Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

February 14, 2013

Kenneth Hart: What's in a name? Plenty!: 2/17/13

Kenneth Hart
The Independent

ASHLAND — Full disclosure time: I didn’t grow up in Ashland. Nor did I graduate from Paul G. Blazer High School.

That might lead some to brand me an “outsider” and to conclude I have no right to voice my opinion with regard to the current mini-controversy about what the name of Ashland’s only high school should be.

But, being an Ashland resident and taxpayer, not to mention a longtime employee of the community’s only daily newspaper, I certainly consider myself a full-fledged stakeholder. Therefore, I think I will press ahead if you, Gentle Reader, would be so kind as to indulge me.

And my opinion is this: No disrespect to Mr. Blazer, whose money helped fund the construction of the school, or for the company he founded, Ashland Inc., but it should be called Ashland High School.

There are a number of compelling reasons I think of for changing the name, one of the most obvious being the town’s pride in the school’s athletic teams, which have always been known as the Ashland Tomcats and the Ashland Kittens. (“Blazer Tomcats” just doesn’t roll off the tongue in quite the same way.)

Another is the fact Blazer replaced a school known as Ashland High School when it opened its doors in 1962, and there’s still a lot of sentimental attachment to that old institution — and, I would imagine, a lot of folks who believe the city lost part of its identity when the new school opened and the old name wasn’t retained.

Also, given that Ashland is a one-high-school town, there’s really no good reason for that school to be called anything other than Ashland High School. This isn’t Lexington or Louisville, where there are multiple high schools and thus the need to attach the names of people and places to them to avoid confusion.

I can think of only one high school other than Blazer in our part of the state that’s named after a person, or anything other the community in which it’s located. That would be Sheldon Clark High School in Martin County. It was named after the man who was superintendent when Warfield and Inez merged to make that school.

I would imagine one thing current and former Blazer and Sheldon Clark students have in common is they get asked “Where the heck is that?” a lot when they tell people not familiar with the region the names of their respective schools.

None of this is to say Mr. Blazer’s dedication to Ashland or his contributions to ensuring the city had a state-of-the-art high school should be dismissed or forgotten.

The best suggestion I’ve heard to date for how to continue honoring Blazer came from a Facebook poster who suggested changing the name of the school, but naming the campus in his honor.

That way, you’d have “Ashland High School and James A. Anderson Gymnasium, located on the Paul G. Blazer Campus.” Seeing as how the street leading to said campus is already called Blazer Boulevard, it makes perfect sense to me.

I’ve also heard that Mr. Blazer’s primary interest when he reached into his deep pockets to help pay for the new high school was seeing it had swimming facilities. Therefore, I think would be entirely appropriate if the school board were to also attach the name “Paul G. Blazer Natatorium” to said facilities.

There has also been talk of changing the name of George M. Verity Middle School to Ashland Middle School, but that has met with some pushback simply because Verity — formed in 1979 from the merger of Coles and Putnam junior highs — has never been known as anything other than Verity.

For that reason alone, it makes sense to me to leave the name of that school as is. Besides, middle schools aren’t quite the same sources of community identity that high schools are.

And finally, let’s be honest here — another reason it might be time to rename the high school is that Ashland, the community, and Ashland, the company, went their separate ways a long time ago.

Removing the name of the company’s founder from the high school, while still holding him in a place of honor, would be just another part of the moving-on process for both.

Not only that, but Ashland, the community, is bigger than any one person. Or any one company.

KENNETH HART can be reached at khart@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2654.