School Of Champions

Atlanta’s legendary Tech High has a distinguished roster of graduates

As alumni prepare to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of Tech High School, the “School of Champions,” what comes to mind are the many graduates who went on to become movers and shakers not only in Atlanta, but throughout Georgia and the United States.

The all-male Atlanta high school graduated its last class in 1947 before becoming caught up in reorganization of the city school system. But its alumni have held a reunion every year for the past 24 years, thanks to a dedicated board of directors and an alumni esprit de corps. I’m proud to be one of those alums.

Death has taken its toll on the alumni. Their ranks have shrunk from 2,300 to the present membership of 1,200. But the alumni association has vowed to meet until the last graduate is gone, and some 400 are preparing to attend this month’s reunion and anniversary celebration May 30 at the Cobb Galleria.

Guest speaker will be internationally renowned architect John Portman, Tech High Class of 1943 and a fullback on the 1942 football team. His architecture changed the Atlanta skyline and revitalized business districts in Europe and Asia.

Wallace W. Rhodes, Sr. was the first to graduate from Tech High in 1910, one year after its founding. He died in 1962 at age 70.

The list of Tech High graduates who followed Rhodes reads like a who’s who. For instance, there was Bobby Jones, the grand slam golf winner; Lee Burge, who guided the old Retail Credit Co. to become the internationally renowned Equifax; Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-fil-A. Harry Johnson and Harry Smith were both “Mr. Americas”; Bill Paschal was the only professional football player to lead the NFL in ground-gaining his first two years in the league; and James A. Hale changed the world of basketball in Atlanta by bringing in the one-hand push shot. And there was Marty Marion, All-Star major league shortstop for the St. Louis Cardinals.

From Tech High’s ROTC unit came 10 generals, including one Medal of Honor winner, and an admiral. The generals were Jimmy Cornett, I.M. Davidson, C.L. Lee, Joel B. Parris, Charles and C.A. Patillo, Carl Sutherland, James D. Thurmond and Eli White, all U.S. Army. Add to that Navy Admiral William O. (Dusty) Miller and four-star general and Assistant Marine Corps Comman-dant Raymond S. Davis, recipient of the Medal of Honor and other combat decorations – the most decorated man in America.

Highlighting this upcoming reunion is the presentation of four scholarships to high school students who have excelled scholastically and participated heavily in school activities. The scholarship can be used at any accredited university or college. Winners are chosen from schools throughout the state of Georgia. To date, the Tech High Alumni Association has awarded $34,000 in scholarships to 38 outstanding students.

Tech High offered not only liberal arts and mathematics courses for college prep, but shops such as aviation, woodworking, electric and printing and press. Students could set the type to print the school’s weekly newspaper and run off copies in the press shop.

Tech High did it all without even having its own building. It shared a building with arch rival Atlanta Boys’ High School on Parkway Drive (now Charles Allen Drive) and held classes there as well as in wooden portables on Boulevard and Eighth Street.

Tech High was nationally known for its football team and band. Both traveled throughout the northeast, where the football team won victories in Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York, as well as dominating teams in the state of Georgia. Only arch-rival Boys’ High provided stiff competition, but Tech logged one more victory over the years.

The school was remarkable because of its strong leadership. W.O. Cheney, principal for 26 years, directed his faculty to make whatever efforts were needed to solve student problems. Rather than expel delinquents, Cheney and his faculty worked to put them back on track, for college or a job.

The principal, staff and faculty cared about the students and the students respected them. The students cared abut each other and that is what developed the esprit de corps.

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