On Friday, Oct. 11, the school will honor that legacy with a “Reunion of Champions” tailgate party at 5:30 p.m. and a 7 p.m. recognition celebration prior to the start of the Cleveland vs. Bradley Central High School football game.
The events will include recognition for players and coaches of the football, cheerleading and band squads of the 1960s and ’70s.
For those who attended Cleveland High during the school’s first decade of excellence, the memories remain as fresh today as they were upon graduation.
Many memories begin on Oct. 2, 1966, when the students of Arnold Memorial School — which operated as a high school until Cleveland High could be finished — walked from Arnold to the new school on Raider Drive.
Not long afterward, the school’s first band director, Crill Higgins, would write the Cleveland High alma mater. Mrs. Elizabeth Manly penned the lyrics.
Wilma Cross, a teacher at Cleveland High from the day it opened until her retirement in 2004, attended the school’s recent Hall of Fame induction ceremonies and said it brought back many memories of days gone by.
“People like Bill Emendorfer and Allan Jones were great students but also great people — and I was there when every member of the Hall of Fame was a student,” said Cross, who also served as a cheerleader and senior class sponsor during her time at the school. “I can still remember marching down Keith Street to the new school. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Everything was clean and color-coordinated.”
Cross said the newness of the school, combined with the enthusiasm of the faculty and students, made everyone closer in Cleveland High’s early years.
“Bradley High School had been there forever, but CHS was brand new and there was a sense of pride that accompanied that,” Cross pointed out. “We had such tremendous parental and community support.”
Cross said her fondest memory of Cleveland High was seeing a girls’ soccer team created in the ’90s. She also takes pride in being at the school for every state championship in football, basketball and track.
“Cleveland High was my life and I still feel like I’m a part of it today,” Cross said.
Steve Smith, a 1969 graduate, was one of six African-Americans on the Cleveland High football team during his senior year and played tight end. Smith said there were no racial problems on the team because everyone stayed focused on the main goal — winning at all costs.
“The white players and black players were both teammates and friends,” Smith said. “Coach Bobby Scott kept us focused on winning and it paid off for us. We had a great time.”
Smith has several fond memories of his time at CHS, most notably getting kicked out of a game against a Georgia high school for fighting. When the game was over, the Georgia player hit Smith with his elbow and Smith responded by kicking him hard in the groin.
“That kick made me famous,” Smith said with a laugh. “And of course we beat the Georgia team as well, which made everyone happy.”
Smith’s other favorite memory was beating Bradley Central High School.
“I didn’t like Bradley then and I still don’t like them now,” Smith said. “The rivalry was more intense back then because they felt like they were established and we were new. They also had only one black player.”
Smith said Scott’s game plan to beat Bradley was simple: run all over them.
“We were successful in winning against Bradley and a lot of that was because Coach Scott put the fear of God in us,” Smith said. “He told us he was going to kill us if we lost, and some of us wondered if he was crazy enough to do it. I’m glad we never found out. He was a great coach.”
Smith said that by the time he graduated from Cleveland High, he had enjoyed enough good times to last a lifetime.
“Winning gets respect and we did a lot of winning,” said Smith. “Everybody knew the players on the football team and we established a winning tradition from the head coach to the trainers. It was the best time of my life.”
Patty Tinsley Petitt, a cheerleader at Cleveland until her 1977 graduation, didn’t experience the same level of winning as Smith’s class did, but she says the atmosphere of excitement at the school never diminished.
“The times were different then because you didn’t have to worry about a lot of the things that you do in 2013,” Petitt said. “We didn’t see black or white — everyone was equal. We also had great teachers and the students were very close to them. It was also helpful that they could paddle you if you did something wrong, so we respected them. Nowadays the teachers’ hands are tied.”
Ron Weir, a 1968 graduate and quarterback of the football team, also remembers the closeness that bonded the students at CHS.
“We came from Arnold Junior High, so we had all been together for a number of years and then when we were finally able to see the new building it was just incredible,” Weir said. “Amazing is not a strong enough word to describe the early days of Cleveland High School.”
Weir said in 1967 the football team was undefeated, but finished the season with one tie game. In 1968, the team again steamrolled through with a perfect record to a state championship.
“It was fun knowing that nobody knew who we were and we could beat almost everyone,” Weir remembered. “We felt like we were the birth of Cleveland High School and we were excited all day, every day.”
Weir’s fondest memories were the games against Bradley.
“The first time we played them, the game ended with us driving down the field and we lost 19-14 because we ran out of time,” Weir said. “But when we played them the next three times we beat them. I can’t say enough about Bobby Scott and his amazing coaching staff.”
Johnny Borders, a 1969 graduate, was also a member of the 1968 state champions. However, most people recognize Borders not just for his football accomplishments, but instead for the fact he is the only person to play, coach, teach and retire at Cleveland High.
Borders graduated from high school, and then went to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. After college graduation, he came back to the city school system as an elementary teacher and eventually returned to Cleveland High where he served as coach of the freshman team for 25 years and then coached the varsity team for 10 years before retiring.
Borders looks back on the beginnings of Cleveland High and recalls the shadow cast from Bradley Central.
“All anyone talked about was Bradley, but then we started to hear about a new school being built on Raider Drive,” Borders said. “We didn’t realize how special the school would become until we won a state championship.”
Borders credits the football team’s success to familiarity and diversity.
“We played together from the time we were 10 years old until we graduated, and that was a lot of talent,” he said.
Borders’ favorite memories are beating McMinn in 1967 and then beating Oak Ridge in 1968.
“The McMinn team had three Division I players, but we beat them 17-14, which was a huge victory for the city of Cleveland,” Borders said. “Oak Ridge was ranked at the top and when we went to their home turf and beat them, everyone started to pay attention to us.”
Jim Tanara started coaching at Arnold Junior High and moved to CHS when the new school opened in 1966. He still remembers his first visit to the new building.
“It was awesome ... I was flabbergasted and was happy to see that there was even a decent bathroom,” Tanara said. “The bathroom was the crown jewel of Cleveland High School, in my opinion. The old bathroom at Arnold was just horrendous.”
Along with the bathroom, Tanara remembers overwhelming school spirit.
“We had a great football team, great cheerleaders, a great band leader in Crill Higgins and a great band,” Tanara said. “The atmosphere was something you had to see to understand.”
Tanara left Cleveland in 1968 to become an assistant football coach and head wrestling coach at the University of Alabama. He credits the switch to Cleveland superstar Bill Emendorfer.
“Alabama hired me because they wanted me to recruit Bill and they knew we were like father and son,” Tanara explained. “I did the best I could to bring him to Alabama, but his ties were to Tennessee. He did the right thing. I’m surprised he isn’t governor already.”
Looking back, Tanara — now a resident of Richmond, Ky. — says he is glad he began his career in Cleveland.
“When they built Cleveland High School, they did it the right way,” he said. “I’m not sure a school could ever be that special again. Every day was incredible.”
Graduates from the 1960s and ’70s who wish to be included in the celebration should call Duane Schriver at 423-593-4139 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Information is also at the Cleveland High School website at www.chsraiders.com.