A Real Homecoming

A halftime ceremony during Friday night’s Blythewood High School football game will honor the athletes who attended Blythewood’s former Bethel High School, which closed after the 1970 school year. Show above are the members of the last Bethel Tiger football team. Front row: Bobby Cunningham (80), Dale Bell (21), Anthony Chavis (11), Larry Gilyard (51.) Second row: Olin Kelly (70), James Bright (33), James Cunningham (66), Timothy Blanding (22), Willie Belton (45) Lawrence Bolar (52), Ray Jacobs (30.) Third row: Ezell Wright (55), Larry Griffin (10), John Hagler (65), Larry Green (44), Alonzo Gilyard (63), Colzell Williams (62.) Top row: Doug Watts (82) and Franklin Fogle (79.)

A special event will be held during halftime at Blythewood High School’s football game on Friday night. The school and Richland District 2 will honor the former athletes of Blythewood’s historic Bethel High School.

It seems hard to believe now, but in the early 1950s and 1960s, school integration had not yet taken place and segregation was the order of the day. In Blythewood there was both a high school attended by white students, the original Blythewood High School, and a high school attended by black students, Bethel High School. Both schools had football teams, though they never played each other. Both schools were closed as high schools in the 1970s, and the students from both Bethel High School and Blythewood High School were integrated into Spring Valley High School as one unit.

Now the District, as well as members of the Bethel-Hanberry Athletic Alumni Association (B-HAAS,) are seeking to honor those former athletes from Bethel High School.
B-HAAS president Larry Griffin played on the Bethel High School football team in 1969 and 1970, and he was quarterback in 1970. But he graduated from the integrated Spring Valley High School. Griffin explained that the idea to honor Bethel High School came out of a movement last year to honor several closed historic schools — Bethel, Richtex, Lexington-Rosewald and Lakeview.

“This is what you’d call a football legacy,” Griffin said. “Bethel was chosen as one of the four schools to be honored because we already had a viable and evolving athletic alumni association.”

After Bethel High School was closed, it became a middle school, then a junior high and then Bethel-Hanberry Elementary School, which it still is today. The original Blythewood High School is now Blythewood Academy.

Griffin has been working with his fellow B-HAAS members to locate former Bethel High School athletes. According to the B-HAAS flyer, the former athletes are invited to a pre-game tailgate Friday night from 4-7 p.m. sponsored by the Association. Bethel players will be introduced to the current Blythewood Bengals football team prior to the game and will accompany them onto the field for the pre-game warm-ups.

This celebration is not a case of an old wound being healed, but of former players returning to their roots and showing their kids and grandkids where they came from, said Griffin.

“The biggest thing I want to stress is that some of these guys haven’t been back (in the community), some have not been on the new BHS football field and some of these guys have never had any accolades since they left school,” he said.

Part of the reason why the players haven’t receive the accolades they deserved was because a lot of the history of Bethel High School was lost in the transition to Spring Valley High School, and a lot of those former Bethel athletes lost touch with the community and the school that was no longer there. To them, it was a closed chapter of their lives. Griffin has worked diligently to find any and all school memorabilia, but many of the artifacts are missing and presumed thrown away.

He has also been trying to get the word out to those Bethel athletes that are still around, he said.

But the B-HAAS isn’t about just strolling down memory lane. The Association works to be a force for good in the Blythewood community in the here and now.

Writes Griffin, “The Bethel-Hanberry Athletic Alumni Association has already been instrumental in providing financial assistance to both school and community. The group’s commitment toward securing the Bethel High School legacy is . . . demonstrated by their . . . annual scholarships to Richland District Two students.”

“My hope for this weekend event is that the alumni of the school will come out to see their athletes honored,” Griffin said. “We are going to tour the former high school at noon on Friday – sort of a ‘whence you came’ thing, to where the school is right now. Then we’re going to visit Town Hall where there will be a proclamation by the Mayor. Then we’ll tour at the new high school, which is a ‘whence your kids and grandkids came’ thing.

“About all the alumni athletes have remaining from their high school days, now, are their memories,” Griffin said. “B-HAAS plans to give them one more memory — that of standing together on the field at Blythewood Stadium as they are honored for the days when they were high school athletes.”

Friday’s Schedule of Events for Bethel High School Athletes

12 p.m. – Tour Bethel-Hanberry Elementary

1 p.m. – Proclamation by Mayor at Town Hall

2 p.m. – Presentation to Town at Doko Manor

3 p.m. – Tour Blythewood High School

4-7 p.m. – Tailgate at BHS Stadium

7:30 p.m. – Game Time

Halftime – Bethel High School Athletes honored