In the history of Whiteland Community High School, the legendary leadership of one man still inspires people today.
James Sleighter was the principal at the high school in the mid-1960s when it consolidated with the nearby Clark High School. He molded the two groups together, making each population of students feel welcome while ensuring that new consolidation didn’t interrupt their education.
“People may have forgotten that these consolidations brought all of these little schools together, with their own fight songs and traditions,” said Ann Conrow, a former high school choral director. “It was a huge deal. Clark gave up their school to be at Whiteland.”
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Whiteland named its high school football field in honor of Sleighter. He has been invited to the yearly reunions and alumni banquet as an honored guest. Now, the local community is showing their appreciation in another way.
A group of residents have produced a documentary about Sleighter and his tenure as high school principal. The 12-minute film will be screened for the public during a special event at 7 p.m. Thursday in Whiteland Community High School’s auditorium.
“It really gives a sense of history,” Conrow said. “He was there for so long, and had such a consistent leadership.”
Sleighter, 86, was principal at Whiteland from 1959 to 1990. He still lives in the community and is active with school functions.
The idea for the documentary about Sleighter’s career and his role in the consolidation effort came about earlier this year. Conrow and former Whiteland student, teacher and athletics director Butch Zike spearheaded the campaign to do something to honor Sleighter.
“We thought it would be nice if we had a little video of him, greeting his former students and colleagues, to wish them well and serve as a way to preserve memories,” Conrow said.
They enlisted Landry Long, a 2015 Whiteland graduate, to create the film. Long owns a videography company called A Not So Long Production and is studying film production at Taylor University. He volunteered his time to do the filming, editing and finished production.
“Whiteland is a special place for me, and I have such good memories of being home. I’m glad to be able to give back to a place that’s given so much to me,” Long said.
Long interviewed Sleighter, asking him to share his memories of the consolidation and how Whiteland developed afterward. To add to the visual impact of the documentary, he escorted Sleighter to the high school and out onto the football field, capturing his reaction.
He also filmed commentary from former choral director Joyce Duvall and former guidance counselor Gerry Ferguson, who were hired by Sleighter.
“I really inspire to tell stories that aren’t fabricated or fluffed up. I want to do it just right,” he said. “Mr. Sleighter made it easy. He is one of those guys who told it how it was, and he was a funny guy. Everyone that we interviewed was that way. They were very true and honest and fun to be around.”
Video tribute for James Sleighter
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: Whiteland Community High School auditorium, 300 Main St.
What: A screening of a short film about James Sleighter, principal at Whiteland Community High School for 31 years.