The History of Berrien High School
Prior to the 1954-1955 school year each town in Berrien County and even some of the unincorporated areas had their own high schools. Alapaha lost its high school at the end of the 1951-52 school year after a tornado in May destroyed most of the school plant and a major portion of the town, and its students continued in the fall of 1952 at Enigma (10th-12th graders) and Nashville (9th graders). The high school students never returned to Alapaha after the tornado.
Along with Nashville and Enigma, Ray City also had a high school prior to the consolidation into one county high school located at the county seat. Poplar Springs had a high school until it was phased out after the 1950-51 school year.
Berrien High School opened its doors on North Davis Street in Nashville in the fall of 1954, but the planning for this new county high school began as early as in 1951. In its January 3, 1952 edition The Nashville Herald reported that the Berrien County Board of Education had purchased a 20-acre tract of land from A.B. Griner and Ida Griner for $10,000 and that the new school plant would be built at an estimated cost of $260,000. Later editions of the Herald stated that Lloyd Greer of Valdosta was the architect for the new school, and once bids were opened the school's cost was upped to $310,000 with the low bid submitted by W.N. Crawford Construction Company of Columbus.
Construction finally began in August of 1953 with a contract calling for completion in 300 working days. As construction neared its final stages The Nashville Herald reported the following in its April 22, 1954 edition:
"With ultramodern construction throughout, the building contains 38 rooms. These include 19 classrooms, three homemaking classrooms, one vocational shop classroom, one science classroom, two commercial classrooms, one library, one conference room, one book repair room, five offices, including the main office, one vocational shop, one kitchen and one combination dining room and auditorium. There are built-in storage and locker rooms throughout, wherever necessary.
"The combination dining room and auditorium is designed to seat 262 diners or an audience of around 1200. There is a spacious built-in rostrum and, the room will be equipped with folding chairs and tables.
"The kitchen will be equipped with every modern device, including, dishwasher, serving counter, two large refrigerators, potato peeler, food mixer, milk cooler, deep freeze unit, three electric ranges, and many others.
"Classrooms are equipped with fluorescent lighting, chalk and tack boards. There are 700 steel lockers for students and 52 for workers. Each room is equipped with a dismissal bell connected through a central time system controlled from the main office.
"Heating will be by circulating hot water, thermostatically controlled throughout. Divided into 10 zones, the building can have as many different degrees of heat.
"An intercommunication system connects each room with the main office. Floors are covered with asphalt tile. The vocational shop and science room floors have a special acid proof finish.
"There is no mechanical cooling system but cross ventilation was designed and built into the window system, which also floods every room with abundant daylight. Fire extinguishers are placed at necessary vantage points.
"Of single story, flat roof design the building has a 20 year guaranteed bonded roof of poured gypsum deck. The construction officials say the building is as near fireproof as is possible with modern engineering and materials."
What's In A Name?
The school is officially known as Berrien High School. When the planning process was unfolding in the early 1950s the local newspaper gave varying names such as Berrien Central High School and Berrien County Central High School. By 1954, however, Berrien High School, the name we have all known through the years, was being used in news coverage of the ongoing construction project.
The Original Faculty
According to an article written for The History of Berrien County by Nell C. Whaley in 1976, the original faculty of Berrien High School in 1954-55 was as follows:
"The first faculty of Berrien High included: Principal - J. Fred Beverly; Administrative Assistant - M.M. Johnson; Guidance Counselor - Whitlow H. Powell; Agriculture - Sherman C. Drawdy, J.H. Gordon, Henry Patten; Athletics and Physical Education - Mitchell Kirkland, Harold Leddy, George McMillan; Band Director - Leonard Westberry; Business - Mrs. R.D. Whaley, Miss Maude Ingram; Choral Director - Mrs. Alma Kneece; Driver's Education - George McMillan; English - Mrs. Alton Futch, Lossie L. Gaskins, Robert Rogers, Mrs. William Story, Miss Anne Weis; Home Economics - Miss Reba Hester, Miss Rose Thornton; Librarian - Mrs. Evelyn P. Edwards; Mathematics - Lamar Blanton, Andy Edwards, Miss Jeanette Harper, Harold Leddy; Science - R.D. Altman, Miss Polly Boykin; Social Studies - Arnold Adams, Mrs. Ruby P. Rutherford, Mrs. Nancy Y. Schmoe.
"In addition to regular classroom duties, the teachers acted as sponsors for various organizations: Debating Team - Mrs. Kirkland; Cheerleaders - Miss Harper; 4-H - Mr. Gaskins, Mr. Blanton; Gardening Club - Mr. Gordon; Spelling Club - Mr. Rogers; Library Service - Mrs. Edwards; Beta Lambda Book Club - Mrs. Story; Berrien Book Club - Mrs. Altman; Hobby Club - Miss Boykin, Mr. Altman; Hi-Y - Mr. Gaskins; Tri-Hi-Y - Mrs. Whaley, Miss Boykin, Miss Hester, Mrs. Story; FFA - Mr. Drawdy, Mr. Gordon, Mr. Patten; FHA - Miss Hester, Miss Thornton; Rebel Yell (school newspaper) and Yearbook Staff - Mrs. Futch; Dramatics Club - Mrs. Schmoe, Mr. Blanton; Glee Club - Mrs. Kneece; B-Club - Mr. Kirkland, Mr. Leddy, Mr. McMillan; Student Council - Mrs. Whaley. Mr. Gaskins coached the girls' basketball team, Mr. Leddy the boys'. Miss Boykin taught art and hobby crafts as well as her science classes."
