Famous runner at NYU first attended Newtown HS

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As readers of this column know, I spent three happy and productive years as a student at Newtown High School. I had graduated from JHS 73 and the transition was not any easy one in the first semester, but I managed to do better and was a member of Arista by the time I graduated.

I thought the teachers I had were good. I remember that in my first year I joined the choir and trekked up to the music room in the tower to practice early every morning before classes. We sang at assemblies and other events. Hildegard Behrens was a fine teacher.

During my time at Newtown HS, I worked on the student newspaper, The X-Ray, and, if I remember correctly, I may have been an assistant editor at one time.

Every morning and late afternoon, when I walked to and from Newtown HS from our home, on 57th Avenue near 84th Street, I passed Newtown Field, several blocks from the school on 90th Avenue.

The Newtown Agricultural Annex, which opened in 1917 and ended in 1964, was in Flushing, where John Bowne HS and the CUNY Law School are today. The Aggies held their own graduation exercises.

I especially remembered those walks and Newtown HS when I learned of the death June 15 of Reginald “Reggie” James Pearman, a middle distance runner who was a national champion in his years at New York University.

In a lengthy obituary, in The New York Times, Pearman, born in Manhattan to Ethiopian parents, was listed as having lived in Jamaica, but there was no mention of what high school he attended, either in that report or in others of the death of this famous champion.

I may have failing mental powers, but I seemed to remember that Pearman was a Newtown HS student. Finally, with the help of a young, computer-savvy friend, I was able to find out that that was so. Pearman was a 1943 graduate of Newtown HS. His first race, probably one of 440 yards, was in 1941 and may have been on Newtown Field itself.

Pearman was a great athlete and, as one expert said, one of the “all-time greats” in relay races. In 1994, he was elected to the Penn Relays Wall of Fame in Philadelphia.

But, to me, he was more than that. In my days at Newtown HS, as I have indicated before, the student body was nowhere near as diverse as it is today. Pearman may have been one of the few black people in the school. A look at pictures of his NYU racing days will show not much of a difference in the makeup of college track teams then.

After his running days, Pearman had a distinguished career in education, including being a branch chief for the then-U.S. Office of Education. Before that, he served in the Peace Corps.

His death came at about the same time Newtown HS was being closed as a single high school because it was not doing the job of educating its students as well as it might, according to the city Department of Education. That is a sad ending to a school that is about 115 years old and which opened in new quarters in 1921.

As of this publication, the matter is in the hands of an arbitrator, but I have little hope for Newtown HS to continue as in the past.

In its future configuration, whatever it may be, I hope those who attend Newtown HS will remember people like Pearman and others who are listed on the Hall of Fame of the school’s website. There are many more of them if you search other sites about Newtown HS.

I remember Newtown HS with great affection. I am glad I remembered Pearman, a remarkable athlete and human being. My hope is that in the years to come those who are students in that building in Elmhurst will also come to appreciate the education they receive.

I certainly did.

Updated 6:20 pm, July 11, 2012
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