Twenty-two years of my life here in Rome were spent at East Rome High School (ERHS), which was the best place that I could have been. My first three years here as a young teacher were at Main High School, a short-lived experience where I got my start. Nine new teachers fresh out of college came rushing into the system like a mighty wind from every direction in 1965, and were assigned to Main High. Looking back on that experience helps me to understand why the older teachers were so hard on us. We thought that we had the world in a jug and the stopper in our hands. Mr. Aycock left for higher grounds shortly after our arrival. We young teachers hung together for dear life. It was like the blind leading the blind, but we made it through that first year and many after.

After fellowshipping with the 30-plus former ERHS faculty on June 1, I realized that many of the teachers, principals and coaches share my opinion. Those of us who taught there did not realize what a wonderful place it was until it was time for the doors to close. That was one of the saddest days for us all; students, teachers, janitors and parents.

Many of us tried to return to just get a brick or a tree limb or a plowed-up ERHS band suit that had been accidentally left in the building, but were told to leave. Some left with tears in their eyes, others left angry, but we all left going to the unknown place on the outskirts of town called Rome High.

One never knows when a bonding of this magnitude begins. One never knows when a friendship cements. We still ask ourselves how could a bond that strong take place and last this long? Even those of us who disagreed strongly on particulars about education or just simple misunderstandings have allowed time to remove the division.

In a previous article, I constantly referred to the ERHS spirit. I cannot think of a better word for that “thing” that we had there. For fear of being misunderstood, as I had said in the 2018 article, the ERHS coaches were the best in this entire state. In an earlier article I called them motley and gangsters. They were all that and possibly more, but yet they were some of the best human beings one could ever get to know on this side of the sun. They were individuals who made every effort to work with all children and encourage them to work up to their highest potential.

Our ERHS coaches were actually the life of the faculty. They would keep a watchful eye on the individual, and when his or her weakness was found out it would be shared and finally exploited to its limitation. In spite of that I believe that they were the true cement of the school. They were the glue that held us together through the bad times and the good times. They made sure that we were laughing as much or more than we were crying. As they were making their way to East Rome High School, they made a concerted effort to become what they would come to join: a group attempting to help each other be the best people possible.

Please do not get me wrong. One-on-one and individually we were very different. We had different views about many things, like race, gender, politics, religion, etc., but when it came to putting those differences aside in order to work with our children, parents and the community, there was no hesitation on the part of any of our teachers.

I wrote “our children” because that is what they were, our children who had been entrusted to our care by the parents who trusted us to do the right thing for the children. Please do not get me wrong, ERHS was not second heaven, but it was one of the best places in Georgia to be a teacher.

It would be spectacular if someone could duplicate the spirit that we had at ERHS, bottle it and sell it to schools across the country. The joyous group of individuals still have that spirit of caring and sharing and will forever be living proof that we can have a little piece of heaven on earth.

The “never say die” spirit is our legacy to the Rome-Floyd County community and the surrounding area.

We still rise.

Willie Mae Samuel is a playwright and a director in Rome.