When I was a high school student, way back in the previous century, Fridays were special. In the fall there were football games, which meant that the players on the football team wore their jerseys to school but, more importantly, the cheerleaders wore their uniforms. Short skirts — very short skirts — were the order of the day.
During the late fall and throughout the winter there were basketball games, which meant that the cheerleaders still wore their uniforms to school and the skirts didn’t get any longer when the weather got cooler.
Most Fridays, fall and winter, would mean that there would be a pep rally at the end of the day. Back in the previous century pep rallies were organized events in which students actually cheered for the players on the various teams instead of themselves or their respective classes. If you haven’t been to a high school pep rally in the past three decades you wouldn’t understand what I mean.
We all liked pep rallies because we got a free period at the end of the day and got to scream and shout and let off a little steam. Besides, we were from Newton and we really couldn’t be prouder.
But every Friday — no matter what the season — we would begin the day with a chapel program. That’s right. I said a chapel program — with a prayer and everything. Yes, God’s name was invoked at Newton County High School virtually every day and it didn’t seem to hurt anybody.
I loved chapel because, well, for the same reason I loved pep rallies. More time out of class and more time to socialize and I was nothing if not a social person in high school. The ironic thing is, when I became an AP U.S. history teacher at Heritage High School I would rant and rave every time our principal, Greg Fowler, even suggested having an assembly program. I couldn’t stand to give up instruction time. Looking back, I wish I’d had a longer memory. I believe students could benefit from more chapel programs and assemblies — and pep rallies — if for no reason other than to help them learn to behave at such events.
A lot of students these days don’t get instruction at home about how to behave in a crowd.
But we got such instruction at Newton High back in the 1960s. I never remember our principal, Homer Sharp, ever raising his voice, but when he opened his mouth everyone listened, and heaven forbid anyone show the least amount of disrespect in his presence.
Some of my favorite high school memories occurred at chapel programs. Once or twice a year Basil Rigney’s Blue Rambler Band would play. They would always conclude the program with “Dixie,” which was our — the student body’s — cue to stand up and cheer. Not many people stand up for “Dixie” anymore, but I do.
Once a year the Key Club would produce a chapel program and you’d better get the men and women off the infield when that day came — especially if Fred Alexander had anything to do with planning the program.
My favorite chapel program of all time, however, was when Linda Faye came to NCHS. Linda Faye was Atlanta’s first weather girl, and she showed up to teach us all about meteorology. She showed up in the first mini-skirt most of us had ever seen, to the delight of the boys in the senior class who were sitting in the folding chairs that the first period P.E. classes set up in front of the permanent chairs at the very edge of the stage.
It only took about a minute for Mr. Sharp to step in and escort Ms. Faye and the microphone — and her mini-skirt — off the stage to finish her presentation from floor level. Those were the days.
Mr. Eddie Najjar, one of our counselors, sometimes performed at chapel. Mr. Najjar was a big man but was surprisingly light on his feet, and I loved to watch him dance around the stage when he would put on his little skits. He had one about getting peanut butter off the roof of one’s mouth that I borrowed and used at Bert Adams camp fire programs for years.
“The first thing you do is take a spoon. Any size spoon will do.”
I wish I could see him do that skit one more time. Mr. Najjar always spoke on the Friday before the SATs were administered on Saturdays and he always gave the same advice for doing well. “Get a good night’s sleep and select a good set of parents.”
Those were the days. Oh to relive them just one more time. Youth really is wasted on the young. And I wonder what Linda Faye is doing these days?