Growing Up in Wheeling: The Woodsdale Mafia

I was a pretty good boy and a good student at Woodsdale until I joined the mafia in the seventh grade. Magic happened when the kids from Edgington Lane, and Washington Avenue were mixed into our sedate group. To make matters worse the Catholic school sent their rejects over also. Everything got turned upside down. School became so much fun, you went even if you were sick because you might miss some shenanigans.

Like any good group of criminals we had a shakedown operation. Roger Subit was the frail kid who collected the lunch tokens at the door to the cafeteria. Roger became convinced it would be in his best interest if he cooperated with our scheme to get free lunches. Parents gave kids lunch money. With the money you bought a token for a quarter. The token got you into the cafeteria. If you had one of our stolen tokens you got to spend your lunch money at the drugstore across the street.

Here is how the system worked. After a few kids legitimately got into the cafeteria Roger would have some tokens. Now someone had to get down to the cafeteria as fast as possible to get a few tokens from Rodger. The exchange took place in the boys bathroom. Often I was the runner who ran from the classrooms over the gym clear to the cafeteria in the basement.

Mr. Hile was the principal. He could have played Abraham Lincoln in any movie. Mr. Hile noticed that this running was going on, but had no clue why. Mr. Hile or Black Dan as we referred to him, decided to set a trap. The newer part of the school was added on after the original school was built. On the second floor this meant there was a two step transition which got you up into the junior high area. Lockers lined both sides of the hallway where the two steps were. However, like missing teeth there were a couple locker spaces that were empty.

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Black Dan knew a runner would come screaming through there when the last bell of the morning signaled lunch. Mr Hile stood inconspicuously in the empty locker space and waited. It was my day to make the run. As I blasted through the transition area Mr Hile somehow tried to grab me. Something went wrong and Mr. Hile tripped me. I had no idea what force intercepted my body, but I went flying in spectacular fashion through the air and took a tumble worthy of a ski slope crash as I was launched from the top step. Although I was not seriously hurt I just laid on the floor and tried to figure out what it was that had attacked me. Mr. Hile was shaken up and thought he may have killed me. Had things been less violent I am sure Mr. Hile would have given me quite the chew. Shocked as he was and concerned he may have just knocked out a seventh grader he just informed me as I came out of my dazed state that I was not to run through the hall like that anymore.

Well there is more than one way to skin a cat or rob a cafeteria. Woodsdale had a 16 mm projector. Anyone who grew up in that era remembers watching movies at school on the great projector. Someone had to run those projectors, so there were projector boys. Now, in the closet where the projector was kept were also the blank weekly lunch room passes good for five days. To thwart chicanery passes were printed in different colors. So every week a color was picked at random, and the ticket was made valid by stamping Mr. Hile’s signature on the back with a rubber stamp. We could get the tickets, but we could not get the papal seal. This problem was resolved. One simply took a pencil and scratched heavily over where the signature was supposed to be, then wrote something funny like bugs bunny. If one examined the ticket, which no one did they would think the kid just did this for a joke. Of course there was no signature under that scratching. Now our little organization could sell discount weekly tickets or daily tokens.

Over time our scam resulted in some accounting problems for the cafeteria. The money that should have appeared did not. Our group became suspect. One day Mr Hile called us into his office and basically made a round about plea agreement. Mr. Hile informed us that the cafeteria was losing money, he admitted he did not know how, but he suspected we had something to do with it. We were not caught, but we saw it was time to close down.