For Jeremy Medlin, returning as a teacher to the high school where he graduated wasn't just his first teaching job; it was coming home.
Current and past principals of Greenbrier High School gather to recall the school's first decade. Sandra Carraway (from left) was principal from fall 2002 to spring 2005, Gloria Hamilton was principal from fall 1999 to spring 2002, and Margie Hamilton began her tenure this fall.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
"Greenbrier did so much for me as a person, especially the band under Tom Smallwood," said Medlin, a 1998 graduate of Greenbrier High now in his fourth year as a chemistry teacher at the school. "I was drum major during those first two years at Greenbrier. That's where I found my niche in teaching. That's why I decided to be a teacher. I think that's the reason I came back to the place that made me decide I wanted to do that. This is home."
Medlin was part of the school at its beginning, and he is there now, as the junior class sponsor, on its 10 year anniversary.
School officials invited alumni to a special ceremony to be held at Friday's homecoming game to celebrate Greenbrier's "Decade of Excellence."
"We're going to do a pre-game festivity where we have everybody who shows up for each class from the 10 years. We are going to group them by class and have them come across the field and recognize them with their homecoming queen," said Deborah Seymour, a Family and Consumer Sciences teacher and event coordinator. "We're going to have all 10 homecoming queens back."
Friday's events will also recognize founding teachers, staff and employees. Any alumni, or former staff member interested in attending should contact Seymour at firstname.lastname@example.org or 650-6040.
Seymour, a teacher at Greenbrier High since the first year, said the anniversary celebration extends all year.
"I remember that first week of school. We didn't have desks or furniture in a lot of classrooms. My kids sat on the floor and unpacked boxes," Seymour said. "... We're all in shock it has been 10 years. The only way you can tell is these four trillion new houses that have popped up in the neighborhood around here and the 30-minute drive from the red light on Washington Road to school every morning."
The early years
Founding Principal Gloria Hamilton remembers the first days of Greenbrier when it was surrounded by nothing but flora and fauna. Hamilton took the helm of her third new-school opening six weeks before the Aug. 12, 1996, opening day. Gene Sullivan, the originally scheduled principal, left to become an assistant superintendent at the Richmond County Board of Education.
Though Hamilton helped decide on the schools' mascot and other school traditions, she had no idea she'd become one of them.
Greenbrier High is Columbia County's only high school with a female principal. And in its 10 years, female principals have always led the school.
"It's a dynasty," Hamilton said with a laugh.
Hamilton retired in the spring of 2002 to become the school system's half-time Title I Improvement director. She retired from that this year and now works for St. John United Methodist Church.
Hamilton said she is proud to have been a large part of the success of the school.
"It's like a child. You just watch it grow," Hamilton said, adding that the first year, Greenbrier High opened with fewer than 1,000 students and just under 70 seniors in the first graduating class. "I feel like I was the mother; now I am the grandma. It's my grandchild."
Hamilton said she distinctly remembers the three state baseball state championships the school earned in 1997, 1998 and 1999. She watched many of baseball games that year from a deck behind the outfield, where faculty and students often cooked out together.
"Well, I think No. 1, one of the things I'll never forget is that first senior class because that really was a unique group of students who chose to come and be seniors," Hamilton said. "And it was a group of movers and shakers."
Those first few classes of seniors included Michael Cameron, a name Hamilton said she'd never forget. Cameron was the student who drew international media attention when he wore a Pepsi shirt on Coke Education Day, sponsored by Coca-Cola, at the school in March 1998. Cameron's prank was featured in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and USA Today, and Cameron fielded interview offers from The Late Show with David Letterman, among others.
"That's the first time I've ever been international," Hamilton said.
Sandra Carraway, who now is assistant superintendent of Student Support, followed Hamilton as principal from fall 2002 to spring of this year.
"It's interesting," Carraway said, about being the second female principal for Greenbrier High. "It is a high school and having a female principal in a high school is very rare. Then to have a school that can be 10 years old and has only had females, that's even more rare."
When Carraway took the helm, the school boasted roughly 1,300 students, which grew to about 1,750 students before her departure at the end of the 2004-05 school year. This year, more than 1,900 students packed classrooms on opening day with projections of even more growth since roughly 3,600 new homes are planned for nearby Riverwood Plantation.
"I think that growth alone is a direct evidence of the quality of the school," Carraway said. "Parents want children to be there. Parents of our community, they don't just move into an area then find out what school their kids will attend. They do research and find out where they want their children to attend and then they buy a home."
Carraway said that the fact students like being at school and are tried and true supporters of all school activities are one of the great strengths of Greenbrier.
"They like their teachers and they are strong supporters of each other whether it is an athletic event or just an extracurricular event such as a drama production or chorus concert," Carraway said.
A new leader
Margie Hamilton, who took over as principal this year, said it was one of those athletic events that she remembers most about her three years as assistant principal - when the varsity softball team earned the state championship in 2004. That team is entering the post-season tied in first place gunning for a second consecutive state title.
