published Friday, June 13th, 2014

Central continues work to connect eras

Former Central High School football players Alan Pressley, seated, Bob Standifer, left, and
Ernie McCarson join Central principal Finley King, right, outside the colorful front doors to the
school in Harrison.
Former Central High School football players Alan Pressley, seated, Bob Standifer, left, and Ernie McCarson join Central principal Finley King, right, outside the colorful front doors to the school in Harrison.

Alan Pressley remembers the day he took Stan Farmer to a planning meeting for the Central High School C-Club's first reunion in 1990.

The 1976 graduate of the Harrison school walked into attorney Jerry Summers' conference room with Farmer, the longtime football assistant coach and assistant principal and then principal, and saw a group of "older gentlemen" with scowling looks -- at least in Pressley's mind. They all had graduated from the school's longtime home on Dodds Avenue and weren't as embracing of the Highway 58 version.

Pressley admits to feeling "intimidated" at the time. But the 1975 team captain was one of "Farmer's boys," as were each of them, and a connection was made. One of the old guard ended up giving Pressley his chair.

"Now he's one of my best friends," said Pressley, who works nuclear outages for TVA. He visited the school this week with a couple of other old football Purple Pounders, 1965 graduate Ernie McCarson from the old school and Bob Standifer from the class of 1981. They got a preview of the school's latest efforts to strengthen the connection of the two campuses through visible reminders of Central's notable history, in athletics and other areas.

That has been a priority of principal Finley King, a 1983 Central graduate, who claims to bleed purple. He's beginning his sixth year as principal of his alma mater after five years as an assistant principal.

King proudly noted that "every page of every annual is online (chattanoogacentralalumni.com). I think we may be the only high school in the nation that can say that."

Last fall the school inducted 15 members into the first class of its sports hall of fame. New inductees and new "distinguished alumni" will be honored every year, King said. Bryant Millsaps, son of longtime principal Hobart Millsaps, got the alumnus honor last year.

The Hall of Famers have a niche just inside the school entrance, amid the trophy cases. And the library is undergoing an extensive renovation -- funded by private gifts, except for new carpeting paid for by the county schools -- with mementoes and artifacts from throughout the school's 107-year-old past in prominent displays. The hallway leading to the library will reflect a decade-by-decade history as well, and a room in the library will be filled with research material specific to the school.

Already, the gymnasium and school's front doors have been modernized with colorful vinyl-wrap depictions of "Stan the Pounder" with athletes in the one case and graduates in the other. The work on the gym doors came from graduates' donations; the front entrance came as a gift from the class of 2014. In a spanning of generations, the class of 1947 paid for the mission statement display in the front office.

"Central had some challenges when I came back here in the 1990s," said Standifer, a charter Central Hall of Famer whose insurance business is not far down Highway 58 from the school. "But in the last four or five years that's changed so much. They're bringing the pride back."

"Finley has done a lot here," said McCarson, who followed 16 years as Tyner's football coach with a stint as assistant principal at Soddy-Daisy and now helps Bill Price with Signal Mountain's football team.

"By changing the direction of where Central was headed, he's brought community support," McCarson added. "So many big-name people went to this school. I don't belong in that crowd -- they're like legends -- but a lot of people coming along later didn't even realize that. Now they're being reminded of the history."

The Standifer family embodies the connections between the two eras.

"My dad was Mr. Central in 1955, and Mom went to Central," said Bob, an All-America defensive tackle at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga who played in the USFL and the NFL. "For me personally, the school in the area where you grow up is the foundation. I work two miles from where I graduated from, and I pass my alma mater on a daily basis."

Anyone wanting to give to the library renovation can call 344-1447.

Supporters have a couple of fun other ways in the works to help the school. The annual Connie Hay Classic golf tournament hosted by the football booster club is set for July 12 at Bear Trace at Harrison Bay, and copies of Summers' book "The Turtle and the Lawyer" are on sale at the school for $20 with all proceeds going to the CHS scholarship fund.

The school gives 12 $1,000 scholarships to seniors each year.

"I just love running into old Central people, especially at Central fundraisers," said Pressley, no longer intimidated.

Contact Ron Bush at rbush@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6291.

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