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John J. Tassoni, Jr. ’76, publisher of The Smithfield Times, played hockey for the Sentinels throughout high school, and was team captain in 1976. He said that before the Smithfield ice rink was built in 1973, parents had to transport players to the high school at 4 a.m. for a bus ride to the Burrillville ice rink for a 5 a.m. practice. “And it was cold!” he said.
Ann Marie (Davis) Donahue and friend Betty Viens, class of ’78, remember playing their clarinets in the high school band. Sometimes, Donahue said, they forgot the notes and had to pretend to play. “Mr. Tinkham (band director) would give us glaring looks when we giggled at our forgetfulness.”
“Our school, thanks to Mr. Robert Cleasby (Chorus Director), put on yearly Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. I just loved it. Everyone put so much into it,” said Lori Labadie ’78. She said that when rehearsing the “The Mikado,” the chorus was supposed to sing in Japanese. “No, not in Smithfield High. Instead we sang, Nika, Nika, Kawasaki. Sony, Sony, Subaru. Honda Datsun, Sukiaki,” she said.
Mark Gilchrist ’78 said his years at Smithfield High School were “the best times of my life.” Gilchrist played hockey for the Sentinels and now coaches the team. “It gave me lots of recognition as one of the best players in the state and country. My teammates and coaches helped me to become a three-year All Stater, an All New England, and an All American,” he said.
February 1978 also gave students an unplanned but welcome two-week vacation when the now infamous Blizzard of ’78 stuck the east coast. The post in the 1978 yearbook read: “Winter…and what a winter it was.” Anxiety filled us all as we awaited the storm. And when it came, school was dismissed early on February 6. The excitement was enough to plow the entrance as students gushed out the doors…Two lovely weeks of romping through the snowdrifts and doing exactly what we pleased.
Ryan McNelis, ’97 remembers when schoolmate Sarah Potenza ’98, played the title role in “The Sorcerer.” “You could see she was someone who was going to go seriously into the music field,” he said.
Potenza was a contestant last year on NBC’s singing competition, The Voice. Though eliminated from the competition, she made a lasting impression on the judges and audience with her big voice and soulful song stylings. Potenza, who lives in Nashville, returned home to perform with the Smithfield High School Chorus earlier this year at the Met in Pawtucket.
Tracy Miller Greco, ’83, said, “I can remember a block party that was held in the parking lot of the school one year. It was a disco dance party and I specifically remember going to Lincoln Mall to buy satin pants that were all the rage at the time.”
The Sentinel Hall of Fame has been established to recognize and honor individuals who have brought pride and distinction to the high school, community or the country.
“We wanted to find a way to recognize alumni in addition to athletics,” said Bridget Morisseau, Smithfield’s assistant superintendent of schools. “Many individuals have played a huge role in the Smithfield community, whether they dedicated their lives and careers to public schools, the community, or served in leadership capacity, and whose character is beyond reproach.”
Under the direction of history teacher Vincent Zibelli, students are currently collecting artifacts, memorabilia, and photos for a Decades Museum that will be available for touring in September.
A video is also in the works that compares the high school today to what it was like in the 1960s. Current students will also speculate on what the school will be like 50 years from now.
Connecting current students with former students through inter-generational activities, such as the alumni games and Decades Museum, is a key focus of the celebration. “Hearing stories of how things were before cell phones,” will make for better communication and lasting connections among the students, said current Principal Daniel Kelley.
In 1962 the Rhode Island Department of Education recommended building a high school in the town of Smithfield. Six months later, the voters of Smithfield approved the bond and construction began on the nearly 60 acres of land in the center of Apple Valley.
The green and gold Sentinel mascot was selected in 1966 as an embodiment of the community that was incorporated in 1731, and a reminder of the town’s heritage during the country’s colonial and revolutionary periods. Smithfield High School’s first principal, Henry Shepard, chose the colors green and gold in the planning stages of the school after researching other schools and discovered that this combination was original to Smithfield High.
The first Smithfield High School graduation took place in 1968. The ceremony was held in the school’s courtyard, a popular meeting place for seniors. The first graduates were colorful in the now traditional green and gold caps and gowns. Halfway through the ceremony, the clouds opened and students, family and friends rushed into the auditorium. The courtyard tradition continued until 2004. Since then the ceremony has taken place at Bryant University.
After the graduation ceremony, McNelis recalls, seniors would be taken by bus for a alcohol-free overnight celebration. Long-serving Principal Robert Salsibury would park his car at the far end of the high school and stand outside his car, waving farewell to the departing students. “Anyone who saw this recognized it as the last gesture SHS gave to the graduates as they went on to start their lives.”
McNelis added, “They also knew that SHS would stay with them forever.”