Atholton High School is rolling out the red carpet for alumni Oct. 22 to mark the school's 50th anniversary during daylong Homecoming festivities.
Former Atholton Raiders are invited to march in the Homecoming parade by decade, join in a group photograph and take a tour of the building, where a $61 million renovation and expansion project was completed in summer 2015.
"This is a yearlong celebration, but Homecoming will be our biggest event," said Principal JoAnn C. Hutchens, who is in her second year at the school. "The whole school has been redone, and we will play that up a little for alumni."
Atholton opened in 1966 at a cost of $1.4 million, as the county's third high school in what was then known as Simpsonville.
The first student body numbered 727 students in grades nine through 11. They were redistricted from Howard and Glenelg high schools in the eastern and western ends of the county, while rising seniors were permitted to graduate from the schools they had attended for three years.
The school's enrollment has nearly doubled over five decades to 1,448.
But the opening of the county's third high school didn't take place in a vacuum.
The first physical signs of the planned city of Columbia were visible that summer as bulldozers began carving out two man-made bodies of water — Wilde Lake and Lake Kittamaqundi. Merriweather Post Pavilion, which opened in 1967, was also under construction and roads were being laid in Town Center.
Yet the original 107,700-square-foot school — which has since been expanded to 282,700 square feet — was not built to accommodate the population growth the new city would spur; that job would fall to Wilde Lake High School, which opened in 1971.
Instead, Atholton was constructed in response to the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling that outlawed segregation in schools.
Howard County's all-black Harriet Tubman High School was closed in 1965, and Atholton was constructed directly behind it, according to the school system's public information office.
Hutchens said she will touch on desegregation as part of Atholton's history in a speech with a theme of "That was then, this is now" that she plans to give at 12:25 p.m. — just before kickoff of the football game against River Hill at 1 p.m.
Eric Posner, Atholton's band director and co-chairman of the school's anniversary committee, said he has been using the 50-year milestone as a teaching opportunity.
"A 50th anniversary brings people together to remember and we're hoping to make it nice and nostalgic," he said. "But we also want our students to see that Atholton isn't just about them; it's about representing a wider community."
Posner has invited former drum majors to conduct and band alumni to perform with the current band. He also presided over a contest last year to write lyrics for the school's formerly instrumental-only fight song, and will post a recording of it on the school's website before homecoming.
Alumni will also be encouraged to jot down memories and place them in boxes at various stations in the building, and they will be read aloud in the stadium, he said.
Susan Ericksen, a health education teacher, is preparing an exhibit of artifacts for visitors to view during the open house, among them a program from the school's first graduation ceremony in 1968 at Merriweather Post.
The school's first principal was George L. Barrick. He resigned his position after one year, she said, and was succeeded in 1967 by William J. Donohue.
Ericksen is managing an estimated 300-piece collection of photographs, newspaper clippings and documents that span the entire 50 years.
Among the items are the lists of bequests made annually to the student body by 12th-graders, which were dubbed "The Senior Will" and include the wishes of a well-known alumnus, County Executive Allan H. Kittleman.
Named in senior class superlatives in 1976 as Most School-Spirited, he humorously willed his school spirit "to all the apathetic students."
Ericksen is asking people who have any artifacts they'd be willing to lend or donate to contact the school.
Charlene Sraver Fitzpatrick, a member of the first graduating class in 1968, is coming from her home in New Mexico for the 50th-anniversary celebration.
"What I remember most is how sports brought the students together," she said of the school's inaugural year. "By my senior year, we were champions in baseball, football and track and field."
Fitzpatrick will attend with her younger sister, Bonnie Sraver Luepkes, a Highland resident who is a member of the Class of 1969 and a retired science teacher with 29 years of service at Atholton.
Luepkes — who lives next door to the house where the Sraver sisters grew up — recalled that when Atholton opened, sporting events were filled to capacity.
There wasn't a lot to do in those days, as The Mall in Columbia didn't open until 1971, both sisters pointed out.
"We drew from so many communities that there were a lot of cliques at first," Luepkes recalled, noting that their brother, Charles "Chip" Sraver, is a 1979 graduate of Atholton. "It took a while, but people finally began to intermingle."
Hutchens, who came to Atholton in 2015 after serving as principal of Mayfield Woods Middle School in Elkridge, has her own alumni connection via her spouse and sons.
Her husband, Sam Hutchens, and their two sons are all Atholton graduates.
"I just feel so at home in this school," Hutchens said.
Ericksen hopes all alumni who visit will take the time to view the display of memorabilia.
"People's memories of their high school years are crystal clear, and it's fun to look back and remember people and events," she said. "Artifacts help remind us of where we've been."
For a schedule of Homecoming events, ticket prices and other information, go to atholton.net. Persons with artifacts to donate can call the school at 410-313-7065.