School reunion recalls ghost of an old high school

Barbara Hootman

Celebrating its 20th year March 17 with a big open house, Black Mountain Elementary School stands on the broad shoulders of the town’s older residents. The school is built on the site of the old Black Mountain High School, a place of rigorous classes that many residents still hold dear.

Black Mountain Elementary School is inviting them and everyone else to its reunion March 17 from 6-7:30 p.m.

“We are inviting the entire Black Mountain community to the school’s ‘gymnatorium’ to celebrate the generations of people who have attended and served the young people of our community at this very special place,” principal Norm Bossert said.

The evening will feature performances by the Owen High School band and a 100-member student choral group. There will be a few words from past administrators, including Donna James, who was principal from 1996-2000; Carmen Murray, principal from 2000-2002; Angie Jackson, principal from 2004-2006; and Bossert, who became principal in 2006.

There will also be the color guard from Owen High School ROTC and a video presentation of “My School Black Mountain Elementary,” which will include recollections of former staff and students. School superintendent Tony Baldwin will deliver a special address, as will Roger Capps, former principal of Black Mountain Middle School.

Ann Bell, a teacher at Black Mountain Elementary School, coordinated the planning of the reunion.

“When Mr. Bossert asked me to help last September, I said I would, and I didn’t expect the project to be so interesting and fun,” she said. “We have put in a lot of work on it and look forward to a big turnout for the reunion. We want people to walk up and down the halls, visit old classrooms that hold memories for them and visit with each other.”

Formerly on the the site was Black Mountain High School, built in 1927. The only part of the school left and in use now is the gym. In 1955, the old high school was designated a grammar school and served grades 5-8. In 1996 Black Mountain Elementary school as built.

“When I attended what was then Black Mountain High School, there were grades 8-12,” said Robert Goodson, an 83-year-old Swannanoa Valley historian who will be one of the speakers March 17. “There were only about 40 students, and that was from 1947-1951. There was a tremendous drop out when the eighth grade was finished. Students were of a legal age and couldn’t be forced to continue school.

“We had a strong curriculum which included geometry, chemistry, Latin I and II, algebra and physics, which helped at least four of my graduating class attend Berea College. Usually when students arrived from small rural schools, they had to have a good bit of remedial help. Not a one of my group of four had any remedial help, which says a lot about our teachers who included Ms. McCoy and Ms. Pearly. They weren’t just hard teachers, but they were teachers that had high expectations for us.”

Sports were an important part of school when Goodson attended Black Mountain High School.

“There was no such thing as traveling long distance to play a school,” he said. “We played closed-by schools like Sand Hill, Oakley and Fairview. Eugene Byrd coached every sport. Only three seniors had cars, and I didn’t have a car to drive until it was almost graduation time.We paid 25 cents to ride a commercial bus to the games. The ballfield was directly behind the school and is still there today.”

Bossert said he was excited about the reunion.

“I am excited because our reunion includes the whole Black Mountain community,” he said. “I want people to come, visit, tour the school, and listen to where we have been, and how appreciative we are of our history.”