By John Schaffner
Some 250-plus alumni of Atlanta’s legendary Tech High — a school that graduated its last class in 1947 — were set to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the “School of Champions” with a luncheon May 30 at which the youngest attendees would be 80-year-olds with fond memories of their high school years.
The Tech High Alumni Association has held a reunion every year since it was formed 24 years ago. Death has taken its toll on the alumni, shrinking their ranks from 2,300 members at the association’s founding to 1,200 today. But the alumni association has vowed to meet until the last graduate is gone.
A highlight of the celebration was to be the granting of college scholarships to four students from Georgia high schools: $5,000 per year per student as long as they keep their grades up and study to become teachers.
The scholarship program is named after W.O. Cheney, the school’s principal from 1921 to 1947.
Tech High had two principals: Willis Sutton, who later became superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools and for whom Sutton Middle School is named, and Cheney, “who had the respect of every young man in that school,” said Bernard Blackwell, the president of the alumni association and a member of the last graduating class.
The Tech High alumni started the scholarship program a few years ago, Blackwell said. “Last year this time we had $1.6 million in the fund — all from donations — and alumni give each year along with paying their dues.”
Fond alumni memories include graduates who went on to prominence not only in Atlanta, but across Georgia and the United States.
One was the primary speaker for the May 30 event at the Cobb Galleria Centre, architect John Portman, Tech High Class of 1943 and a fullback on the 1942 football team. His architecture changed the Atlanta skyline and revitalized districts in Europe and Asia.
Graduates included Bobby Jones, the winner of golf’s Grand Slam; Lester Maddox, who became governor of Georgia; Lee Burge, who guided the old Retail Credit Co. to become Equifax; Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-fil-A; and Dr. Sid Williams, who founded Life Chiropractic College and was an All-American at Georgia Tech. Harry Johnson and Harry Smith were both Mr. Americas. Bill Paschal led the National Football League in rushing yards his first two years in pro football. James Hale changed Atlanta basketball with the one-hand push shot. Marty Marion was the All-Star shortstop for the St. Louis Cardinals for many years.
From Tech High’s ROTC unit came 10 generals and an admiral: the Army’s Jimmy Cornett, I.M. Davidson, C.L. Lee, Joel B. Parris, Charles and C.A. Patillo, Carl Sutherland, James D. Thurmond, and Eli White; the Navy’s William O. “Dusty” Miller; and Assistant Marine Corps Commandant Raymond Davis, who won the Medal of Honor.
A few years after opening its doors on Marietta Street in Atlanta, Tech High moved to where Grady High School is today, on Monroe Drive between Eighth and 10th streets. “Archrival Boys High was on the top floor of the building, and Tech High was in the bottom part of the same building,” Blackwell said. Today’s Grady High stadium “was the parade field for the ROTC.”
“Tech High and Boys High had two of the greatest ROTC units in the nation,” said Blackwell, a ROTC cadet major. “They made superior ranking every year from when Tech High started until it closed in 1947.”
Tech High had all sorts of sports teams — football, baseball, track, golf, etc. “They were all championship teams,” Blackwell said.
Blackwell thinks Ed Danforth, former Atlanta Journal sports editor, dubbed Tech High “School of Champions.”
“Tech High was a very strong academic high school,” Blackwell said. “Mr. Cheney wanted every young man in that school to be qualified to go to college. He wanted that school to be outstanding, and it was — in academics, sports and in ROTC.”