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Down in the basement

The door to Rosemount High School's basement doesn't look remarkable. It's just a black wooden door like any other in the school. But step through and make your way down a couple of flights of concrete stairs, past chugging boilers and the rest of the mechanical equipment needed to keep a school running, and you'll find what might be the closest thing Independent School District 196 has to a historic archive.

Alongside the usual storage-room clutter there is a treasure trove of RHS and district history.

There are old lockers that have been stored since Eastview High School opened and RHS cleared out suddenly-empty locker bays to create seating areas. There are unneeded lunch tables and coat racks. There's a machine that might well be the first microwave ever made.

Along one wall there is 100 feet or more of storage dedicated to props from old senior parties. There's a signpost with arrows pointing students toward Princeton or Purdue, presumably from the year RHS seniors had road signs as their graduation party theme.

In another part of basement there are boxes labeled "Permanent Records Do Not Destroy." They're school board minutes going back ... well, going back a long time. There are 1970s-era timesheets for the district's paraprofessionals and teacher applications from 1981. There are substitute teacher ledger sheets from the 1974-75 school year.

"Whatever those are," principal John Wollersheim said earlier this month as he led a tour of the maze of rooms under the school.

But it's in another part of the basement where things get really interesting. That's where the school stores its old photos and trophies. All the things that no longer fit in the trophy cases upstairs.

There's a photo on one shelf of the 1995-96 Irish JV hockey team. It's a reminder of that frightening time when people actually thought mullets were cool. There's a framed poster for an RHS production of My Fair Lady put on sometime before the construction of the school's performing arts center. There are yearbooks going back to at least 1961. Judging by the photos the offensive line for that year's team weighed something like one third what this year's line weighed. It seems safe to say the modern-day Irish could have run the ball pretty effectively in the '60s.

For some reason that defies ready explanation there's a 1982 yearbook from Fort Dodge, Iowa High School.

Superintendent John Currie has a photograph in his office with the RHS graduating class of 1945. That came from the basement at RHS, too.

Sorting through the photos with Wollersheim, who's spent the bulk of his career at RHS, is a little like getting a guided tour of the school's history. He pulls out a photo of Larry Wittwer, a wrestler who was all-state and all-region in 1988, when Wollersheim was a teacher at the school.

"He was a good student," Wollersheim said.

He pulls out a photo of Stacy Gustafson, who Wollersheim remembers still lives in Rosemount with her husband, RHS graduate Todd Ratzlaff.

Or there's Colleen Neary, who according to her photo was an all-state soccer player in 1987. She hit the winning shot that year against Rochester John Marshall to send the Irish to their first state tournament, Wollersheim said.

She was also a babysitter for Wollersheim's children when they were younger.

"There's fun old stuff down here," said Wollersheim, who hasn't had much chance to explore the basement since he took over as principal last June.

Then again, it's not clear anybody knows the full extent of what's in the basement. There's enough dust on everything to suggest what's there isn't disturbed often.

District communication specialist Tony Taschner wasn't aware of any official inventory of the basement. He said RHS, the district's oldest high school, just became the default storage location over th years for a lot of district material.

Wollersheim said nobody's asked him to store anything down there since he took over. Taking a full inventory might take more time and energy than anybody has to spare.

For now, though, it's fun to poke around for a little while.

You never know what you'll find behind a plain wooden door.