On Wednesday afternoons during football and basketball seasons, Gainesville High School cheerleaders trot out to the rock across the street from the high school and begin an after-school art project.
Not only are they protecting a piece of school pride, they are also keeping up a long-standing tradition at the school, where the rock is painted for extra school spirit during playoff season. But on other days, the rock could bear wishes for birthdays or graduations for other Gainesville High students — just as long as the student getting the wishes is a student there.
“It has to be a student at the high school, enrolled at the high school,” said Mindy Ferran, a front office administrator at Gainesville High School who helps schedule when the rock gets painted. “We have a form they fill out and they take a copy with them when they paint the rock.”
If you have a special occasion coming up for your son, daughter or friend — and they go to Gainesville High — they can be honored on the outcropping of granite alongside West Bypass, alongside Wilshire Trails park. Except Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays when sports is in full swing, she said.
“So Sunday through Tuesday is normally available,” Ferran said. “You can only have it for one day; you can paint it the night before but you have to leave what’s on it visible for the next day.”
It’s important to keep the paperwork authorizing the painting with you, she said, just in case a police officer stops to ask you questions.
Technically, according to the Gainesville Police Department, the rock is on school property and painting it without permission could get you charged with criminal trespass, punishable up to a $1,000 fine and one year in jail.
But there was a time when the rock was just an odd spot in the woods, a place for kids to hang out.
This was before Gainesville High School was built, but once construction started on the new school, the rock was exposed.
“When they cut that road to build the four-lane, which was our senior year, they cut all the trees away and it just appeared,” said Phil Davis, whose class of 1968 was given the rock as honorary custodians.
In a 1988 story from The Times, then-Police Commissioner Harold Black recalled how the rock was unearthed.
“They tried to move it with the bulldozers, and it wouldn’t budge. They’d just sit there and spin,” he said in the article. “So they just kept digging out around it and it became a huge rock. ... The next thing we knew, the Gainesville High students had gone down there and painted that rock.”
Kristy Nix, also a member of the class of ’68, said they were the first ones to paint the rock and start the school spirit tradition.
“Sometime in late ’66 or early ’67, they started clearing that (road),” she said, adding that in October 1967, then-Mayor John Cromartie officially gave the rock to the new high school.
The tradition to paint it began just a few months before.
“The rock would have been painted a few months before Mayor Cromartie donated that to the school. My class would have turned drivers in ’66, and the group that painted that would have been driving.”
Apparently there has been some discussion about which group from the glass of 1968 officially painted the rock first, but Nix said what really matters is it was all members of the class of ’68.
Throughout the years, the rock has been defiled by rival schools — the first one being Riverside Military Academy, one of Gainesville’s rivals when the rock tradition started. Beverly Nordholz, who is now retired but served for many years as the principal’s secretary, said there was never a big problem with other schools painting their own messages on the rock.
In the late 1980s, it was decided that only Gainesville High students could paint on the rock, Nordholz said.
This past football season, with a rivalry that continues to brew between Gainesville and North Hall, some students took matters into their own hands.
Junior Katie Allison, who was recently painting a birthday message on the rock with friends, said they camped out at the rock to protect it.
“We had to get special permission,” Allison said.
Today, students cover the flat side of the rock with cans of spray paint. The surface is occasionally burned, Nordholz said, to keep the paint from building up.
And as far as decorating it, students today say new spray paint technology helps save their fingers.
“Sprayers really save your life,” Allison said of special tops parents buy for the spray paint cans.
“You use muscles you never use,” added junior Shelby Hallowes.