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It’s Not Just “The Field House”

Who Was Walter E. Hawkes?
Bridget Parks (’21)

Basketball practices, pep rallies, and gym classes are all held in the same building attached by a bridge to the high school. Thousands of people from in and out of the town step foot every single year in the Walter E. Hawkes Field House, but do any of them know a single thing about the man named Walter E. Hawkes?

Walter E. Hawkes, the Man

According to a February 1972 article in the Reading Chronicle, Coach Walter E. Hawkes had many roles for the high school. Originally from Danvers, Massachusetts, Hawkes joined the Reading faculty in 1933 after graduating from Springfield College, first starting off as a PE coach for Parker Middle School. Then in 1958 was when Hawkes was promoted to athletic director for RMHS. Hawkes continued his job as a physical education teacher and athletic director for the high school, having 43 years of service.

Outside of school hours, Walter E. Hawkes was also a six year coach for the RMHS basketball team, once for the football team.  He was also a World War II veteran serving for two years.  Hawkes was respected throughout the town for his calm mannerism and his love for the kids that he taught in his years at the middle school and high school, claiming in the same 1972 Reading Chronicle article, “seeing them go on and making something of themselves” was his greatest joy of working in Reading.

Walter E. Hawkes in a photograph featured in the February 10 edition of the Reading Chronicle.

Walter E. Hawkes Field House

The Field House is home to many events across the year including decades of graduations, town elections, and college fairs. But this was not always the case. Reading High School never had a Field House until the year 1970, where the $7 million expansion of the high school included a Field House. In a 1972 article from the Reading Chronicle, it is stated that the field house was built to specifications that Hawkes requested. The field house that we know and love has gone through significant changes. In 2008 renovations to the field house included the bridge that now connects it to the main building and a much larger, window-filled lobby.

An architectural drawing of the original design for the Hawkes Field House floor. This originally appeared in the November 20, 1969 edition of The Reading Chronicle.

His Legacy

Many students looked up to their teacher and athletic director which is why he is now honored in the Hall of Fame of RMHS. 

Hawkes retired in 1976 feeling that it was his time to finally retire. Hawkes had many problems with his kidney which pushed his decision to retire. Many coaches talked about their admiration of Hawkes, including RMHS Hall of Famer, Coach John Hollingsworth, who was quoted in a 1976 Reading Chronicle article regarding Hawkes’s retirement:  “When he was coaching he always kept you at an even keel. If you lost the game, he was always the first to encourage you. And if you won the game and thought you were pretty hot stuff, he would always be the first one telling you what you did wrong. He kept you from being overconfident, but he also kept you from being depressed. I for one will sorely miss him.”

Hawkes unfortunately passed away in December of 1976, the same month of his retirement at the age of 64. An article published in the June 15, 1977 edition of the Reading Chronicle shows that that year’s RMHS Salutatory Address focused on former athletic director Hawkes. The writer, Fred Conover of the class of 1977, wrote, “Mr. Hawkes gave everything he could give to this world for 64 years, and although he experienced many misfortunes during those years, he never gave up…And if every one of us at some point in our lives, can exhibit an ounce of the courage and strength that he displayed during his lifetime, that in itself will be something that Reading High School can be proud of.”

Walter E. Hawkes Field House was a dedication to a hard working PE teacher, athletic director, and coach for many years. But now it is a memorial where RMHS students can pursue–through athletics, physical education, and other activities–all that Walter E. Hawkes represented.

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