Memories of My Youth

Student hideaway: The 31-year jig is up
Aurora – For 31 years, a hideaway in the rafters of Smoky Hill High School has served as a refuge for select drama students – a secret getaway whose whereabouts were passed down every year from class to class.

Unbeknownst to teachers and administrators, students had hauled up chairs, a radio and candles to furnish the lair above the lights. The room was actually a space created by the vents and walls of the ventilation system, accessible only by perilous traverses across catwalks.

Knowledge about the room had become a sacred Smoky Hill rite until the school newspaper last month revealed the secret. The April 14 article in the Smoky Hill Express prompted administrators to shut down access.

In its wake, newspaper students learned the power of the printed word. Drama students learned that their unsupervised exploits above the rafters could have been deadly.

“It’s probably a pretty good idea to keep the kids safe,” said Brian Pelepchan, 45, one of two teens who created the room during the school’s first year in 1975.

Pelepchan and his best friend, Gary Walker, were sophomores, avid rock climbers and drama- department “techies” who were allowed on the catwalks above the stage.

“We went up into the catwalks and saw this little opening, climbed up the structure and, lo and behold, we found this little cavelike place that we could hang out in,” said Pelepchan, now an engineer with three children who attend Smoky Hill.

On the one hand, I am suprised it stayed secret this long. On the other hand, ‘boo’ for uncovering “things students do that they shouldn’t” in the name of high school investigative journalism. “Things students do that they shouldn’t” is part of an overall system of inherent subversiveness that is necessary for healthy adolescent development. I’d hate to be the kid who said “are you looking for the secret room” to the reporter. He’s officially a pariah.