More than 250 alumni band students, some from as far away as Portland, Ore., descended on East Hall High School last week to honor their former teacher.
Mercer E. Crook was a band director at the high school for 31 years and currently teaches music at Gainesville State College.
During the football game Oct. 8, Crook was named the third inductee into the high school's Hall of Fame. His former students brought out their instruments at halftime and played songs that were personal to Crook.
"We played the East Hall victory march, which Mercer wrote himself. We still use it today," East Hall band director Craig Cantrell said.
The event was planned as a surprise, but the band teacher had caught wind of the ceremony. Cantrell said Crook was still overwhelmed and humbled by the attention.
"That night, there wasn't a dry eye in the stands. People had tears from hearing the history of what he had done and seeing how many came back to honor him," Cantrell said.
When Crook began teaching at East Hall in 1970, his classroom had about 15 members, but within the first month, the number quickly grew to 32. He had a similar impact at Gainesville College where enrollment jumped from 10 to 65.
Cantrell was a student of Crook's in the 1990s and said his teaching style was no-nonsense, militant and very demanding.
"He would tell us as we walked into the room, that no matter what goes on with the rest of your life, excellence begins when you walk through the doors."
Under Crook's direction, the East Hall band performed in the Tournament of Roses parade, two Cotton Bowl parades, two Philadelphia Thanksgiving parades and many others.
Cantrell said Crook's son, Michael, calculated the trips his father took with the band during his career. He discovered it was 20,326; just 4,000 miles less than the circumference of the globe.
During Crook's tenure, the East Hall Symphonic and Concert Bands received superior ratings over 90 percent of the time.
"He took a small AA school and made it into a statewide power," Cantrell said.
About a year ago, Cantrell said that Crook was involved in a car accident that nearly took his life. He believes Crook's love of music and desire to teach helped drive his recovery.
"When this accident happened, there was such an outpouring of support for him and his family," Cantrell said. "Now he's back on his feet and doing what he loves."
Students from across the state travelled to Friday's ceremony after reading announcements on Facebook.
Cantrell said one 1996 graduate drove from Portland, Ore. The earliest band alumni in the crowd graduated in 1977.
Some of the song selections included "Georgia On My Mind," "Amazing Grace" and "Mustang Sally." Each of Crook's sons also played a solo.
The band director was also rewarded with a large plaque that was unveiled at the top of the stadium entrance.
Cantrell said students remember Crook's life lessons, as well as his passion for teaching music.
Personally, Cantrell said that his former teacher helped him to graduate from high school.
"He gave me the love of music and that's what I do everyday now. He inspired me to be a band director," he said.