BRANDON — Back in 1914, if you were planning a big party in Brandon you’d probably deliver invitations to the neighbors on horseback. Everyone would have brought a dish to share — and paper fans to swat the mosquitoes.
Fast-forward 100 years and you’ll find the Brandon High School alumni and boosters burning up the Internet to get the word out on the school’s centennial celebration. At this party, food trucks replace pot luck and cool weather will probably keep the mosquitos away.
On March 1, thousands of people from the Brandon High community will head down six-lane State Road 60 to the campus on Victoria Street to celebrate with a morning run, food-truck rally and the opening of a time capsule sealed at this “new” campus in 1972.
Brandon High is one of the oldest schools in the county and the fourth high school to celebrate a centennial — after Plant, Hillsborough and Plant City high schools.
Old friends and fellow classmates will gather under a sea of pop-up canopies adjacent to McLane Field to play cornhole and horseshoes and share stories and photos from those golden years at Brandon High.
Memories of glory days past are surfacing already as alumni and boosters prepare for the big weekend.
“It’s like planning a wedding for 18 months,” said Alumni Association President Karen Rodriguez. “And it’s ten times more work than putting together a class reunion.”
A core group of volunteers has pounded the pavement for sponsors, recruited seven local restaurants to throw after-parties and brainstormed for hours to dream up and carry out the party plan.
Now, it’s just a matter of getting the word out.
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The celebration is free and open to everyone, said Stanbro, who has ordered 25,000 legacy books to hand out during the event and at businesses around Brandon.
“Brandon was the largest high school in the state at one point and in 1984, it was the second-largest in the nation,” said Mark Nash, class of 1979. Times have changed as high schools sprang up around it.
Still, Nash said, the community of people with connections to Brandon High is a big one.
“That’s who we are looking to draw.”
“Every place I’ve gone lately, I’ve heard someone talking about the anniversary, or they’ve heard me talking about it” and piped in with their memories of the high school, said Committee Member Mary Faulk, a school booster who had two children at Brandon High. “Brandon is so big, but so small, all at the same time.”
“There is still some of that small-town community feel here,” Stanbro said.
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When the Brandon Grade School opened the doors on a single-story brick building in 1914, the area’s population was 573. People traveled on shell-rock roads, many on horseback. The first graduating class had eight students.
In the early 1940s, Helen Mulrennan Young started high school.
“It was war time and several of the boys were already leaving for the service right around graduation time,” recalls Young, now 91. “I know one was killed and possibly two, in the war. Times were a lot different then.
“That was the beginning of the Big Band era and I played clarinet in Brandon’s very first band,” Young said. A woman who lived on Valrico Lake would sew the stripes on each band uniform.
“Daddy would pile as many of us as would fit into his Model A Ford and drive us to her house for fittings. At school, we wore a dress or skirt and blouse, saddle oxfords and anklets.”
In all, 12 from Young’s family graduated from Brandon High and each has a commemorative brick at the original campus, now the site of McLane Middle School on Knights Avenue.
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For Terry Maxwell Wehinger, the late 1950s until she graduated in 1960 were a time when families were tight-knit and Brandon High parents knew if their children were in trouble before they even got home from school.
“We went through the poodle skirts and we still did bobby socks to a certain extent,” Wehinger said. “I only had 168 in my graduating class and everybody knew everybody. Elvis Presley, he was fairly new on the scene and so was Pat Boone, with ‘Love Letters in the Sand.’”
“I don’t know if there was a rule, but the girls were always in skirts and blouses, no pants,” Wehinger said. “We had homecoming dance in the school cafeteria and sometimes that’s where we had prom.”
As a member of the marching band, Wehinger remembers traveling to Tarpon Springs, Palmetto and Plant City. And on game day against Plant High, students from the school in South Tampa would haul out to the country — to Brandon — and toss oranges at the students, she said with chuckle.
The school moved from the original campus in 1972 to the new campus on Victoria Street, just west of Kings Avenue. Martha Futch was attending at that time and remembers making the switch.
“We had been on triple sessions at what is now McLane Middle School and we were so excited to move to the new campus. Everything was brand new and we didn’t want to get anything dirty,” recalls Futch, a 1973 graduate. “The old school was decrepit and run down.”
The student council and school clubs put together the time capsule that will be opened during the 100th anniversary celebration.
“There was a yearbook and a copy of the alma mater. We may have included a peace sign, but I can’t recall for sure.
“We wore hip-huggers, big wide belts and platform shoes. The guys all had afros or long hair.”
By 1984, the school was on double sessions and crowded, said Class of ’84 student Charlotte Cabbage Raschke. Key Club was popular, as was the business-oriented DECA — Distributive Education Clubs of America.
“We wore parachute pants, Jordache jeans and all the girls had the ’80s rock club huge bangs,” Raschke said. “I listened to Adam Ant and Scandal and Def Leopard was just coming out.”
Almost 1,000 students graduated from Brandon High that year.
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Brandy Braswell Westbrook, who graduated in 1990, remembers the late ’80s on campus as a time when Swatch watches, Bon Jovi and big hair were all the rage.
“Football was big, we wore crazy fashions — total Flash Dance — and listened to Poison and Mötley Crüe, too.”
It was also a sad time: Bloomingdale High opened and old friends were split between the two schools, Westbrook recalls.
Today, campus is home to 1,930 students. Key Club is still popular as is the new Diamond Club, a group devoted to women’s rights and positive attitudes, said Senior Class President Alyssa Abramson. Team sports all enjoy large followings and the school’s Academy of Finance, remains hugely popular.
Guys often get designs cut in to their hair and girls sport Aztec and floral prints and bulky, colorful jewelry. They all listen to either hip-hop or country music on their off time, Abramson said. “It’s one or the other.”
This year’s seniors will help fill a new time capsule and plan to include an iPhone with directions for how to use it, along with a poster of President Barack Obama, “since he is the nation’s first black president.”
The school’s staff and students are working on ideas for the rest of the items, she said.
Student filmmaker Thomas Ortiz has created a documentary for the school’s 100th anniversary and has already released a trailer for it. The full documentary will be available on YouTube in the next week or so.