It was an honest mistake.
Some people doodle when they’re on the phone. I fidget with things without even looking at them. So, when I was a junior at Sierra High School – a long, long time ago – I was on the phone, calling up radio stations in the leadership class of Mr. Greg Israel in an attempt to get them to do a live satellite for an event we were having on campus.
And the staple in the corner of the piece of paper I was playing with (I think) came out of the wall and my hand slipped and I accidentally pulled the fire alarm.
Instantly I froze.
I looked at Israel – Izzy to those in the class and those on the track team that knew him that casually – with this blank, thousand-yard stare on my face. That silver ink that you hear about that stains your hands when you pull down on the lever? Yeah. That’s legit. It was all over my fingers and running down his wall.
This was not good.
I hung up the phone. In the three years that I spent on that campus I had never so much as gotten detention. Hell – I was in leadership class working to plan a campus-wide event when this happened.
No matter, I shuffled out the door with everybody else, lined up outside, and waited for the hall monitors to come by, and showed them – my friend’s mother, no less – my ink-stained stands.
“Ah, Campbell! Come on. Let’s go.”
And off I went to the office of Mr. Rick Arucan.
You throw – You go
When I started at Sierra as a freshman, the school was still in its infancy.
There was no football stadium. There was no swimming pool. The facilities – the gym and the locker rooms – were relatively high-class compared to the dilapidated set-ups I had seen at other high schools when playing youth football.
And there was this looming presence that lorded over the campus and made his reputation as a take-no-nonsense type of administrator very seriously.
Rick Arucan was not the guy to be trifled with.
There are a lot of things that happen when you throw a bunch of adolescents from different backgrounds together in one environment and try to get them to work together cohesively in a family unit. Anybody that understands basic chemistry knows that not every element reacts well with every other element. Things boil over. Things explode.
But on the Sierra High School campus one thing was made abundantly clear to everybody from the first day that you stepped foot onto that Winters Drive estate – if you get into a fight, for any reason, you will be suspended for five days regardless of whether you threw the first punch or not.
That might not seem like a big deal on the surface, but a five-day suspension is the death knell to anybody involved in extracurricular activities. If you’re on a sports team, it pretty much means that you’re gone for the rest of that season. Nine weeks. That means no band or choir performances. No field trips. No graduation ceremonies.
The policy was known as “you throw, you go.” And it was terrifically effective. Regardless of the testosterone-charged football players I ran around with, nobody ever got into a fight out of fear that they’d be “that guy.”
It wasn’t until after I graduated, and Arucan retired, that I got the opportunity to get to know him a little bit. I’d see him at In-Shape and make small talk, and learned of the years that he spent as a football coach back when Manteca’s coaching tree included much fewer branches.
He was part of the club.
And he had a monumental task given to him when the keys to Manteca Unified’s first new high school in more than two decades was opened to serve both a new and growing portion of the community as well as students from nearby Lathrop that had been incorporated into the district.
He had to take all of those moving parts and seamlessly put them into a regimented and structured foundation that would serve the future of the school long after he left. It wasn’t so much about building his own legacy, but handing over the reins to somebody else knowing that the spirit in which the school was founded would be preserved.
The fire alarm
I had to explain what happened and why I had this god-awful, shiny silver paint on my left hand and how there wasn’t anything I would do to jeopardize my standing as a student at Sierra High School.
I was scared.
And he looked at my cumulative record, told me to be more aware of what I was doing, and sent me only way.
On Tuesday Sierra High School is, in honor of the school’s 20th Anniversary, holding a naming ceremony for the Frederick H. Arucan Administration Building.
The day will begin with a school picture taking at 9:30 a.m., with the dedication ceremonies set for 3:30 p.m.
It’s the first in a series of events that the campus will hold throughout the year to honor the second decade of its existence It is also a fitting tribute to a man that loomed through those halls – and that back office – with a presence that set the tone and the direction befitting a school of Sierra’s caliber.
Thank you. Mr. Arucan. for believing that I wasn’t acting maliciously.
Enjoy your honor, Sir. You’ve earned it.
Jason Campbell is a 2000 graduate of Sierra High School. He hasn’t pulled any fire alarms, on purpose or accidentally, since 1999.