Rivalry aside, Central-Tech reunion in works

By STACEY WIEDOWER

The Daily News

Ask a graduate of Central High School the name of the oldest high school in town, and expect an incredulous look and an immediate answer: "Central."

Ask a graduate of Memphis’ former Tech High School the same question, though, and anticipate hearing the reply, "Tech."

"There’s a lot of debate over whether Tech or Central is the oldest high school in town," said 1945 Tech graduate Denby Brandon. "The debate’s never been settled. They both were founded sometime early in the 1900s and for many years, they were the two biggest high schools here in Memphis."

Former students from the two schools — Central, which still operates in its original building at Bellevue and Linden, and Tech, which has long since closed its doors but whose building still stands at Poplar and Claybrook — will put aside the debate, and their past football rivalry, and convene for a reunion that will rival all others.

The Great Millennium Reunion will celebrate Memphis high school life in the 1940s, and all students who attended the two schools during that decade are invited to attend. The event will take place Oct. 6 and 7 at the Adam’s Mark Hotel at 939 Ridge Lake Blvd. in East Memphis. Tickets are $50 per person.

Highlights of the reunion will include a tribute to both schools’ 1940s football teams, complete with pictures of each school’s teams and players, as well as write-ups and scores of the 10 biggest high school games during that decade.

"People will get a chance to relive those 10 games, all of which filled up Crump Stadium," Brandon said. "Back in those days, that was the big game of the year, and 15,000 to 20,000 people every fall would go to the Tech-Central game."

Attendees also will be able to peruse old high school yearbooks, scrapbooks and other mementos, find out about the lives of outstanding graduates of their classes, listen to 1940s music and, of course, re-acquaint themselves with old friends and meet new ones.

Martha Carroll McGuire, a 1944 graduate of Central who is on the planning committee, said although the event is geared to graduates of Central and Tech high schools, all 1940s graduates are welcome to attend, as are their spouses and families.

She said response to the reunion has been enthusiastic. For example, one interested attendee even asked McGuire if she could look up his high school sweetheart to find out if she was planning to attend.

"It has been really fun working on this," she said.

Fellow planner Clarence Watson (Tech High, ’45) agrees.

"It’s a lot of fun, and we’ve had even more response than we anticipated when we started planning this," he said. "The hotel has had close to 200 reservations so far, and we’re expecting quite a bit more than that between now and October."

He said the idea for the reunion was sparked when Brandon, Watson and some others began talking about planning a 55-year reunion for the Tech High class of ’45.

"It was Denby who expanded it to include other classes, and of course, Central," Watson said.

"We thought, after all these years, it would be interesting to broaden the concept to include all classes of the ’40s," Brandon said. "We started contacting other classes from Tech and then from Central, and it grew from there."

The ever-expanding team of planners has been working on the reunion now for about two years. Brandon said the current expectation for attendance is 400 to 600 people, many of whom will be staying at the hotel.

The weekend itinerary will include two "get acquainted and/or reacquainted" parties, food and dancing, a musical program planned by Tech High graduate Irving Evans and other highlights such as a barbershop quartet and spotlights of outstanding classmates.

Overall, however, the reunion will focus on remembering a time that is special to all who lived it.

From hanging out on weekend football games in Crump Stadium, to walking to a neighborhood theater to catch the latest film, to talking with friends at drive-in restaurants such as The Pit, the Alta Vista and Leonard’s, the teen scene from 1940s Memphis doesn’t too closely resemble the high school set of today. But, those who spent their adolescent years growing up in it have one collective thing to say about it – it was a lot of fun.

"It was a different era," Brandon said. "Those were the days of going to football games, then going by all the places that catered to high school young people — drive-in restaurants that served milkshakes and hamburgers and all."

Reunion planner and Central graduate Mary Lou Adams said life in the ’40s was "easy, innocent and fun."

"Most of us dated other people, not just pairing off with one," she said. "We would gather at the (original) Pig ‘N’ Whistle and at Fortune’s on Union Avenue. Those were the sort of places we would go froggin’. That’s what we called it when we just met and saw everybody."

Not everything was so easy. World War II had a major impact on the social scene, causing the need for teens to double- and triple-date to ration gasoline. But, even that just added to the fun, Adams said.

McGuire said she is excited that she’ll have the chance to relive those memories with old friends from near and far.

"I just love people," she said. "I can hardly wait to see all the people and talk to them about what’s happened in their lives in the last 50 years."

For more information about the Great Millennium Reunion, contact Brandon at 683-5614 or McGuire at 683-6192.

 

This article is copied with the permission of The Memphis Daily News -

 

 
 
 
Thanks to research by Sisco we have this follow-up

We have clippings on Central High School and its predecessor which
was known as Memphis High School.  We have a diploma dated 1878
under the name Memphis High School.  Crockett Technical High
School was the predecessor of Tech High School, and there is
some evidence to indicate that it is an older school; however,
in all high school history accounts, Central/Memphis High School
is named as the oldest city high school.  We have a lot of
material on the two schools, and one of your class members who
is in Memphis can come in and review the clippings and the
school year books.  I went to Central and am quite familiar
with the athletic letter "H".




Patricia M. LaPointe, Curator, Memphis & Shelby County Room
Ms. LaPointe is a graduate of Central High School   

She writes more: 

When the Central and Tech classes of
the 1940s had their Great Millennium Reunion in 2000, one of the
Tech alums did a lot of work on the founding date of Tech, which
as I wrote was Crockett Technical High School.  I am not sure that
the final word has been written on the beginning of each school,
and there is much interest and friendly rivalry on this point.
Some of the Central alums probably should do some digging.                

 

Warren Riggs (CHS 65) offers this:


There were at least  two times in Central's history that the school closed down: A month in 1918 because of the influenza epidemic. The school was converted to a hospital and many teachers served as Red Cross volunteers. Again, in February of 1937 there was a great flood which closed Central for two weeks. The school became a refugee camp, all desks were removed and over 1100 cots were installed. Both students and teachers assisted in caring for those whose homes were destroyed in the flood.