By John R. Schirmer
A long-dormant tradition at Nashville High School returned earlier this month as the Homecoming Queens’ tea was held in the hospitality room at Scrapper Arena.
Former queens were invited back to the event on Homecoming Day, Oct. 1.
They gathered in the hospitality room, visited, heard from Superintendent Doug Graham and had refreshments before meeting 2021 queen Avery Hood and members of the royalty.
NHS staff members helped plan the tea and made sure everything went off as they had planned.
Holly Couch said that Graham talked to NHS Principal Tate Gordon and Assistant Principal Krysta Parker about Scrapper traditions that might be brought back. As Gordon and Parker talked to teachers and others, the tea was one event that came up.
“The tea had been done” in the past, Couch said, before it faded out. Couch and Lacy Britt discussed it and “tracked down the former queens.”
Britt used digital yearbooks
to find their names and maiden names. She contacted as many as she could to get their names and addresses. Britt’s list went back to 1947; she didn’t find queens for 1949 or 1950.
Julie Wakely worked with Britt and Couch to prepare for the tea. Wakley began planning the food and decorations and enlisted help from other teachers, including Amy Bearden, Aleshia Erwin, Couch, Fran Strawn and Carolanne Pinegar.
Britt said 24 of the former queens sent RSVPs for the tea, and most of them were able to attend.
“The queens were so appreciative,” Couch said. “It was a special thing for them.”
Couch and Britt said the tea probably will be held every four or five years.
A number of the queens who attended shared memories of their Homecoming experience and related it to the 2021 version.
Their reflections follow. There is a recurring theme which you’ll quickly notice.
Tabitha Westfall Jones, a 2002 graduate and queen in 2001, attended Henderson State after graduation and is now an elementary school teacher in Nashville. “The; current seniors of NHS were my first class” at elementary, she said. “They were an extraordinary class then and still are now. I look forward to seeing what the future holds for each of them. Jones and her husband Justin have two children, Kimber and Drake, who are both in school at Nashville “and are learning all of the traditions about what it means to be a Scrapper.”
Jones said her favorite memory of being queen “was getting to share it with my family and loved ones. The high school art teacher made the experience especially unique because she designed the run-through banner to mirror me and my Homecoming dress. It was such a sight to see how much time she spent creating such a masterpiece. I was able to share it with my [future] husband who crowned me during the Homecoming ceremonies.
Jones’ Homecoming was held in the old Scrapper Gym, which was “decorated from head to toe, flowers and decor everywhere. The day was filled with excitement … I remember being so nervous about speaking to the entire community, but everything turned out perfectly. One of my favorite parts was the parade and seeing all of the young girls’ faces as we drove down Main Street. It reminded me how important it was to be a role model for the youth.”
Today’s Homecoming “is so much more elaborate. The entire day is now filled with festivities for everyone,” Jones said.
Andrea Lyons Schwartz, Class of 1980, lives in Bossier City now. She said Homecoming for her class “was simpler. We had to find our own wrought iron chairs from around town.”
After she was informed that she was queen, Schwartz “rushed home after school to tell Mom and Dad. Mom was as surprised as I was, but Daddy had already heard the news … because this is Nashville and news travels fast.”
Although today’s decorations “are a bit more elaborate, the excitement and anticipation of the big day feels very familiar. Oh, and the court sure seems younger,” Schwartz said. “I am absolutely thrilled that we were honored and recognized. Once a Scrapper, always a Scrapper.”
Vicky Chism Walters, Class of 1984, said Homecoming under the Friday Night Lights at Scrapper Stadium with the band, flag line, majorettes and cheerleaders … bring best nostalgia at its best. The pep rally was usually a house-packed affair in the old gym with Scrapper spirit raising the roof. Danny Howard telling the Scrapper story was an all-time favorite. And last, Coach [Johnny] Wilson being the ‘voice’ as the all-time announcer for Scrapper Stadium was a must too. Once a Scrapper, always a Scrapper.”
Donna McCrary, Class of 1991, lives in Bryant. Her favorite memory “has to be the pep rally and the events of the day leading up to the pep rally. We had the ceremony in the old gym. My mom made my dress. We had so much fun picking out the fabric and style. I remember getting ready and all the girls in their dresses. I vividly remember [Principal] Dennis Horn waiting at the door of the gym to let me walk in. The gym was decorated, and the boys were all dressed up in tuxedos. The band played the NFL song during the pep rally. Every time I hear that song, it brings back Scrapper memories.”
