November 17, 1998
JIM FISHER: Far off lights on a Friday night in rural Kansas. No mystery. Just football. The eight-man kind towns on the high plains play - five men up front, three backs. It's a quicker game, more razzle-dazzle. Plus, it's practical. Tipton High School has just nine kids on its squad.
SPOKESMAN: A lot of game left now. Don't let up.
JIM FISHER: There in the stands are farmers, tradesmen, factory workers, retired folks, and behind those faces a wondrous secret - one visible in the light of day. You might miss it when you first look at Main Street - two blocks long, with its grocery store and bank, a lumberyard and a farm equipment manufacturing plant. And then what's this? Curtis P. 40 War Hawk fighter planes salvaged from as far away as Siberia and Australia being restored as good as new by a local businessman. But that's not the real secret in Tipton -- a German Catholic community of 300. The real secret is this: kids. Go into any of a thousand small Midwestern towns these days and beside the café, the post office, bank, and grain company, there will be a boarded-up, abandoned school - no kids, no laughter, no kick the can, no football and baseball, and, worse yet, empty swings. The kids have been bused off to schools miles away.
SPOKESMAN: Garbonzo beans and doughnuts.
JIM FISHER: But it didn't happen here. Fred Smith, former suburban Chicago cop, moved to this quiet town for a better life for his kids. He's become very involved with the school issues and has served on the school board.
FRED SMITH, Tipton Grocery Store Owner: My philosophy is you take a school out of a community, you close a community, because it's an integral part of community. Business, school, youth, those things combine to make community, and I think more and more towns and rural economies are going to start having to realize that. You can't consolidate. You got to level towns like Tipton, keep their schools.
JIM FISHER: Tipton High is one of those boxy old Catholic schools you find here and there around Kansas. It gets not a dime of tax funds. The money comes from church goers, who literally pass the plate every Sunday, from area businesses, from townspeople, and from huge fund-raisers every summer. Believe it or not, this school has a $2 million endowment, and everybody pitches in, especially the parents, who run the concessions at the football games, who act as bus drivers, and who, if need be, will come over and actually repair the 81-year-old structure. It's a school with just thirty-two students, five teachers, and thirty-four courses in subjects ranging from math, English, religion, history, computer technology, speech and drama, social studies, and physical education. Sorry. No life skills or getting in touch with your inner self.
TEACHER: Let's just go right across the board. What about Mexico?
JIM FISHER: Every graduate the last few years has gone on to college, vocational training, or the military. A sixth of those who have attended Tipton High between 1986 and 1996 have become teachers. The superintendent is the no-nonsense Father Albert DeSanctus, also the pastor of the adjacent St. Bonifice Catholic Church.
FATHER ALBERT DE SANCTUS, Superintendent, Tipton High School: Basically, my philosophy is that in our classes we teach values and we teach the simpler values of family and community, God, and nation. And those are the kinds of values that people in rural communities adhere to. They're the values that people settle here for; they're the values that people are brought up with; they're the values that people cherish; and they're the values that people fight for; and they're still willing to fight for them; and they're willing to fight for it to keep the school open, teach those values.
TEACHER: Only use five drops of that silver nitrate, because it's expensive.
JIM FISHER: So it's basics, but it's also something else. Take Kurtis Carrico, the science teacher. He came here with a masters degree but through a glitch ended up with a bachelor's degree pay scale. When the error was discovered, he was owed money, 3,000 bucks.
KURTIS CARRICO, Science Teacher: I had some back pay, and it was coming to me, which was about $3,000. And I - since I didn't really miss it, I didn't realize it, I just told them to go ahead and put it into the science department and maybe we can do some good things with it, and so he was warm to that idea, so we went ahead and donated the back pay that I was going to be given to the science department and bought some nice Physics equipment and a skeleton in the background with it too.
SPOKESMAN: The 1998 Tipton homecoming queen.
JIM FISHER: A small school out on the plains, one that made the leap in deciding that they needed to invest in just one thing if they wanted to save their community from the ceaseless winds: their kids - kids who horse around walking home from school, play only as kids can. Far-off lights on a Friday night in rural Kansas. No mystery. Just football and a very special school. I'm Jim Fisher.
JIM LEHRER: And Jim Fisher is a columnist for the Kansas City Star.