Woodway HS grads revisit junior high days in anticipation of 40th reunion

Howard Leyda Jr., Nicole Hamilton Welch, Kevin Judkins, and Rojean Mazzuca Backman pose in the stairwell of the former Edmonds Junior High, which is now the Edmonds Center for the Arts.

Members of Woodway High School’s class of 1979 laughed while walking into the lobby of the Edmonds Center for the Arts (ECA), where their 40th reunion will be held in September.

“Time to go to the principal’s office,” Kevin Judkins joked.

“We’re all in trouble,” added Rojean Mazzuca Backman.

The space is open and softly lit by the sun through huge windows, but there are no offices in site. The room hasn’t been the administrative office space of Edmonds Junior High for 44 years.

In 1975, Edmonds Junior High (EJH) — which was housed in the old building of Edmonds High School (the first high school in Edmonds) — closed and its students were spread among other junior highs including College Place, Meadowdale, and Madrona, according to set geographical boundaries. For members of EJH’s eighth grade class that year, like Judkins and Mazzuca Backman, it meant being split up for their final year of junior high. “It was hard for a lot of classmates,” said Nicole Welch, who is organizing the Woodway High School Reunion.

“Your ninth grade year is supposed to be your year at the top of the school, right?” Mazzuca Backman said. “Off to a new school where you’re new and you’re not really at the top, you have to acclimate again.”

Rojean Mazzuca Backman captures an image of the old auditorium from a display the Edmonds Center for the Arts put up, and left up, for the ECA’s 10th reunion, according to Mixson.

Now, those who went to Woodway for high school will return to the halls where they spent the first of their teen years. ”The only piece of memorabilia I have from any of my school years is from here,” William Howard Leyda Jr.  said. It’s an aluminum cast of the Trojan — the school’s mascot — that he built in shop class.

Judkins, Mazzuca Backman, Welch, Leyda recalled more than a few memories while touring the venue. The stairs, for one, which Mazzuca Backman called “brutal.”

The staircase, now cleanly carpeted under a chandelier, used to be hard, grey cement. When it rained, the stairs got slippery.

“And of course, in middle school, you wear high heels all the time,” Mazzuca Backman said. “I can’t count how many times I fell over.”

Judkins found his old locker. He still remembers his combination: 19-45-##.

Leyda photographs his portrait in the Edmonds Junior High yearbook that Mazzuca Backman brought.

The junior high closed as the number of students fell, and other middle schools and junior highs in the area closed around it. These alumni thought it might have been because people were simply have fewer children.

The building was sold to Puget Sound Christian College in 1977, before it was selected to house the Edmonds Center for the Arts in 2006, according to the ECA website.

The center is a state Public Facilities District (PFD), like the Angel of the Winds Arena, Lynnwood Convention Center and Future of Flight Museum. A PFD is a “municipal corporation”, allowed to independently tax and charge fees for its use, thanks to ordinances under the state’s constitution. Now, the Edmonds Center for the Arts operates as a full-scale theater and performance space, rents its three classrooms and lobby to external organizations (many for the arts), and occasionally houses sporting events in its rubber-floored gymnasium, which has barely been touched since it was home to the EJH Trojans.

The group stands in the gymnasium which is still attached to the Center for the Arts, sharing memories inspired by the nearly unchanged space and the yearbooks Mazzuca Backman brought.

During those years, the gym was used on a weekly basis. Students got out of classes early for home basketball or football games, which would go until after the school’s buses left, and thus lost much of their audience in the last quarter. “If you had a bus to catch and it was a close game, you had to make the decision to stay and walk home or catch the bus,” Judkins said. “Although the majority of students left to catch their bus, a number chose to stay.”

Fellow alumnus Mark Naranjo said it was impossible to forget the star players of the Edmonds Junior High football team.

“Eric Scott, he was the fastest guy in school, he was fun to watch,” Naranjo said in a phone interview. Naranjo was on the football team, and remembers the “sandy, dirt” field they played on. Students had to cross the street to get there, and it was the same with the art building. By 2006 when the ECA opened, the Edmonds Junior High’s art building, field, northern academic wing, “boy’s” gymnasium, and parts of the third floor were gone. The old academic wings and second gymnasium were replaced with parking spots, according to Sarah Mixson, the ECA’s rental and stage manager.

Judkins points to where the northern section of the old Edmonds Junior High connected to what’s left of the building, since many classrooms and a gymnasium were removed to build more parking.

The theater remains as the untouched (for the most part) center of the building. “This was my favorite place when I went to school here,” Mazzuca Backman said, looking out onto the auditorium. The room now has about 200 fewer seats than it did when it was a junior high, but the seats are wider, and upholstered with orange velvet instead of hard wood. Mazzuca Backman looked down to the stage from the balcony where she stood. “I was usually performing. Choir was a big part of my life,” she said. “Choir was something where you could express yourself, and you can fit in, right. Because middle school is such a time where you don’t fit in. But in choir, we were all singing the same song, and we had our parts, and we fit.”

The beauty of reunions, Welch and Mazzuca Backman agreed, is both healing relationships from the turbulent years of middle school, and building new ones that didn’t and wouldn’t have existed 45 years ago.

“For all of our differences, you know at least we still went to the same Dairy Queen and the same doughnut shop, you can remember things that aren’t there anymore,” Welch said.

A mention of “Dee’s Drive-In,” evoked “Awww”’s from all. Dee’s, Edmonds Junior High and many other spots have closed since 1975, but fortunately for this Woodway class’s reunion, this building did not.

— Story and photos by Mardy Harding


2 Replies to “Woodway HS grads revisit junior high days in anticipation of 40th reunion”

  1. I love these comments from my classmates and the trip down memory lane. My husband and I are looking forward to the reunion. Not only did I attend Jr. High there, but he attended Christian college in the same building.


  2. I was in this class but was sent to College Place. I still remember the disappointment of not experiencing my 9th-grade year the way I thought it would be. It was difficult. I didn’t have any friends in any of my classes. But, I have fond memories of my Junior High days at Edmonds Junior High. Does anyone remember the spit pit?


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