Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore |

Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore

Tony Vagneur
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

It was mid-April. Temperatures hovered in the 30s, deep snow covered the ground outside, and Olympian and future Colorado Ski Hall of Famer Steve Rieschl herded us up and down the halls of the Red Brick School with a whistle and a keen eye.

Ever mindful of his athletes, Rieschl preferred the hardwood floor of the hall over that of the gymnasium for running – there was more give to it. We were forced into this bizarre indoor training schedule because it was impossible to conduct track practice outside, and as a consequence, the Red Brick School added one more memory to the huge bank it already held.

Today’s Red Brick Center for the Arts actually once was a public school; in fact, it housed all 12 grades. Built in 1941, it originally contained only classrooms – the gymnasium and performance stage didn’t come along until 1951-52. The Washington School (Fifth and Bleeker), elementary school for the town’s children, closed for safety reasons (it was getting ready to fall down) and while the new building of red brick material was under construction, grade-school lessons took place at the Hotel Jerome. High school classes were in D.R.C. Brown Sr.’s old house, which since has burned down, located on the site where the Yellow Brick holds court today.

There aren’t many old photos of the Red Brick, but the ones that exist are remarkably the same and express the uniqueness of Aspen, even in those long-ago days. Almost every photo shows smiling kids with skis over their shoulders, milling down the sidewalks, headed to the mountain. Early ski racing pioneers such as Dave Stapleton, Max Marolt, Keith Marolt, Melvin Hoagland, Tony Deane and others walked those hallowed halls. We were a proud, highly engaged school when brothers Max and Billy Marolt made the Olympic team (’60 and ’64, respectively). Terry Morse, a classmate of mine, went on to Olympic fame in 1972.

Don’t start thinking I’m name-dropping or trying to impress you, but it’s important to note that the Red Brick School was never a small-town, podunk operation. Some kids never finished the curriculum, others went on to Ivy League schools, a couple committed suicide, and even others made names for themselves in the business world. Some of us still live here. It was a hodgepodge of some of the best kids in the world, names and faces that none of us will ever forget.

There aren’t that many rooms in the building, so think of the logistical nightmare of managing the place: Grades one through six were stationary, in the same classroom all day, but seven through 12 moved from room-to-room every hour, and that’s a lot of kids shambling through the locker-lined halls. Definitely cramped, but it never seemed that way. In addition, there was a state-of-the-art science laboratory and a well-stocked library that doubled as study hall. Physical education was required and taught in the gymnasium, which got a few kids out of the way each hour.

If you’re a politician or tax collector, it might be important to blather on about academic achievement, but I don’t think it matters much to the students themselves. School is less about academics than it is about social interaction, and that is the stuff we remember most. How many love affairs started (or ended) in the hallway during the hourly shuffle; how many camping or hunting or weekend trips were planned during the day? Disagreements were hatched and resolved, tears shed, and smiles and hugs and handshakes made it all OK. We were all heroes or bums, depending on the day. So much of what my life has been about is tied directly to the Red Brick School and the people who shared it with me.

It’s a big deal to have the Red Brick Center for the Arts near the middle of town, an amenity that other towns our size might never come up with, especially if you include the attached gymnasium and well-manicured lawn out front. But clearly, we need to honor the strong and lasting foundation of the predecessor Red Brick School, one that was laid long before the arts center was envisioned.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at

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