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Bird Calling Contest

Johnny Carson - 1986

From Piedmont High:

“Wax,” a student asked one lazy afternoon in 1963, “can we do something to liven things up around here?”  With this request in mind, Mr. Leonard J. Waxdeck recalled an interesting experience from his factory days and created the show that everyone knows today as the Piedmont High School Bird Calling Contest.

That was the beginning of the legend, as it has been reprinted in contest programs for more than five decades. It goes on to recount the multiple appearances on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson”, followed by multiple appearances on “Late Night with David Letterman” as well.

Though the Contest changed irrevocably in the fall of 1994 with the death of its founder, it has been carried on by the many who share in the spirit of innovation and fun of Mr. Waxdeck.  In honor of the tradition that he created, we continue to present the Annual Piedmont High School Bird Calling Contest year after year. Our hope is that with the support of the community and students, this venerable tradition will continue for many years to come.

Piedmont High is home to the nationally known Leonard J. Waxdeck Bird Calling Contest. Winners of the contest have appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. The contest was started in 1963 by biology teacher Leonard J. Waxdeck.

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Oakland Tribune - Fri - Apr. 3, 1970

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Oakland Tribune - Wed - May 16, 1973:

Waxdeck pointed out, by the way of introduction, that in these days of 300-pound football players and seven-foot-tall basketballers, a bird-calling contest is refreshing, indeed, and he went on to read congratulatory telegrams from such people as Lady-bird Johnson (Former First Lady of the United States/Wife of Lyndon Johnson), Spiro Agnew (39th vice president of the United States), Ronald Regan (then California Governor of California and future President), Senators Cranston and Tunney, Lester Maddox, William Buckley (conservative author and commentator), John Lindsay (politician and lawyer), Henry Kissinger (politician) and even Golda Meir (Former Prime Minister of Israel). They expressed regret at not being able to attend in response to invitations the school sent, and the best of all was from the White House, saying the President (Richard Nixon) regrets "that official demands on his time make it impossible for him to be with you." One Herbert Caen wired that he would like to be there because "the champagne and strawberry reception to follow sounds SO Piedmont."

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Piedmont High School Bird Calling Contest of 2013.

Becca Havian (my little sister), Amy Kelleher and Jo Ireland on the Late Show with David Letterman

Oakland Tribune - Wed - May 16, 1973

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Oakland Tribune - Sat - Apr. 3, 1965

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The Piedmont Highlander

Piedmont’s Past: Academics, Social Life, Athletics, and the Bird Calling Contest, March 17, 2014:

Bird Calling Contest

“Wax,” a student asked one lazy afternoon in 1963, “can we do something to liven things up around here?”

And that’s where it all started.

Founder of what is now known as the Annual Bird Calling Contest, biology teacher Leonard J. Waxdeck took this request in mind and began this treasured tradition in his classroom.

“I don’t know how long it took to build it up to where it was,” math teacher Edmund Mahoney, who began teaching at PHS 35 years ago, said, “but it did start as a small little thing in the classroom, and then it turned big.”

Mahoney said that when he first starting teaching, Waxdeck had already been here for about 20 years.

“Waxdeck was a character and one of the mainstays of the faculty,” Mahoney said. “He was kind of flamboyant, strong-willed, had a big ego, and was fun.”

Mahoney said that in his first years at PHS, the contest was a big deal.

“[There were] articles in the paper, it’d be on the news, they’d have celebrity judges and all,” Mahoney said. “And [Waxdeck] was a big part of that because he got it organized and got these celebrity judges and really built it up to be a big event.”

Physics teacher Glen Melnik began subbing at PHS for Waxdeck and other teachers in 1977. Melnik said when he first became associated with Piedmont, the contest was already in full swing.

“It used to be a very formal event,” Melnik said. “They would wear tuxedos for the guys and formal attire for the girls. Back then they used to have bird calling coaches that would actually come in and coach ahead of time for weeks.”

In 1993, a year after she began teaching at PMS, contest stage manager Linda Jarvis said that Larry Zedaker, a science teacher and close friend of Waxdeck’s, gave her a ticket to the show.

“It was a sellout and I couldn’t even buy a ticket, so luckily I was given one,” Jarvis said. “I sat in the front row of the theater and I was memorized, I was hooked. I thought, ‘This is awesome. I love this.’”

Prior to his passing away in 1994, Waxdeck would emcee the contest.

“He was kind of a legend. He was a real showman,” Jarvis said. “He had such a presence, and it was his show, and that’s why it worked.”

Melnik said Waxdeck would give incredible presentations to kick off the contest, in which he would read off invitations and responses he supposedly sent and received from famous people.

“He would say, ‘Yes I gave an invitation to the Queen of England and she answered back,” Melnik said. “He would read these denial things, whether they were true or not, nobody knew, but they were hilarious.”

Mahoney said that back then, there would be more acts compared to the number there are now. After the contest, there would be a champagne and strawberry party at someone’s mansion in Piedmont.

“It was a more elaborate, bigger affair,” Mahoney said. “Not to take anything away from it now – I’m glad they brought it back and continued it on, but it definitely had more flare in its early days, and a lot of it was due to Waxdeck and his personality.”

Oakland Tribune - Sat - May 8, 1965

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