It was athletics that 22-year-old Chad Thornhill, a 2001 graduate, remembers most from his high school experience. Thornhill was on the football and baseball teams before heading to the University of Georgia where he also played baseball.
"I really remember Friday nights before football games going to Zaxby's with my football buddies and playing Nintendo before the games," said Thornhill, who is now attending the Medical College of Georgia. "Those were good times. That and winning state my sophomore year. That was one of those things you just don't forget."
Thornhill, who said he is still close to many of his friends from high school, is looking forward to coming back for the festivities Friday at the school that he described as being very supportive.
"I think about the teachers and everything, I can't think of one teacher I didn't like," Thornhill said. "In fact, all of the teachers that were there have a special place in my heart. I know that sounds kind of corny. They are all unique in their own aspect and they were all there for me when I needed them."
Hamilton said she is proud to become the third female principal in the school's 10-year history and that being the third female principal is a fortunate happenstance and a case of being in the right place at the right time.
And she looks forward to leading the school's next decade.
"I tell people yes, it's very hectic," Hamilton said of her first few months as principal. "I'm working long hours, but I look around and say where else would I like to work long hours like this. The students are amazing."
With those students Medlin, 26, hopes to do what Greenbrier teachers did for him several years ago: inspire them and prepare for the college experience. Medlin said his age sometimes helps.
"When I tell them what the University of Georgia is like, the believe me," he said.
GREENBRIER HIGH SCHOOL TIMELINE:
Aug. 12, 1996 - Greenbrier High School opened on Riverwood Parkway in Evans, to nearly 1,000 students with Gloria Hamilton as principal.
Spring 1997 - Greenbrier High School's baseball team won the school's first state baseball championships.
March 1998 - Greenbrier High senior Michael Cameron was suspended after he wore a Pepsi shirt to Coke Education Day at school. The event was fodder for national media coverage. The suspension was later expunged from his record, and Cameron fielded offers from such media personalities as David Letterman.
Spring 1998 - Greenbrier's baseball team earned a second consecutive state baseball championship.
Spring 1999 - The baseball team won a third consecutive state baseball title.
Fall 2002 - Sandra Carraway replaced Hamilton as principal of Greenbrier High.
April 15, 2003 - Greenbrier High juniors Shane Williams, 17, and Daniel Hall, 16, died on Ashmore-Barden Road in Lincoln County while traveling to a golf tournament. Brothers Michael and Matthew Barman, passengers in Hall's vehicle, were hospitalized but survived the accident.
May 2003 - Greenbrier High senior Thryshaun Ronta McCladdie, 19, of Appling, was arrested after he was accused of sexually assaulting three female students on campus during the 2002-03 school year. McCladdie pleaded guilty in April 2004 to child molestation and misdemeanor sexual battery and was sentenced to 21 years in prison.
Aug. 10, 2004 - Greenbrier High School senior Lea Christine Turner, 17, was killed in a two-vehicle crash that left her fiance, 21-year-old Jason Banning, in critical condition.
Oct. 30, 2004 - Greenbrier High's softball team, after winning region titles every year, earned the school's first state softball championship.
Fall 2005 - Margie Hamilton, former assistant principal at Greenbrier High, replaced Carraway as principal.
GREENBRIER HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS HIGHLIGHTS:
Baseball - Greenbrier High's baseball team earned three state consecutive championships in 1997, 1998 and 1999. The team boasted region titles each year from 1997 to 2000 and 2002 to 2004.
Cross country - The school's girls cross country team has taken region titles from 1996 to 2004, every year Greenbrier has been open. The boys cross country team earned region titles from 1996 to 1999 and from 2001-2004.
Golf - The girls golf team at Greenbrier High earned a 2000 region title.
Soccer - Greenbrier's boys soccer team earned region titles in 1997, 1998, 2003 and 2005. The girls soccer team won region championships in 1998, 2003 and 2005.
Softball - Greenbrier High's softball team earned region titles every year the school has been open, from 1996 to 2004, and crowned that with a 2004 state championship. The team will compete for the state title again this year.
Tennis - The school's girls tennis team secured region titles from 1997 to 2000, and 2004 and 2005.
Track and Field - Greenbrier's girls track and field team earned region titles every year the school has been open from 1997 to 2005. The boys team did the same except missing out on the 2000 title.
Volleyball - Greenbrier's volleyball team scored region championships from 1996 to 2003. The team will be competing for the 2005 region title Thursday.
FAST FACTS ABOUT GREENBRIER HIGH SCHOOL:
Principal: Margie Hamilton
Assistant Principals: Doug Flowers, Monica Stallings, Gregory Bunn and Penny Jackson
Address: 5114 Riverwood Parkway, Evans, Ga. 30809
2005 attendance: 1,916
Feeder schools: Greenbrier Elementary, North Columbia Elementary, Riverside Elementary, Columbia Middle, Greenbrier Middle, Riverside Middle
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