NORMAL, Ill. | A football helmet, a shovel and high school locker decorations all have stories to tell about Normal Community West High School, and the school is making sure to preserve them.
The helmet belonged to alumnus Michael Dicken, a 1997 fullback, and the shovel was used in the groundbreaking ceremony for Normal West on Sept. 15, 1995. Locker decorations put up this year will be saved for when current seniors return to celebrate their 10-year reunion in 2023.
These and other objects and documents will be preserved by the Normal West Archive Project, and no one is more excited about it than social studies teacher John Bierbaum and the school's Social Studies Club. They have been archiving materials for months, working after school and on Saturdays, and they even got professional training during field trips to the McLean County Museum of History.
"There are 269 objects archived, and 500 more to archive," said Normal West senior Chris Smiciklas, vice president of the club.
The idea for the project was born in October. Bierbaum, himself a 2001 Normal West graduate, was surprised to see old yearbooks were being given to students or sent to the trash bins. "Our history is being thrown away," he said.
He also was inspired by his sister's upcoming 10-year Normal West reunion and the school's upcoming 20th anniversary.
The archival project has official bylaws, collection forms and binding agreements to be signed by donors. The latter guarantees, for example, that someone won't donate a football helmet and then later try to retrieve it after the player goes on to the NFL, Bierbaum said.
"We are trying to make it up as we go and get it right," he said.
Two grants of $1,200 each from alumni and booster groups are paying for the archive, which currently is housed in the corner of a classroom but eventually will get its own room. The museum also is helping.
Documents and artworks are being cataloged just as they would be at a professionally run museum and stored in archival film and acid-free folders, said Deanna Wiist, a social studies and English teacher who had worked in a museum. "It's been a lot of fun to be involved and use professional supplies," she said.
Bierbaum said he also wants to set up display cases to feature some of the artifacts. The school's manufacturing class is building 40 display cases for yearbooks so there will be space for yearbooks for the next couple of decades.
A wall of fame with photos also will be introduced soon, he said.
The school's leaders, including former Principal Tom Eder, current Principal Dave Johnson and Associate Principal Wendy Davis have played roles in launching the project.
"It could easily be squashed (without administrative support)," Bierbaum said.
The archivists found the shovel on the third floor and basketball jerseys in the furnace room, but the hunt continues. Bierbaum's students tease him for wanting to save everything.
One basketball jersey isn't enough for him, for example. There will be enough for a whole team in case someone wants to play a retro game, he explained.
There also are racks of Wildcat T-shirts after Bierbaum went to Goodwill and bought every Normal West shirt he could find. He wanted to use their changing designs and imagery to chronicle the school's evolution of an identity distinct from Normal Community High School.
For example, the school has moved away from orange and black, the colors it shared with NCHS, toward a black-and-silver motif. The school also has moved toward dropping "Community" from its name, at least informally.
Senior Kerrigan Tobin, a founding member of the archive project has a favorite shirt, which features a spunky orange Wildcat.
As is appropriate for a teenager just starting out, preserving the past in the archive also makes Tobin think about her own future.
"I can come back when I'm a doctor and it will be a museum," she said.