By Keeli Parkey
A milestone in the lives of the members of the Unicoi County High School class of 2016 coincided with a landmark in the county’s history.
As the seniors celebrated graduation from high school, the school celebrated its 100th commencement ceremony on Monday, May 23. In recognition of this anniversary, senior Noah Wagner presented a brief history of Erwin High.
“I know you came here today to graduate without having to sit through any more lessons,” Wagner said to his classmates, “but I want to give you a history lesson of this school. … In 1916, the county purchased the Unaka Academy boarding school to open a high school, middle school and an elementary school. Grades one through 12 were all in the same school.”
Wagner said the Unaka Academy was located near where Gentry Stadium stands today.
“In 1922, the first football team took to the field and we played Washington College,” he continued. “We beat them 84-0. … The following year, we played Greeneville High School and we beat them 120-0. …
“With a thriving economy and a growing population, we outgrew that school and a new high school, located where the middle school is now, was built in 1929.”
Seventy years later, Wagner said, another new high school was needed. This building, which is the current home of UCHS, opened to students in 1999.
“There has been 100 years of history, 100 years of students and 100 years of change,” he added, “but, what hasn’t changed is the mission and vision of this school. The faculty and staff strive to receive scholastic excellence from the students … They strive to provide students with the necessary skills to have an impact on society. …
“When you step out of this building today, remember who you are, where you came from and the legacy you are a part of,” Wagner said. “You will always and forever be a Unicoi County Blue Devil.”
Also part of the 100th anniversary celebration, UCHS alumni from as early as 1940 were recognized by Dr. Chris Bogart, UCHS principal. Among them were: Judy Moss and George Hatcher, both of the class of 1940; Jim Crowder and Dalton Gouge, of the class of 1942; Isabell Crowder Jones of the class of 1944; Jack Jones from the class of 1946; and Nancy DeArmond Gentry of the class of 1948 and a former teacher at UCHS.
The class of 2016 also heard from Director of Schools John English during the ceremony.
“Make sure you never let anyone or anything stand in the way of you achieving what you want to achieve,” English said. “I am looking forward to watching this class in the coming years and see all that you will accomplish. …
“Just because you are officially finished with (the Unicoi County School System) tonight as a graduate, I know many of you will move forward and will not look back and we understand that. But, make sure you understand this, on your path and on your journey to wherever you’re headed, if Unicoi County Schools or myself can ever support you in any way on that path, we will. You may be finished with us, but we are never finished with you,” English continued.