Givens said there were class maids and football maids from each grade. Today, the maids are all seniors. Givens “made a speech that I am pretty sure nobody heard” during the ceremony in the gym. That night, “My daddy walked with me, and Ellen Talley Cortez was the bearer of my crown. My mom saved that crown and gave it to my daughter when she was little.”
Scrapper Arena “is a big step up from the old gym,” Givens said. “What a fantastic facility for the community. The girls’ dresses were so beautiful, and the boys looked so handsome. I saw the maids had live bouquets, and the queen’s chair was probably more comfortable than the wrought iron chair I sat in.”
Brooke Bowden, Class of 2015, now lives at Conway. Her favorite memory was “being crowned by my twin brother, Brady.” Bowden’s Homecoming was the first held in Scrapper Arena. “That day was very special for our Homecoming court and Nashville High School.”
Bowden said the 2021 ceremony was “very similar to what I experienced” as queen in 2014. “It is still a day of recognition, celebration and tradition. Scrapper spirit and pride continues to be evident each year. It was such an honor to be included in this year’s ceremony as a past NHS Homecoming queen. I would like to say a big thank you to all the people who made this event possible. The phrase still holds true. Once a Scrapper, always a Scrapper.”
Joanna Martin Howard, queen in 1992, is “married to a past Scrapper player and coach turned insurance salesman, Michael Howard.”
Her favorite memories include being called out of basketball practice to go to Dennis Horn’s office and learning that she had been selected. Her father escorted her across the field at Scrapper Stadium. She had fun “with my fellow students and made memories that have lasted a lifetime.”
Howard said she was “completely surprised by being chosen as queen. I was truly honored that the young men on the football team had chosen me to represent them.”
The dress that Howard wore “had also been worn by Donna McCrary [Givens] and was made by her mom a couple of years before. I had shopped a lot, but because I was so short every dress I tried on was going to have to be completely redone.” Howard was about to give up when her mom thought about Donna’s dress. “It fit perfectly. We were thrilled to find it, and I was honored to wear it, too.” The dress returned as the bride’s dress in her class’ production of “Under the Mistletoe Bough” and has been used in later presentations as well. “The last time I saw the musical, I saw my dress!”
Nancy Gail Purnell, Class of 2012 and the 2011 Homecoming queen, lives in Little Rock. Her favorite memory was “the time spent with my classmates and friends. Homecoming was a very exciting time. Leading up to Friday’s festivities, we celebrated spirit week at NHS. The pep rally was held on Friday afternoon, followed by the parade. The Homecoming court had professional photos taken in Mrs. Malloy Freel’s backyard before heading to the ceremony and football game at Scrapper Stadium. Homecoming pep rallies are now held in the arena instead of the gym, but our Scrapper traditions continue.”
Patti Smith Borek of Cabot, queen in 1976 and a member of the Class of 1977, said her Homecoming day “was all so special. There was a full moon that night, and we won our ballgame. Her court included four senior girls, two juniors and two sophomores.
“We did our own hair and make-up and borrowed the chairs and ferns and decorated the night before,” she said. “We also had to attend class until noon.”
Sandy Renard Steel Davies, 1968 graduate and 1967 queen, lives on Petit Jean Mountain now. She said being named queen “was a complete surprise.” She said the 2021 Homecoming was “a very special day because my grandson, Ethan Gunter, is a football player, and my granddaughter, Anna Claire Gunter, is a cheerleader.”
Saundra Tollett Stanley, queen in 1960, lives at Texarkana, Texas. She said her favorite memory is “the suspense of waiting for the announcement – then hearing my name – unbelievable.”
Her Homecoming was “more simple,” and the girls wore homemade dresses. Today’s event is “more sophisticated,” she said, and she enjoyed seeing the “beautiful facilities.”
Betty Beene Johnson of Nashville, a 1959 graduate and 1958 queen, said it was “such an honor to be selected as the Homecoming queen. Our court was small, only five girls – queen, maid of honor, senior maid, junior maid and sophomore maid.”
Today’s Homecoming “is quite an elaborate ceremony compared to what it was when I was in school. There was no beautiful chair for the queen, and the decorations behind the platform for the queen and maids was crepe paper. Our ceremony was simple for the afternoon … and evening. It was a thrilling time in my life, and I feel honored to have been selected to be a Scrapper queen.”
Johnson said she has “always been a Scrapper and a supporter of the Scrappers, and I always will be.”