Thursday, September 28, 2017

A Great Poet in the Neighborhood

The other day I returned several books to the Main Gastonia Library. As is my routine whenever I go to the library--which is often--I examined the new non-fiction books that are on a cart next to the front desk. This is one of the ways I find good books to read. On this particular day, I found a small book of poetry, Separate Flights, by Patricia Hooper, a poet I had never heard of. Because I like poetry, I am always on the lookout for something good. As a way of deciding whether or not to check out this book, I sat down on one of the library sofas downstairs and began to read. I liked what I read. The poems were not only beautiful, they were accessible. The language and meaning were clear. So much modern poetry is subjective and difficult to comprehend, but not this book. I checked it out.

Who was this new poet, Patricia Hooper, who I had just discovered? I looked inside the back cover, and there was a biographical sketch with all her awards and accomplishments. Clearly, Patricia Hooper was one of the best contemporary American poets. And then I noticed the last line of the brief biography. "She lives in North Carolina." How interesting, I thought. Maybe she lives in the Triangle and teaches at Duke or Chapel Hill.

I couldn't get this new "North Carolina" poet off my mind. Later that same day, I googled her and found an article from the Charlotte Observer by the paper's longtime book editor, Danny Romine Powell. Powell is a distinguished book critic and an acclaimed poet herself, and she was a friend of my late in-laws, Al and Mary Louise Stuart (Sarah Park's parents). Her 2015 Observer article on Hooper's latest book of poetry talked about how North Carolina had just risen in the literary world when Patricia Hooper, a great poet, moved "to Gastonia" from Michigan. I could not believe it!! Patricia Hooper, my newly discovered poet--a bright light in the nation's literary firmament--was living in Gastonia!!

Because I had met Danny Romine Powell through Al and Mary Louise, I felt comfortable reaching out and sending her an email asking if Hooper really was still living in Gastonia. I wasn't sure if Powell would remember me without making the connection to my late in-laws, so I opened my message with "This is Al and Mary Louise's son-in-law." Danny responded within minutes and confirmed, yes, Patricia Hooper does indeed live in Gastonia, and Powell would connect us. Less than two minutes after receiving my reply from Powell, an email appeared in my in-box from Patricia Hooper. She included her phone number and said she was happy to talk. Without hesitation, I picked up the phone, dialed her number, and she answered. I was talking to Patricia Hooper!!

As our conversation unfolded, the coincidences got stronger. She and her husband moved here several years ago to be closer to her daughter and grandchildren. They live less than a mile away from Gaston Day School!!! They love it here!

Gracious and warm, Patricia Hooper and her husband have a busy schedule over the next month. She and I agreed that I would call her back in early November. My hope is that she will come to Gaston Day and interact with some of our young poets. Who knows what other good things will follow from knowing Patricia Hooper? Who knew that a great American poet is living in the neighborhood? The world is full of marvelous surprises!!

Click Here to view the GDS 50th Anniversary Video

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Bell Comes Home

"The Battle for the Bell" is the name that Gaston Day School and Gaston Christian School have given to a one-day, multi-sport competition held between our two schools each fall. The name comes from a large bronze bell that the Gaston Day School Class of 2007 gave as its senior gift. For a number of
years, the Class of 2007 Bell sat in the lobby of the Pamela Kimbrell Warlick Visual and Performing Arts Center as a symbol of school spirit. But beyond its presence, the bell had no real meaning or purpose in school life.

All that changed about five or six years ago, when Athletic Director Casey Field and I approached our friends at Gaston Christian with the idea of formalizing our rivalry each fall with a contest to see who had the best overall fall sports program. The winner of the most contests in our one-day, multi-sport competition--including all our different fall sports teams--would get to keep the bell for a year as evidence of victory.

For the first several years, Gaston Day prevailed, and we retained the bell. But two years ago, our schools tied, with each school winning and losing the same number of games in the Battle for the Bell. So Gaston Day kept the bell, but on a technicality. Then a year later, and for the first time, Gaston Christian won, and the bell travelled to our rival's campus. Last year, Gaston Christian beat us even more soundly in the various games and matches, and the bell stayed at their school for another year. At this point in the history of the rivalry, Gaston Day found itself in the uncomfortable position of not having our victory bell on our own campus for an extended period of time. The soundness of the losses last year also really stung. Yes, the bell belonged to Gaston Day School, but if we ever wanted to bring it home, then we had to reclaim it on the fields, courses, and courts of athletic competition. 

Yesterday was the annual Battle for the Bell. Our middle school girls volleyball team won and so did our girls cross country team to get Gaston Day off to a strong start. The two schools tied in middle school soccer. Gaston Christian won varsity boys cross country and varsity boys soccer. Both our junior varsity and varsity girls volleyball teams won. The varsity volleyball match was particularly thrilling. Our girls had never beaten Gaston Christian before. They won in three straight, hard-fought games. The level of competition between the two squads was high and the competition was fierce. Our ladies came back from four or five points down in the final match to seal the victory. At last, the bell was home! 

At the conclusion of yesterday's varsity volleyball match, students stormed the court as the GDS victory triggered a mad celebration. I positioned myself some distance away on the court to make sure that the celebration remained orderly. Suddenly, I looked up at the track surrounding the court and saw several of the varsity volleyballers running toward the bell, which was stationed upstairs on the track, awaiting the final outcome of the day's contests. They grabbed the clapper and started ringing the bell as a way of proclaiming the victory that was not only theirs, but all of Gaston Day School's. I must admit hearing the bell sent a thrill right through me. It was the sound of GDS school spirit!!

