The Trident

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A History of the Trident

What can be learned in how a great school institution succumbed to administrative forces?

Santa Cruz High’s newspaper the Trident dates from the early 20th century, publishing dance calendars and official school announcements. But the modern history of the Trident begins in the 80s when the Trident was published by Keith Wills, a technical printer with little English experience. Julie Minnis, then a teacher at Santa Cruz High, thought she could turn things around.

 

“The paper was just sinking fast,” said Julie Minnis in a phone interview. The paper didn’t cover contemporary issues and students were losing interest. It was a relic of an earlier time still laid out in long heavy columns with few pictures.

 

“Julie let it be known that she was turning her English class into a newspaper class,” said Jason Hoppman, her first editor.

 

The class voted to change the name of the ancient Trident. They decided to reverse it. It would be from then on out called the Tnedirt. “That was my first experience that the popular vote wasn’t what it was cracked up to be,” said Hoppman.

 

Hoppman, now the city’s communications manager and a former professional journalist, remembers the reemergence of the paper as an exciting time.Nobody on this paper had worked on a newspaper before,he said. “We had to wing it.”

 

The staff would often spend hours after school manually laying out the paper. It was a very messy process with glue and lots of cutting. A later editor and Santa Cruz’s third district supervisor, Ryan Coonerty, remembers late afternoons in the dark computer room using rudimentary design software.

 

“It was insane compared to today,” said Coonerty.

 

The Quake

In the paper’s second year of its rebirth, the Loma Prieta earthquake hit. The new staff moved into action.

 

Elizabeth Schell, the editor,  acquired press passes to tour the damage on the Pacific Garden Mall with the delegation of national officials, and student David Warren took photos of the wreckage that won the paper national prizes that year.

 

School was canceled for three days and the Trident’s staff worked overtime. Santa Cruz High students handed out snacks to first responders as Santa Cruz High became the epicenter for the relief effort. Military choppers landed on the football field and people slept on the football field. Mayor Mardi Wormhoudt of Santa Cruz said: “It looked like a campground.”

 

The Trident’s Loma Prieta Earthquake issue. Trident photographers got official press passes and toured the wreckage with government officials.

 

“That’s the joke in journalism. You kinda need the airplane to crash into the middle school. And you’ll end up with some award,” said former editor Hoppman (he had graduated the year before). “You have to rise to the occasion and I think they did.”

 

The Coonerty Years

The Trident issue distributed with condoms that generated national press coverage. At school, the hall pass story created more outrage and led the paper on the front page while the sex survey got placed on page 12 and 13.

 

Santa Cruz High in the early 90s was the wild west of free speech. This was the pre-Columbine era. Santa Cruz High was just starting to get tough on student’s tardiness and attendance in a time of innocence and student expression.

 

On the front steps of the school, students participated in rambunctious discussions on birth control, drugs, and the environment. People stayed around at lunch and surfers, thespians, and jocks all joined into the debate. It was a melting pot of many different groups according to County Supervisor Ryan Coonerty and former student and editor of the Trident.

 

The largest contributor to this era’s heated discourse was no doubt Ryan Coonerty himself, the mayor’s son, who generated a lot of controversy as co-editor of the Trident with articles on birth control, fake IDS (they bought them illegally), and attacks on the administration’s increased security.

 

The paper created national news when it published a sex survey that reported high rates of sexual activity among Santa Cruz High students. Under Coonerty they glued condoms provided by Planned Parenthood into the paper.

 

“There was a big debate at the time if we should have condoms at schools,” Coonerty said in an interview in the County Office Building overlooking the city. We thought if we added that to the sex survey it was sort of a policy component of the story.”

 

The national press soon jumped all over the story. Ryan Coonerty who led the effort was interviewed on various T.V. stations and articles on the condom distributing appeared in newspapers across the country. The popular T.V. show Beverly Hills 91210 did a condom inspired episode based on the controversy.

The infamous results of the sex survey that was passed out with a condom.

“I think obviously we wanted to get attention what we didn’t anticipate was that this was right after Magic Johnson announced he had AIDS. So it sort of got caught up in that larger story and really became a national story in a way we didn’t think,” said Coonerty.

 

According to Coonerty, it wasn’t even the most controversial thing they did that year. “Externally everyone wanted to talk about the condoms. Internally it was all about the hall passes.”

 

In fact the issue’s cover story was the new hall pass policy that required everyone to sign out and carry a pass. Has anything changed?

 

Looking back at his high school years, Coonerty acknowledges that his time leading the Trident spurred him forward into his political career. Working on the paper “makes students realize their opinions are important, and they can bring issues into the public sphere and encourage debate,” said Coonerty.

 

“When I got to college I felt like it was like less intense than high school in having that diversity of thought,” said Coonerty. He’s grateful to Santa Cruz High for the exposure to so many different views. College was a let down after all the trouble he caused in high school.

 

None of it would have been possible without Julie Minnis, the advisor who shielded the paper from the wrath of the school’s administration. “I think the fact that we had such a strong advocate in Julie really protected us, ” said Coonerty.

 

THE DECLINE

As fast as the Trident had risen from mediocrity to greatness under Minnis it collapsed without her. In the school year of 1997-1998 under a new advisor Ken Bowen, who had taken over from Minnis’ replacement Jeremy Shonick, the paper imploded under the scrutiny of Principle Perez.

 

Perez arrived in 1994 and brought a new “regime” to Santa Cruz High. While teachers made repeated attempts to oust him, parents gave him high marks for reining in crime on campus and restoring order to a school in disarray. But that same heavy-handedness and repression saw more than two dozen teachers depart to Soquel High and also spelled doom for the independence of the Trident.

 

The Class that produced the Trident went from fifteen students to six and co-editors Greta Hansen and Willow Bicknell were fired.

 

“I think you’ll find the silencing of the paper reflects the silencing at Santa Cruz High,” said Jeremy Shonick, former Santa Cruz High teacher and current board member,  in a 1998 article in Metro Santa Cruz on the collapse of the paper. “A lot of teachers are running scared, planning to leave or have silenced themselves.”

 

In that 1998 article in Metro Santa Cruz, Shonick put the blame on the collapse of the Trident squarely on Perez. He had wanted final review of the paper before it went to press forcing Shonick to appeal to the assistant superintendent who ruled in favor of Perez.

 

Perez denied these allegations but admitted that “My directive was to pull it together.” The school, besieged by gangs,  racial tensions,and a new teaching system, needed a strong man. Perez delivered, according to some parents at the time.

 

Now a school board member, Shonick refused to comment other than to say that “I truly enjoyed working with the students on the paper.”

 

A New Trident

The paper continued in different forms and under different names for another decade. Under the Trident name, supervised by Marici Pendell who had written for the Trident during the Minnis days, the paper ceased to exist in 2005.

 

Now we’re back and online. Come to our meetings on Monday in the library and check out our other stories.

 

We have quite the legacy to uphold.

 

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