No Gym until 1962
For whatever the reason Berrien High School's original plant did not include a gymnasium for its first eight years. The school's basketball teams played their "home" games in the gyms of the old schools at Alapaha, Enigma, Nashville, and Ray City. Nashville's gym was condemned soon after the opening of Berrien High, and eventually all "home" games were played in Alapaha until a gym was built on the BHS campus. A poured concrete court that now serves as tennis courts was used for a practice area. Imagine practicing basketball outside on a cold day!
1960s - Move to Full Integration
As best as can be surmised from newspaper accounts desegregation began on a voluntary basis in Berrien County on February 21, 1966. The road toward total integration proceeded gradually for the next couple of years according to a July 1969 article which reported that the schools would be fully integrated for the 1969-70 term.
In the spring of 1983 the sounds of classroom instruction were joined by the sounds of building construction as Berrien High School doubled its classroom space. The open air hallways of the wings were closed in to provide more classrooms and end the need for teachers to "float" from room to room. For the most part students would no longer have to walk outside in foul weather to reach their next class except for in the main hallway which became a wind tunnel on cold, blustery days.
When the 1983-84 school year began, in addition to the new classrooms BHS had a new library and an enlarged lunchroom area with the addition of dressing rooms to serve the drama program. The guidance counselors' office took over some of the space formerly used by the library, and the remaining space was used for more classrooms.
1986 Continued Expansion
Berrien High School completed "Phase II" of its construction program in 1986, opening two new buildings housing three vocational clusters. Auto mechanics and transportation was housed next to the canning plant and a health occupation cluster was added on in back of the main plant.
1998 - New Location Is Picked
The Berrien Press reported in its February 4, 1998 edition that Pecan Street would be the new location for Berrien High School. However, the land purchased from Burton Anderson actually faced Smith Avenue and abutted homes that were on Pecan Street. The contract for construction was let in March 1999 with an aim toward the class of 2000 being the last class to graduate from the original building. Construction delays pushed the move to during Christmas break 2000, but the building was not 100% ready, so the decision was made not to move until the beginning of the 2001-02 school year. Celebrations of "lasts" which were held in 2000 had to be restaged in 2001, such as celebrations of the last games played in the old BHS gym.
2001 - Moving Up the Hill
After 47 years on a campus fronting the Alapaha Highway or North Davis Street Berrien High School moved to a new location fronting Smith Avenue. While some schools may relocate far away from their original location when they move to a new campus, Berrien High's move was literally up the hill from one side of the football field to the other. The new location was previously used for agricultural purposes and was the site of a pecan grove immediately prior to being purchased for the new school plant.
The "new" BHS was dedicated on Sunday, July 15, 2001. In an article in its July 25 edition, The Berrien Press reported that the new campus was approximately 63 acres with a 165,000 square foot building that cost $9,529,000. (Compare that with the $310,000 to build the original BHS in 1954.) Vocational supervisor Bruce Shepard relayed information to those in attendance at the dedication ceremony that over 350,000 bricks were used in the construction and "the amount of concrete poured in its construction would be enough to pour a driveway five miles long."
Semesters to Quarters to Semesters to Block
The curriculum has grown and changed through the years, and the system of scheduling has also seen its share of changes. Originally operating on the semester system, Berrien High School switched over to the quarter system in the fall of 1973. The semester system of scheduling returned in 1984-85 and remained in place until the 4x4 block was implemented in 1996-97.
Berrien High School has long had a tradition of academic success, scoring above RESA and state averages on standardized tests many times over the years. The latest award won by the school is the 2007 Platinum Award given by the Governor's Office of Student Achievement. Berrien High School was one of only eight (8) high schools in Georgia to receive this award. To qualify, the school had to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for three years in a row and be in the top 2% of schools with at least 35% of students exceeding standards.
In 2006 the school received a visit by both Governor Sonny Perdue and State School Superintendent Kathy Cox for the awarding of the 2006 Governor's Cup and the 2006 Silver Award. The Governor's Cup began in 2003 to recognize schools with the largest gains in SAT scores over the preceding three years. BHS became the first AA school in south Georgia to win the award. Although a repeat win did not follow in 2007, Berrien High's students still had a 27.5 point increase over the last three years, placing the school among only 18 schools in the state to have at least a 25 point increase.
The 2006 Silver Award was based upon the school's having reached AYP for two years in a row and upon the percentage of students exceeding standards on standardized tests.
Individual students have excelled as well, with senior David McGee winning the state championship in boy's essay at the state AA literary meet in 2007.
Berrien High School has won ten state championships in athletics in the school's history. Leading the way with six is the girls basketball team, having won all six in a twenty year stretch from 1970 to 1990. The Rebelettes won their first at the end of the 1969-1970 season after compiling a perfect 30-0 record. They then won again in 1972, 1975, 1979, 1983, and 1990. The girls were state runnerup in 1973 and 1978 meaning that Berrien's Rebelettes played in the state title game six out of ten years in the decade of the 1970s.
In second place is the softball team, having won the state championship in 1982 and 1993. Many of the same girls who were on the 1982 state championship softball team also were on the girls basketball team that won the state title during the same school year. The Rebelettes became the first team from south Georgia to play in the AA fast pitch state championship game in 2007, as they finished as the state runnerup. With 35 wins the fast pitch softball team broke the record for wins in a season by any BHS team in any sport. The old record of 31 was held by the 1988 state champion baseball team.
The boys basketball team capped its only undefeated season with a 30-0 record and the 1971 state AA title. They finished third in state in 1968 and were the state runnerup in 1974.
The Rebel baseball team capped a perfect 31-0 record with its only state championship in 1988. Based upon a search of records back to the early 1970s, Berrien was the first school in any classification in Georgia to go undefeated in baseball in that time frame.