Historic graduation honors 100th class

CHRISTY ARMSTRONG  Banner Staff Writer
Posted 5/13/16

Bradley Central High School is getting ready to graduate its 100th graduating class.

The school, founded in 1916, will be celebrating this big milestone during its commencement Saturday at 9 …

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Historic graduation honors 100th class

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Bradley Central High School is getting ready to graduate its 100th graduating class.

The school, founded in 1916, will be celebrating this big milestone during its commencement Saturday at 9 a.m.

“We’re excited to be able to celebrate 100 years at Bradley Central,” Principal Todd Shoemaker said. “We’re excited for this year’s graduating seniors, that they get to be part of the 100th class. It’s going to be a special time.” 

According to news archives, the school was founded in 1916 along what is now called North Ocoee Street, on the site of the current Ocoee Middle School.

When it began, the school was simply known as Central High School. In 1920, it was renamed Bradley County High School. It was not called Bradley Central High School until 1948.

The school moved to, and dedicated, its current location on South Lee Highway in 1972.

Over the years, the school saw a great deal of growth. The first graduating class had only eight students. This year, some 390 students are expected to graduate from Bradley Central.

Social studies teacher Andy McMahan, who is head of the committee organizing this year’s graduation, said the ceremony will include many opportunities to honor the school’s history.

Among the guests expected to attend are numerous distinguished alumni representatives. At least one member of each graduating class from 1950 to 2015 will be in attendance. In addition, McMahan said alumni from 1938, 1945 and 1949 have said they will attend.

“Bradley has such a strong tradition and such a strong alumni base that there’s leaders serving in all parts of the world, “ Shoemaker said. “It’s exciting.” 

For the first time, Bradley Central will also have an outside keynote speaker at one of its graduation ceremonies.

The keynote speaker will be Lee University President Dr. Paul Conn, a Bradley Central alumnus from the Class of 1963.

The ceremony will also feature addresses from four former principals of the school: Dale Hughes, John Driver, Tom Losh and Johnny McDaniel.

Graduates and their guests will also be able to enjoy comments from Bradley County Director of Schools Dr. Linda Cash, this year’s top students and music from the school band and senior members of the Vocal Motion show choir.

Alumni of the school say they are looking forward to revisiting the school’s long history during this year’s graduation.

Class of 1968 alumnus Gary Ownbey, who currently substitute teaches at the school, said his family has had four generations attending the school.

“There are a few schools older than Bradley Central, but there’s not many,” Ownbey said. “There’s a lot of history here.” 

Physical education teacher Steve Logsdon, a 1984 graduate, pointed out that Bradley Central has a great deal of tradition and school pride. Though students at schools like Walker Valley High School only have a few years of history on the books, Bradley Central has generations worth.

Assistant Principal Angie Neely, a 1988 graduate, said the school has over the years been able to honor the vision of those who decided to start the school.

“How many schools get to celebrate 100 years? We’ve been able to take what has made the school great and expand upon it,” Neely said.

Neely added she is especially proud to be able to say she has been able to watch the students in the 100th graduating class mature and grow into “wonderful” young men and women.

Students who are part of the Class of 2016 say they are equally excited to be celebrating the fact that Bradley Central is getting to graduate its 100th class.

“I think it’s a great honor,” senior Brett Brown said. “This school has had a great tradition in every aspect — academically and athletically — and we’ve had a lot of successful people graduate from here.” 

Brown, who will be the ninth member of his family to graduate from Bradley Central, said he is happy to be able to carry on and celebrate that tradition.

Class of 2016 valedictorian Hannah Holley said she has watched her peers experience “a lot of positive growth” over the past for years, so it is “really cool” to be able to look back at what 100 years worth of alumni have been able to accomplish.

“Graduation’s always a time when we are looking toward the future, but this year is special because we are also looking to the past,” said Holley.

Senior Lily Freeman described being part of the 100th class as “an honor.” 

Fellow senior Haley Yarber, who will soon be a second-generation Bradley Central graduate, said she agreed.

“It adds more excitement to our graduation,” Yarber said. “It makes this wonderful time even more wonderful.” 

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