Third graders with the Bell
Who knows who will claim the victory bell next year? Our Gaston Christian friends and rivals will make every effort to win it back and proudly display it on their campus. But not this year. Until next year's battle, all Spartans can enjoy the fruits of victory. After its two year absence, having the bell back is even sweeter! Congratulations to all our teams and coaches for returning the bell to Gaston Day School for the next twelve months!!

Click Here for the 50th Anniversary video

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

2017 Senior Dinner

If I am honest, I must admit that I came to the
Seniors at the Jr/Sr Retreat
Senior Dinner fatigued. My morning had started with a 5:30 yoga class at the Stowe YMCA in Belmont, and my day had been full. I entered the Henry Center with a strong sense of duty. Greeting all the senior parents made me feel better. This evening is an important milestone and tradition in the life of our seniors and their parents. Soon we all moved to our tables, and I gravitated to the group of faculty members and administrators seated in the far corner. After a delicious meal that Flik Dining Services prepared, the juniors began to introduce our seniors, one at a time, and present each of them with a gift. 

As one junior after another describe their senior counterpart, called them forward, and gave them each a present, my mood began to change. Every senior was so accomplished, so outstanding, so admirable!! While listening to each junior describe the career aspirations of each of the seniors, I found myself thinking, "Yes, he will make a great doctor!" or "Yes, she will be a fine attorney." Not a single senior's goal or plan seemed farfetched or unrealistic. One after another, I was overwhelmed with the talent and character of our senior class. My pride in our school in general and our senior class in particular began to swell. I would make a comment in a whisper to one of my other colleagues at our table about just how fantastic each senior was, and they would nod and comment, "You are so right!!" 

The juniors who introduced the seniors were all poised and well prepared. They spoke from the heart. At times, their comments were genuinely moving. At other times, their sense of humor really did make the audience laugh. Again, I thought to myself, what a fantastic group of young adults we have as students at Gaston Day School!! How could we be so fortunate!! What a great job our school is doing in preparing them for the future!! 

Every senior who was called forward was impressive. Finally, I reflected that it was impossible not to be optimistic about the future at a Gaston Day School Senior Dinner. There is so much in the world and our country to be concerned about. But not here. Here we are about to graduate roughly forty of the finest, best educated, most dedicated young citizens that I have ever seen!! At least at Gaston Day, the future really is bright!

At last, I could not contain myself. I took out my pen and wrote on the evening program, "What a fabulous group of young people!!" and held it up to show all my colleagues at the table. Everyone smiled and nodded enthusiastically. This was not false pride. Our seniors are the real deal, the genuine article--they are totally fabulous!! Carolyn Senter, College Counselor, who was sitting beside me, leaned over and said, "You should get up, Richard, and tell everyone what you just wrote. They need to know it too!" So I asked Head of Middle and Upper School, Kim Perlman, if I could conclude the evening and give impromptu remarks.

So that is what I did. When I told the audience of parents and students just how fabulous they are, all the adults nodded approval. They knew it too. You could not be in that room and not recognize just how outstanding our seniors really are!!! I wish you could have been there. You would have been so impressed and inspired!!

I wasn't the least bit tired as I walked to my car after the program concluded. What a refreshing and uplifting experience Senior Dinner was for me. It was a great night to be a Spartan. I went home and told Sarah Park what a great night it was and how proud I am of our school.

Click Here for the 50th Anniversary video. 

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Founders Day

Fifty years ago today, September 6, 1967, Gaston Day School opened its doors for the first time. The school was located in Belmont in what had formerly been the First Presbyterian Church on Glenway Street. My mother drove my sister Kitty (8th grader) and me (5th grader) to our new school on that first day. As we pulled in, Headmaster Bill Davis greeted us and then walked me into my new classroom. I did not know a soul. Two of my classmates--and future lifelong friends--Gene Matthews and Pam Kimbrell suspected wrongly that I was the Head of Schools' son because he brought me into class. Helen Huss was our 5th grade teacher.

Mrs. Huss was a great teacher. My classmates and I still know all our multiplication tables up through 15 x 15 because Mrs. Huss drilled them into us. You would be surprised how often knowing your multiplication table through 15 comes in handy. Every once in a while, someone will throw out a random computation like this, "The Gaston Day neckties cost $12 apiece if we get a dozen." Without batting an eye, I can comment effortlessly, "$144." They look at me as if I am a mathematical genius. Thank you, Helen Huss. Knowledge is power. 12 x 8 = 96. I can go on and on, up to 15 x 15. 

There was an incredible sense of energy and optimism around the new school. We were starting something brand new!! Although our services and facilities seem primitive in hindsight, we did not care. A local caterer delivered sandwiches every day. We placed our orders on Friday for the next week. Our field for physical education was about 50 yds by 50 yds. Kickball worked there. But not softball, too small. For softball, we walked down to the end of the street where a larger field served the purpose. Plays took place on the stage of the old fellowship hall. As important as fine facilities are--and they are very important!--the attitude and spirit that you bring to any endeavor is most important of all. 

Gaston Day School has come so far in 50 years!! Our proudest accomplishments are our graduates and other students we prepared for success in college and in life. We also look back with gratitude to all the parents, teachers, administrators, and staff who have given so much of their lives to make the school great!! Like Sir Isaac Newton, we have seen farther because "we have stood on the shoulders on giants." Our school's greatness expresses itself most fully whenever we teach our students by word and example to be kind, compassionate, curious, competent learners and citizens.

Happy 50th Anniversary, Gaston Day!! May the next 50 years lead us to greater accomplishments as a school whose mission is "to educate our students and prepare them for academic success and responsible productive lives." Founder's Day is an especially great day to be a Spartan!

CLICK HERE for our 50th Anniversary Video

CLICK HERE for our 50th Anniversary Page