Espinosa
    My favorite memory of St. Mary’s High School took place during the 1975-76 school year. That year, after being beat in overtime the two or three previous years, THE St. Mary’s Girls Basketball Team became the first team in Independence and in the Kansas City area to play for a state championship or to even make it to state. At that time there were only two classes so we competed with all of the big schools in the area, including Truman, Chrisman, Lee’s Summit and others. Our team went undefeated in the regular season, and then played exciting and close games in the district finals, sectionals and regionals. We ended up losing the state championship game to Knox County in a jammed pack field house at Northeast Missouri State (now Truman State). I will never forget the excitement at our school that season. We had so many fans from SMH and even fans from other schools. I remember the WCHS team got behind us and became one of our most loyal fans, even though we defeated them two or three times that year. Even a few of our referees from that season followed us through that journey to state. I will never forget the flowers, cards and telegrams that were sent to us personally or to the school wishing us luck and offering congratulations. I will never forget the St. Mary’s family that included families from all over Kansas City and Independence getting behind us, taking spirit buses to every one of our post season games and cheering their hearts out for us girls. I will never forget the all school send off in front of our beloved St. Mary’s. It was quite a ride, and one I will always cherish in my heart.
    Page 4 of 5 - I had the chance to go back to SMH and coach the girls basketball team in 2001. Although we never reached a state tournament, I will never forget the dedication of my players and how they gave everything to that school. Most of them were involved in numerous activities but as coaches, we always helped to make it work. My last year as coach was in 2008 as I left the year my daughter Kristen graduated from there.
    I will miss good old SMH but I will forever be engulfed in her spirit, and I will continue to live with the values I developed as a Catholic high school student. My God bless all of the students and staff who will forever be in my heart. Forever will the TROJAN SPIRIT live!
    --- Maria (Pace) Jonas ‘77
    I attended St. Mary’s, graduated in 1979. I Have 11 siblings that also graduated from there. My favorite thing about it is that we were a close knit family, teachers and classmates. I loved the small classes and attention given to all activities ,academics , sports.
    The friends I made our still my friends today. I’m sad to see them close. It’s been a big part of our family for over 50 years now.
    Time Marches ON, Trojans Forever.
    --- Barbara Kearney
    I have many memories of SMH from childhood to adulthood. My earliest memories begin when I was four watching my family play football at Roper Stadium with the track pack rooting on and watching my cousin at state wrestling. At a young age, there was pride in learning cheers and songs from the high school students to carry on traditions as future Trojans.
    My fondest high school memories were my freshman and sophomore years following our girls’ basketball team on the road to the state tournament. It was an exciting time around St. Mary’s. Other memories would be pep rallies (lip syncing), class competitions, walk-a-thons, mixers and dances. I will always have fond memories of my St. Mary’s family and friends through my high school years.
    My journey at St. Mary’s as a coach started as an out-of-house coach for basketball and softball (2000). In 2002, I had the opportunity to start teaching and coaching for the school. Through hard work and dedication, I have had the opportunity to teach, coach and be an administrator (activity director/assistant principal) to the students of St. Mary’s High School. As an adult, watching my students be successful academically and athletically is the most rewarding feeling. I have had the opportunity to watch as many young men and women grow mentally, physically and spiritually into fine young adults.
    Page 5 of 5 - As I look back on the memories I have of St. Mary’s, it is hard to pick that one special memory because each moment I have spent with my students, their families and my colleagues has made a lasting impact in my life. I will have to say the final game in the field house will be one of my lasting memories, the bonding of the past and present of St. Mary’s and the love for this community will never die.
    We are Forever Trojans!!
    --- Coach Sara Kenney
    Mine is a somewhat unique perspective of the St. Mary’s family. I have been officially employed here since September 2009, but worked with the St. Mary’s pole vaulters since 2002. Those seven years brought my respect and admiration for what goes on here. I had fallen in love with the St. Mary’s family. When I made the decision to retire from public education, I came here to work part-time, but that didn’t last long. I wanted to be as big a part of St. Mary’s as I could.
    My fondest memories will be the many students and parents who have shown such gratitude for the work that is done. Watching the successes that occur here and out in the rest of the world when our students go to further their education has filled my senses with a newfound energy to continue my career. I felt immediately accepted at St. Mary’s and will cherish both the memories made and the lessons learned that have come from my experience. Being a part of Sunday morning breakfast runs, Friday night pasta, two district titles and two runner-ups and several all-state individual accomplishments have also been memory makers.
    I don’t worry so much about the success of our students’ futures as I worry about coping with not being a part of them!
    --- Bud Yazel, St. Mary’s counselor

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