DHS memories

Dothan High School alumni Olivia Wells Crockett, Wally Roper and Bibb Gunter (from left) receive a tour from Assistant Principal Scott Childers on Monday.

The campus has changed some since the early 1970s. The walls have more coats of paint and some structures have been added or altered.

But it’s still the Dothan High School that Bibb Gunter, Olivia Wells Crockett, and Wally Roper remember.

“These old halls, they can bring back some memories,” Gunter said as they toured on Monday, getting one last look before the site becomes Dothan Preparatory Academy when the city’s two public high schools consolidate for the upcoming school year.

The merger is part of a major restructuring plan approved last November by the city’s school board. The plan includes a kindergarten through sixth grade elementary school system comprising facilities at Selma Street, Beverlye, Hidden Lake, Girard Elementary, Girard Middle, Kelly Springs, Slingluff, Highlands, Jerry Lee Faine, and Heard.

Carver will remain as a science and math focused magnet school serving students from third to sixth grade, but some schools will close.

Seventh through ninth grade students will attend the new preparatory academy. Tenth through twelfth graders will be at the Northview campus, which will be renamed Dothan High School.

Gunter, who was chosen Mr. Dothan by his class when he graduated in 1974, sees going back to one high school as a positive for the city.

He said when Northview opened in 1978 it split the community. Individuals and businesses sometimes had to choose which school to support, and many kids growing up in different parts of the city never got to know each other.

Gunter said focusing on one high school will bring Dothan together.

“You get business people involved, you get children involved, you’re getting families,” he said. “It’s a domino effect. I think it’s going to bring students together in all areas.”

It will be different from the consolidation in 1969, when a federal court forcibly integrated students at the all-black Carver High School into the mostly white Dothan High School.

“It was very hard because their school (Carver) had been dissolved,” said Crockett, who started at Dothan High in the fall of 1970 and graduated in 1973.

The closing was announced a few weeks before the school year started, so administrators had little time to prepare.

By some accounts, there were a lot of fights between students that first year. White students outnumbered black students, and there were logistical problems in including the Carver students in clubs, athletic teams, and other extracurricular activities.

The upcoming consolidation of Northview and Dothan has been in the works for months. It’s similar to the transition in 1978, when high schools included ninth-grade students as the city moved to a K-5 elementary and 6-8 middle school structure.

The years between Carver’s closing and Northview’s creation was a time of growth for Dothan High. A larger student body meant more opportunities in and out of the classroom.

Roper recalls the school’s choirs singing at Auburn and the University of Alabama and traveling to compete at various locations.

Gunter remembers Roper, one of his closest friends and a fellow 1974 graduate, as being a fast member of the track team.

Roper recollects one Friday night when Gunter started a football game against Ozark and scored three touchdowns.

“During our time, Friday night lights -- that’s all you had,” Gunter said. “Rip Hewes Stadium was standing room only. It was so much fun.”

Crockett recalls a physical education class where students learned dancing at the recreation center just off campus. The teacher was Mrs. Gwendolyn Harmon, who also taught her mother.

“And she was the tiniest thing,” Crockett said of Harmon. “Her face looked old, but her body was just like a teenager’s.”

As Roper neared one classroom, he recalled a particularly memorable day. He was in a typing class where the teacher gave students the opportunity to evaluate their progress.

“When it came down to the end of the speed writing, she would say, ‘Time! Return your carriages and compute your gross words a minute,’” he said.

One time she left the room as the students typed. Roper hollered “Time!” and the typing stopped.

Then the teacher returned.

“We went to the office,” Roper said.

Crockett said there were 550 students in her graduating class and the ceremony was held in Jon Davis Gym, which Gunter said was state-of-the-art back then.

Graduates were apportioned three tickets each. Crockett said she invited her mother and father and her grandmother Wells.

When the school system restructuring happens, desks and other items will have to be moved. Roper said the local Wired Christian youth camp plans to assign 350 teenagers to the project.

Organizers are hoping residents will see the teens’ efforts and rally behind the schools.

After the newly-formed Dothan Wolves showed promise in their spring scrimmage game by leading at halftime against perennial powerhouse Hoover, there’s been more talk about expanding the football stadium and building a city track facility.

Gunter, Crockett, and Roper see good things ahead for the consolidated school.

“It’s human nature to be against change,” Gunter said. “Once you accept it and it’s a positive, it’s a good thing.”

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