Centennial High School’s Hall of Fame has leather football helmets, a collection of yearbooks dating back to the early 1900s and soon, four new inductees.
Aspen High School Principal Tharyn Mulberry’s six-year contribution to the Pueblo high school earned him this year’s Brian Macartney Service to Centennial award, and a bit of immortality as a member of the incoming hall of fame.
Mulberry will be joined by Centennial alumni Lewis Meade Quigg, Joseph Luther Nava and Jerry Lee Sisneros when the HOF class is feted Nov. 8, first in a morning student assembly, then beginning at 5:30 p.m. at the Pueblo Country Club.
Brian Macartney was a founder of the Greater Pueblo Sports Association and consummate volunteer who died in 1998, according to the GPSA website.
Mulberry, 49, made his mark on the high school which boasts as its most famous graduates David Packard, who co-founded early computer company Hewlett-Packard (HP), and Medal of Honor recipient Drew Dix, founder of the Pueblo-based Center for American Values.
According to Javin Baker, a member of the Centennial Hall of Fame selection committee, during his six years as principal Mulberry was instrumental in helping to increase the high school’s enrollment by about 280 students, which grew from 980 to about 1,260. Baker cited an overall rise in the school’s academic standards as another in a list of reasons for Mulberry’s nomination.
“He brought the AP (Advanced Placement) program to Centennial and really made it a large scale program,” said Baker, who served as principal for three years after Mulberry left in 2015 for Aspen.
Baker also praised Mulberry for having what he called “a politician’s touch” in recruiting students to the high school that is known for its football program and century-old rivalry with Pueblo’s Central High School.
Similarities and differences
Mulberry, who is humbled by the hall of fame selection, said Centennial High School was ripe for change when he arrived.
“They’d had two principals in four years and a lot of turnover,” he said. “The staff was pretty divided by one of the principals. There was a lot of ugliness and dissent. I walked into a pretty toxic work culture there,” he said.
Mulberry faced a similar culture problem when he stepped into Aspen High School four years ago, he said. (The school’s population is about half the size of Centennial’s; for 2018-19, there are 546 students enrolled in Aspen High School.)
Kim Martin, Mulberry’s predecessor, had left after less than two years on the job in Aspen and staff morale was considered low.
A 2018 staff survey among Aspen High School teachers shows a sizable increase in staff satisfaction, Mulberry said this week. During recent Aspen School District board of education meetings, his leadership at the school was also praised by parents, some of whom had otherwise harsh comments about district direction and recent decisions.
Just as Mulberry is credited with improving some of Aspen High School’s culture, so too was he credited with similar achievements at Centennial High in Pueblo.
“What happened was Centennial was always seen as an academic school. But it had fallen from grace,” Mulberry explained. He was able to leverage a grant from the Colorado Legacy Foundation to bring in 18 or 19 new sections of AP classes, Baker, the nominating committee member, confirmed.
Mulberry “made a real emphasis on high level academics. He brought that reputation again to Centennial,” Baker added.
Contacted at school on a busy Tuesday, Mulberry said, “I’m just super flattered by it and so thankful to the Pueblo Centennial Committee for giving me that honor. I know how special that recognition is.”
What he said was especially cool about joining the hall of fame was, “I’ll be in the museum in the high school.”
Sprawling between 1,800 and 2,000 feet, the museum is attached to the high school commons and also includes a full-sized courtyard, according to Baker.
That allows plenty of room to display pieces of the Pueblo high school’s past, such as diplomas that are about three times larger than the ones handed out today, Baker said with a laugh. There’s also a mock, old classroom and architectural pieces from the original high school are on display.
Centennial High School is also unique in that it hosts an indoor rifle range, according to Mulberry.
But it’s the annual football game against rival Central High School, which has spanned more than 100 games and attracts up to 14,000 spectators, that is the school’s most renowned feature. In existence since 1892, the “Bell Game” is touted as the oldest football rivalry west of the Mississippi River.
“There’s a huge amount of tradition and school pride,” Mulberry said. “In Pueblo, when people ask you where you went to school, they mean high school not college.”
In the school museum that’s existed since the 1870s, Mulberry’s contribution to Centennial will be included with historic photographs of the Bell Game that is so near and dear to the hearts of locals.