In October 1972 — against a background of national angst about the Vietnam War and simmering racial tension — several disturbances broke out at Rock Island High School.

They began at a Friday night football game when students surrounded three police officers attempting to remove an African-American student after he refused a school official's request to leave a reserved seating area.

Several students in the crowd, white and black, taunted, spat on and physically attacked the officers, according to newspaper accounts of the time. Police responded by using a chemical spray and about 25 additional officers arrived on the scene. The unrest continued for about a week, leaving its mark on the community for far longer.

This is one of the dramatic stories in a new book about Rock Island High School titled "Rock Solid: Our History," written by three alumni.

The genesis for the book began several years ago when Rick Miers, a 1969 graduate who later taught at the school, was giving a tour of the high school for a reunion group, something he had started for his own class and continued doing for others.

The group was in the journalism room, surrounded by stacks of uncataloged student newspapers. Miers, of Rock Island, remarked that he would like to get all those publications scanned and online before he died.

Unbeknownst to him, there was a like-minded alum in the crowd — Doug Frazer, class of 1971, of Des Moines — who emailed Miers after the reunion to say he would help with the scanning.

After several years of digitizing the newspapers, and then the yearbooks, they got the idea for a book. Miers enlisted the help of Dave Sebben, class of 1979 and also of Rock Island, for his photographic skills.

After 18 months of research at the high school and the libraries of Rock Island and the Rock Island County Historical Society and monthly meetings with each other, the men's 230-page, picture-heavy softcover book became available earlier this month.

It may be purchased for $30 at Amazon.com, with all proceeds going to the Rock Island-Milan Education Foundation for scholarships.

The book is not meant to be an encyclopedic account of everything that ever happened at the school since its chartering in 1857. 

"We got together and thought, 'What things do people want to know?'" Frazer said. "What are the stories that people want to read about?

"We didn't want page after page of text. We wanted lots of pictures and short articles, the kind of book that you can pick up and put down and skip around (in)."

Sports get a lot of ink because sports are important to Rocky. Other topics include the location of four previous high school buildings and what happened to them (three were destroyed by fire) and the existing Art Deco-style school that opened in 1937.

Also covered are clubs, the fine arts, military service of graduates and famous graduates, including former Mayor Mark Schwiebert, Quad-City pathologist Dr. Paula Youngberg Arnell and author David R. Collins. Other than the early history, the emphasis is on the years since 1950.

For both Miers and Frazer, the "unrest" of 1972 — some called them "riots" — is the most interesting story.

The Friday night football disturbance wasn't the end of it.

On the following Tuesday, there was a "skirmish" between groups of students at the school, and the administration called off classes for the day about 1:45 p.m.

On Wednesday, about 30 black students and 40 white students faced off on opposite sides of 25th Avenue near the field house, taunting each other. Punches were thrown. Other students poured out of school to see what was happening, and police used tear gas to disperse them. Classes were suspended for the remainder of the week.

When classes reopened, state police patrolled the hallways, and the City Council and school leaders moved to implement a "positive peer culture" program to enhance black students' school experiences.

This episode is close to Miers' heart for two reasons.

First, research allowed the authors to separate fact from urban legend. Miers recalled an instance about 15 years ago when he was waiting in line at the high school for an event, and a man behind him remarked to someone with him that in 1972, "a guy was shot right here."

Nothing like that ever happened.

Second, the disturbances brought about positive change.

"When I graduated (1969), there wasn't one African-American teacher in the whole building," Miers said. After the disturbances, "there was an effort to recruit faculty that reflected the student body. It changed the whole dynamic of our teaching demographic."

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