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For Gainesville High alumni, tradition never graduates
Red Elephant graduates from 1960 to 72 gathering for reunion, renaming of original gym
Gainesville High School alumni, from left with year graduated, Counte Cooley of '63, Jackie Cooley of '69, Nita Baker of '63, Merrianne Dyer of '70, Jean Brannon of '67, Bill Morrison of '63, Jane Belmore of '66, Linda Cornett of '66, Charles Langford of '68 and Sammy Smith of '70, surround a banner proclaiming the school's old gym as the Alumni Gym. The naming of the gym is part of a mass reunion for the classes of 1960-1972 this weekend. - photo by Tom Reed

It's time to come back home.

Gainesville High School is holding a mass reunion tonight for classes 1960 to 1972, but graduates from 1956 to 1978 are dropping in as well.

A handful of alumni returned to the campus Friday afternoon, taking a look at the changing landscape and remembering the last original building still standing: the old gymnasium.

The school at its current location opened in 1958, and the gym was completed in 1960, making this year its 50th anniversary. The Gainesville City Schools Board of Education voted to rename the gym as the "Alumni Gym," and Superintendent Merrianne Dyer will announce the renaming tonight at the reunion.

Dyer showed up Friday in her letterman sweater, and several of the friends recalled times they were majorettes and athletes attending games in the gym.

"I remember playing on the 1961 football team, which was ranked No. 1 in the state," said Bill Morrison, a 1963 graduate. "Around that time, we had two players who went pro — Billy Lothridge and Billy Martin — and even a short street on the side of the school was later named for Lothridge."

Sammy Smith, a school board member and 1970 graduate, told the group about the new roof put on the gym within the last two months and an upcoming paint job. Although the bottom floor is functional, the original entrance needs work, he said.

"It just needs another face-lift, and we're used to that," Counte Cooley, 1963 graduate, said with a smile.
The friends took pictures of each other with an "Alumni Gym" banner, making jokes about getting old and discussing the places where they used to hang out. Dyer recalled the tradition of painting the rock near the school, where students express school spirit or special occasions.

"It started in 1967, when construction was going on and the rock couldn't be blown up. The city gave us a certificate for it," she said. "I went over there the other night, and kids were camping out and pulled out the certificate and said they were guarding the rock."

The group was glad to hear that some traditions never change — except one.

"My most memorable times were one-on-one meetings with Herbert Strickland in the boiler room," said Cooley as others laughed about times when he was punished. "My last paddling was in '62. Man, things have changed."

For Jane Bennett Belmore, Class of 1967, high school was the first time many of the students were able to take on leadership roles and responsibilities in the community.

"We were able to start being leaders in the city, and now see us as we are today," she said, indicating community members like Dyer who have stayed in Gainesville and taken on top leadership roles. "My last memory was of graduation, and I was crying so hard."

The reunion plan started in October when a group gathered in Gainesville for a funeral and started talking about getting back together. With T-shirts sporting the theme "Tradition never graduates," alumni will be able to meet up with friends at the Gainesville Civic Center tonight and remember high school days in a memorabilia room featuring old uniforms, jerseys, yearbooks and scrapbooks.