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When it was new…

By BY PAUL KEANE, PUBLISHER
Many people remember the Lions Community Center as the "old" high school. Not many remember it as the "new" high school, though.
Clarence Walker, a long-time resident of the Oak Grove community, remembers the newness of the building. After all, he was a member of the ECHS graduating class of 1929.
And while nearly every member of that 1929 graduating class is now dead -- it is believed that Walker, the valedictorian of that class, is the last remaining survivor -- the memories are still as bright as they were nine decades ago.
Even without the pomp and circumstance, though, Walker and a few of his classmates did accomplish firsts in their respective communities. Walker was the first member of the Oak Grove community to graduate from high school, as were classmates from other communities in the outer areas of Escambia County and even North Florida.
That made for some interesting commuting challenges. Walker speaks fondly of some of his classmates riding "the short" -- a train that ran from Flomaton to Mobile each day, stopping at every little station along the way -- to and from school. He also talks about boarding up in the Atmore area from time to time, walking 12 miles home early Friday night, then walking the 12 miles back to school on Sunday afternoon.
While Walker was the valedictorian, Eugene Nowell was the valedictorian and Fritz McKinly served as Class President. The group also began the basketball program at ECHS, beginning the program as just something to do.
The basketball games could get rough, though, as Walker said things were loosely organized.
And while the basketball team was in its infancy, the football program was going strong, "whipping everyone's tails," Walker said. That caused some jealousy among the two sports in the early going.
According to Walker, when it came time to hand out letter sweaters to both programs, members of the football team didn't feel the basketball team had earned them because the program was not officially sanctioned by the school at the time. Instead, a compromise was reached and the football players wore the tradition maroon sweaters with a large white letter "A" on the front (for Atmore) while the basketball players were relegated to wearing the purple version of the sweater.
Part of the jealousy may have sprung from the success of each program. "We were never any good in basketball," Walker says matter of factly.
Walker points out that he got all of the basics he needed while attending ECHS, and that he wouldn't want to speculate on which era provided the best education.
Either way, Walker said -- much like today's generation -- he and his classmates had no idea of what laid ahead in their futures. Included in that future was the Great Depression, World War II, a man walking on the moon and the explosion of the computer and Internet age.