Get together 1968 Mountain Brook High School graduates, and their stories will fly and their laughter ring out. They’ll discuss everything from favorite teachers to the talent presentations at the Miss Olympian pageant to the personal risks involved with the senior prank. It’s been 50 years since those idealistic and fun-loving teenagers walked across the football field to receive the first diplomas awarded by the school, but the legacy those students created is firmly entrenched in the community spirit that has a way of drawing folks back to Mountain Brook so that their kids can be Spartans, too. They might be planning their reunion for April now, but the graduates knew little about what they were getting into 50 years ago—including, according to some, how to get to their brand new school.
With Map and Compass in Hand
“There was nothing out there!” This was class of ’68 alum John McCullough’s response when the conversation turned to the students’ initial thoughts about their new school. In the mid-‘60s, Bethune Drive was “the edge of nowhere.” Bill Houseal recalls that “Mountain Brook at that time essentially ended at Brookwood Road,” and the school’s location on almost 60 acres a few miles away from that boundary had students wondering how they would ever find it. It took a little work, but they were successful. An article that appeared in the inaugural issue of the student newspaper the Sword and Shield, reported that until the facility opened in 1966, curious students eager to see their new school had to rely on a map and a compass to locate it. The wide welcoming doors opened to students on Sept. 8 of that year, and those first MBHS Spartans never looked back.
While the vast majority of students chose to move to the brand new school rather than remain at Shades Valley High School, there were challenges to be faced. Resourceful students turned those challenges into opportunities. With no established systems in place, the students were given free rein to create the traditions that continue to this day. Debby Crow McCullough remembers asking Mountain Brook High’s first principal, Dr. Harold D. Patterson, if they could have cheerleaders. “His response was something like, ‘Well, if you want to have cheerleaders, you had better get busy!’” She appreciates the confidence the administrator placed in the students. “What a great gift he gave to us!” she says. “He put us first. He said, ‘Work hard and we will support you.’”
Traditions Start Here
With that opportunity to pave the way for future students, the class of ’68 voted on school symbols, choosing green and gold as colors and Spartans as the mascot. Class member Peggy Farlow Lee says the choice of the mascot seemed ironic to some of their former classmates from Shades Valley: “We got teased about calling ourselves ‘the Spartans’ since we were one of the only schools at that time that had air conditioning!” They also took a little good-natured ribbing about the choice of green and gold. Some felt like the students may have wanted that combination because it represented the color of money. It’s a charge all class members vehemently deny.
The class of ’68 didn’t just stop with colors and a mascot in establishing the traditions that successive classes have built upon. Before they graduated, they had crowned the first Miss Olympian, performed the first theatrical production (Bye Bye Birdie), assembled a marching band complete with a drill team called the Dorians, appeared in the state Final Four in basketball, and produced state champions in both men’s and women’s tennis.
To today’s teens, 50 years is an eternity, but a number of common threads still run between the students of yesterday and today. Free periods in the mall were as popular among those first Mountain Brook students then as they are now. And the dress code then, as now, was a source of constant controversy and debate. Lisa Thompson Venables says the rules regarding appropriate dress were strict. “Girls could not wear pants,” she emphasized. She thought a moment. “Or culottes. Or short skirts, either.” Being non-compliant meant a trip home to change. Peggy recalls that skirts were actually measured by the administrators if there was any question about the length. “Dr. Patterson had a ruler. Girls had to kneel on the floor, and if the bottom of the skirt was more than two inches from the floor, you were sent home to change clothes.” Quite a challenge for the tall girls, added Lisa.
Here’s to You, Oh Mountain Brook!
Ask any resident of Mountain Brook who’s lived here a few years, and they can almost certainly tell you their own favorite way to share in the Spartan spirit that energizes the community. Whether it’s cheering on the football team at Spartan Stadium on chilly Friday nights, or attending a choir concert in the Fine Arts Center, the locals find a way to engage in the life of their high school. It’s not uncommon around Mountain Brook to hear someone say they never miss the spring musical at the high school or that they still love going to Spartan basketball games. And if you’ve watched the students, arm in arm, sway and sing the Alma Mater, then the depth of the enthusiasm they feel for the school stands out. The rousing way in which they sing “Here’s to you, Oh Mountain Brook!” speaks volumes about the pride felt in the Green and Gold.
And it all began with the class of 1968—a group of crazy teenage kids who had little idea that their big dreams were the start of something that would become such an important part of the Mountain Brook community. For their part, they were just happy to be there. As Debby Crow McCullough writes at the conclusion of the written history that will be presented at the 50th reunion in April: “Now, after 50 years and an understanding of the monumental effort given by students, parents, and faculty, we can say ‘Thank you! We were blessed to have the opportunity!’”
About That Senior Prank
High school rivalries: bringing out the most ingenious (or foolhardy, depending on how you look at it) ideas for generations.
It was only natural that a big rivalry would develop after a large percentage of Shades Valley students left to go to Mountain Brook. MBHS students tweaked the noses of their former classmates with a stunt that required equal amounts of imaginative engineering and callous disregard for human life.
“Shades Valley had a clock tower,” Peggy Farlow Lee explains. “The hands were painted Shades Valley colors, red and black.” Mountain Brook students decided those clock hands would look better if they were green and gold.
“We climbed up three or four stories to the roof, tied a rope around a tire, and lowered someone down to paint the clock hands,” Jeff Fowlkes says, laughing. But in the interest of safety, “We also tied a rope around his waist.”
And as expected, SVHS retaliated, splashing red and black paint all around MBHS.
To this day, the classmates agree: “Ours was artwork, theirs was vandalism!”