Smyrna High was a Fundamental and Innate School Established on Solid Ground

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By Susan Harber

In part 2 of the collective history on Smyrna High, we will continue a journey into the tapestry of life within one exceptional school in our county, as we touch on the bare highlights of a longstanding legacy.

Old Rock School is a modern namesake for the school, as Smyrna High was the only identity from the first day. When you visit Southern Bank on Lowry Street in Smyrna, one can view the fantastic historical display of class portraits from this school.

The first teachers at Rock School were Amanda Miller Edmondson, Amanda Eleanor Stockard, Effie Haynes and Maxine Chapman. Edmondson produced beautiful operettas for the school. During recess, teachers often played games with their students. Several boys brought homemade hickory sticks for hockey; and rough play was generally intact.

 

The popular instruction manuals through 1920 included Blue Back Speller, Ray’s Arithmetic, and McGriffey’s Reader.

Before 1925, teachers and students arrived to school by foot. Some walked up to five miles. Others arrived by horseback, wagon and buggy. Vehicles were stored in a shed on our current-day College Street. Mischief and pranks from wandering students was ever-present behind these barns. The introduction of school buses in 1930 was a life-altering manner of transport for pupils and a burden lifted for parents.

Local Smyrna resident Joe Gourley conveys his Smith cousins caught a bus on Couchville Pike in Wilson County and traveled to Smyrna High. Families realized the quality education at Rock School with established and excellent teachers.

Many students labored on their family farm milking cows and tending to agricultural duties before school commenced. My Uncle Randy Johns conveys he milked a dozen cows at his farm on Lamar Road in Old Jefferson before his school day was underway.

Facilities at the school improved over time. Students originally utilized an Outhouse, as plumbing implements were unavailable until the 1920s. At that time, some students now experienced indoor plumbing firsthand at Smyrna High. Drinking water was available from a well and a lever pump. In the early days, rooms were heated by stoves in the winter. In August, school convened with no air conditioner at hand; yet, no one knew the difference, and school carried on in an effective stride.

Christmas was celebrated as an exciting season within the walls of the school. A live Christmas tree with real candles was standing tall and lovely, as students held dear to holiday customs.

Another early grand occasion was a community picnic on graduation. Students dressed in special attire, and big fun ensued for the entire day.

Sports were gaining ground every year with several spectacular athletes, as well as the fun and recreation that transpired in these games. Basketball was predominant in 1925. Athletes played between two wings of the school building on a dirt court. Whitney Stegall, former Circuit Court Judge and Chancellor, was a teacher and basketball coach for the famed women’s basketball team of 1937-1938. The women’s squad won all their games but one; and they were victorious at the state tournament. During Whitney’s sojourn with the school, his compensation for teaching and coaching was $75 a month. From his salary, he paid $20 for room and board.

Baseball was the only sport until the mid-1920s and was played competitively. From 1915-1916, Smyrna High had the best baseball team ever assembled and was dominant for spectators. The team was undefeated, while two future Major League players participated on a high level. The athletes were later known nationwide as Johnny Gooch and his first cousin Charley Gooch.

The first football team was comprised of Alden Maddux, Gregory Peebles, Inman Swain, Clifford Lenoir, Robert D. Jones, Frank Johns Sr, J.H. Sanders, Jack Lee and Clarence Posey (quarterback). My cousin Hubert Johns played on the 1923 football team, and his coach was John Tucker. Twins and future politicians Sam and Knox Ridley played both offense and defense on the 1938 team and were true competitors weighing at 108 pounds.

The band organized with 30 members in 1957 by director Joe D. Vansickle and later shined for years alongside the football games. In 1960, the band played for the first time at an athletic event. The following year, the band attained uniforms and was comprised of 60 members in a progressive momentum.

Food was no problem at Smyrna High, as country cooks knew exactly how to organize a progressive program for meals. Students initially brought lunch or went home to have a meal and return to school. Yet, in the Spring of 1934, the PTA began a Soup Kitchen in the school basement for needy students. Some students received free lunches and others paid 10 cents during the Depression years. In 1935, the WPA Kitchen, a federal program, opened as a strong component in providing meals. The 1944 Hot Lunch program originated in the Barracks with stoves, refrigerators and good cooks. During the Depression, 75% of students received free lunches and 25% paid for their meals. Nonetheless, students in Rutherford County overall did not experience the depths of economic turmoil within the Depression era. Many rural farms provided food, and life was not destitute as in other sections of our country.

Box Suppers were a frequent method of fund-raising. These prized suppers were contained within a beautifully decorated box and sold to highest bidder. Uncle Dave Macon performed a show at the school and shared his revenue for the evening as a donation. Raising money for educational necessities was taken seriously.

In 1947, Smyrna High obtained a Barracks building from the Thompson Lane Naval Station. This structure was situated behind the Stone School and used for classes and cafeteria.

Roy Waldron, who carries the namesake of Roy Waldron School, was a developer in Lavergne and on the Board of Education for nine years. He relates ‘the Smyrna school was like a family on a high level and close-knit forevermore.’

The Board of Education purchased property on Hazelwood Drive and constructed a modern high school building. In January 1960, grades 7-12 moved to this location and began a new generation in education. The stone building of 1932 continued to be engaged for a short time by elementary students.

Remarkably, Old Rock School burned in 1976, and the building was a total loss. A contract of $10,000 was given to L.D. Lanford to demolish the building.

Our current high school is highly visible on Bulldog Drive where my children Katherine and Michael Harber both graduated. The coming of Robert Raikes is a longstanding and storied chapter of time. Raikes was a win-win leader for the school for 50 years. He was the former Science teacher, football and basketball coach for 14 years before serving as the school’s outstanding principal from 1973-2011. He played football at Smyrna High from 1953-1955, and the current football field is his namesake.

I stopped by Mr. Raikes’ office to chat and say hello on several occasions, and he was always friendly and personable. I realized right away that he was a peacemaker with deep fairness desiring every student succeed and every teacher provide a quality education. I witnessed his relationship with students and parents, as he conveyed solutions in a reasonable and calm manner. During Raikes’ tenure, Smyrna High won a girls’ basketball championship, four boys’ bowling championships and two football titles under Coach Philip Shadowens.

In 1988, Smyrna High was split into the current Lavergne and Smyrna schools, and a new stage was set for the 21st century in primary education. Smyrna High School has a current enrollment of 1,800 students.

The wonderful series of Gold Dust annuals originated in 1947 and provide integral school history. Smyrna High continues with ‘new history’ in a new day with a fabulous foundation of over 100 years. Many loved ones and relatives graduated from the school in Smyrna and continue to use the personal and professional skills gained through incredible teachers. Honoring the past of Smyrna High envisions a bright future for every student within our county educational system.