VHHS 20 years later


VHHS Yearbook

The Junior Class Student Council in their traditional yellow during the 2002-2003 Homecoming parade

2002 was a special year for VHHS. It was the first year the school had a senior class walking across the graduation stage as cougars, leaving behind a legacy for generations to follow. 

Now twenty years into the future, VHHS students still follow in their footsteps to excellence. Yet, much has changed within the school and student body. 

“I think one of the things that has changed is the size… There’s so many more students, there’s so many more teachers,” said Jason Czarnecki, who has been teaching at VHHS since its opening.

He went on to explain how the school community was very close, and how its smaller population led to a feeling of comradery.

School enrollment has grown a tremendous amount since its opening. The 2001-2002 student population was 1,092, while the 2021-2022 number was 1,572, almost a 44% increase over the last 20 years, according to Deborah Lehman, the school’s data processing specialist. 

Although VHHS opened in 1999, only freshmen from both LHS and VHHS attended. In 2000, the Libertyville students went back to their own school, while Vernon Hills kids stayed. Those kids graduated in 2003, leaving behind a legacy of their own and setting down a distinct school culture for generations to follow. 

Matthew Bellito explained his experiences as a teacher back when the school first opened. 

“I was impressed with how much spirit there was. I think it was a lot to do with those first few classes. They were trying to kind of create an identity for themselves,” Bellito said. 

According to Czarnecki, some Vernon Hills residents felt they were looked at as secondary when they went to LHS. They felt the kids that lived in Libertyville were embraced more than students from Vernon Hills. 

“So, when Vernon Hills had its own school, they would have the opportunity to have something that they felt was more the Vernon Hills community as opposed to just other kids going to Libertyville,” Czarnecki said.

The separation ultimately created a rivalry between the schools, as well as the communities. Urban Dictionary provides some insight on the early feud. 

“[Vernon Hills is] a town with inhabitants so scummy that its neighboring town, Libertyville, paid its inferior high school so they would not infest theirs,” said Brittany Johnson on November 5, 2005, quoted from the Urban Dictionary website.

The games between Vernon Hills and Libertyville were always packed, according to Patrick Chmura, a graduate from 2004. 

“They were always big games,” Chmura said, although he also recognized that Mundelein was also another rival school. “[Mundelein] kids used to teepee our houses during homecoming games.” 

Despite this early rivalry between the district schools, nowadays, many people make friends within both towns, parents and students alike. 

In the first years that the school opened, the community of Vernon Hills gathered to start special traditions, many of them lasting today.

“Because Vernon Hills split [From Libertyville] we formed a lot of traditions. We got to choose the mascot; it was between a cougar and a viper, and we all voted on it,” Chmura said. 

In 2001, when homecoming season had arrived, the students had dubbed it “newcoming,” because when the school first opened, no alumni were able to come back. The year’s theme was “A Whole New World,” symbolizing their fresh start to make a mark in their community. 

The 2001 VHHS yearbook provides insight into students’ experiences. 

“Once they turned off the lights, the dance was a lot of fun! To be part of the first dance at VHHS is a tradition in the making,” said Randi Herzberg from the class of 2002 in the yearbook’s “newcoming” page.

In addition to all the festivities regularly planned for homecoming week, like spirit week, the football game, and the dance], the community once hosted a town-wide parade and pep rally in celebration. 

“There was a warehouse where freshmen would meet to build their floats, and there were parents who helped out. They would start [the parade] in Deerpath, then go to the fire station then the school,” Bellito said.