top of page

Looking back at Lincoln School

Madera County Historical Society

This photograph was one of many that Lincoln principal James Pyer stuck in his album. It appears to be the Lincoln School basketball team. There is no identification, however, on the reverse, the name Bill Allesseni has been penciled in.


Cash on the barrelhead, that’s what was expected, so the kids had their money in hand. It was Wednesday, and that meant that it was Bank Day at Lincoln School in 1953.

This writer had never heard of Bank Day until Carles Beckett, long time educator, administrator, and mentor to MUSD, loaned him a huge album that had once belonged to James N. Pyer, the last principal of the old Lincoln School and the first principal of Thomas Jefferson Junior High School. Beneath the cover was a cardboard sign that read “Tomorrow is Bank Day.” That prompted a search of back issues of the Tribune and the discovery that Bank Day was Pyer’s brain child.

The Madera educator apparently wanted to use money to teach the students about the real world. Kids would come to school, proudly clasping deposit slips and could be seen each Wednesday converging on the table in the front hall.

Pyer started Bank Day at Lincoln in Oct. 1952, and by March of 1953, 495 students had made deposits at the school’s very own savings bank. They totaled $2,725!

Obviously the principal was excited about the new teaching tool. He told a Tribune reporter, “The youngsters are not only getting valuable lessons in thrift, but are also establishing habits of systematic savings that will be useful in years to come. In addition to this, they are learning how to make deposit slips, how to write dollars and cents, and how to make accounts balance.”

The kids took turns acting as tellers and adding machine operators. Students from the fourth through the eighth grade were eligible to open accounts.

After solving the mystery of the Bank Day sign, the writer went back to Pyer’s album. It is a veritable treasure trove of local history. Pyer had one of those minds that lived on details. He kept the names of every Lincoln student who attended the school during its final year. He recorded track meets, basketball games, and football games beginning in 1931, and not just the team results but individual players as well — both Lincoln’s students and their opponents.

For instance, in 1945, Lincoln won the Madera County basketball championship for the second year in a row, finishing undefeated. Pyer noted Lincoln’s outstanding players--Richard Rigby and Fountain Rudel. He listed the details of every game — the players on both teams and the points they scored.

Pyer must have been a basketball fanatic. Interspersed between the pages of his album is a list of more than 80 “do’s and don’ts” of basket ball that he compiled in 1932. They include the following:

“If a man gets in your way while dribbling, flip the ball up over his head and keep on dribbling.”

“The biggest sin in basketball is to get the ball and get in the habit of bouncing (just) once.”

“If you are dribbling and want to go around a man, back pivot and go around. If you can’t pivot and dribble at the same time, pass the ball.”

“Keep arms straight and outstretched at sides when guarding as this gives more protection against bounce passes.”

“The Shifting Ball Defense is based on the fundamental principle that only the ball is dangerous.”

In Pyer’s opinion, Lincoln School once housed the finest athletes in the Valley. He recalls championship games and athletic organizations at Lincoln and lists names that became well-known — names such as Dick Brady, Rich Rigby, Lloyd Taylor, Bill Ceroni, Maurice Capellutti, and Gim Woo.

Pyer, however, did not confine himself to naming Lincoln students. He recorded some of his thoughts about their playing as well.

In a 1939 basketball game against Howard, Pyer wrote: “Howard wins Madera County championship. Lincoln played a good game but made only one shot out of 6 fouls. The guarding was weak on occasion, which really lost the game. Lincoln outplayed Howard for the last three quarters. Several bad passes also helped to defeat the Railspliters (Lincoln). First quarter score-Howard 10, Lincoln 4; half time score-Howard 12, Lincoln 8. Lincoln really had the better team and should have ended the season undefeated. Poli of Howard was almost 17 years old and was a good player.” The score was Howard-23, Lincoln-21. Three weeks later, however, Pyer recorded a different story.

“Lincoln wins San Joaquin Valley championship. Howard put up a desperate game and was leading 10-4 at the half. Lincoln scored 14 points to 6 for Howard in the last half. First team to achieve this goal.” The score was 18 to 16.

There is no evidence that Pyer compiled 20 years of data on Lincoln School for any reason other than his own pleasure. Little did he know that his album would wind up in the hands of the first principal of the new Lincoln School and then made public. We are certain, however that he would be pleased to know that Madera is still learning from the last principal of the old Lincoln School.

bottom of page