In spring 1933, while the country was struggling with the Great Depression, 38 students graduated from Gaithersburg High School.
Despite the bleak future that seemed to stretch before them, a considerable esprit de corps existed among the teen-agers. Laura Claggett of the class recalled recently that spirit was high because of strong support the school received from the then-rural community.
Last Saturday, Gaithersburg High again became a center of enthusiasm as 3,500 alumni and students crowded onto wooden bleachers to cheer on the Trojan football team against rival Springbrook High as part of the school's 77th birthday and alumni day celebration.
They also were there to raise funds for school activities. Suzanne Offutt, an organizer of the celebration, estimated the school's booster club received about $5,000 in donations. The money will be distributed to school clubs and programs, including athletics, an area many parents and faculty members say has not gotten enough funding in the past.
"We were looking for a new gimmick to get the kids involved and raise money for the school's extracurricular programs," said Denise Paar, president of the booster club. She and a group of friends came up with the idea of combining the high school's 77th birthday with an alumni reunion.
Sitting among yellow helium-filled balloons and blue paper pompoms, Bruce Deppa of Darnestown said he was thrilled at the turnout. "It's just a tremendous experience for all of us," said Deppa, president of the class of 1959 and a bass drum player in the marching band.
At a pregame ceremony, head football coach John Harvill received a plaque commemorating his 25 years of service to the high school. A new flagpole donated by the Gaithersburg Lion's club was dedicated.
At halftime, Deppa and 54 other former band members got a chance to step back in time to show their pride and enthusiasm for the school. Playing borrowed trumpets and tubas, they marched across the field to "Happy Days Are Here Again" and "When the Saints Come Marching In," trying to retrace their formations of years ago.
The day's theme, "The Spirit Lives On," was everywhere: on balloons, T-shirts, pennants, pins and even in one loyal Trojan who sat in the bleachers concentrating on the Baltimore Orioles-Milwaukee Brewers game on a portable radio while singing his old school song.
One couple came from St. Mary's County, Md., to watch their alma mater take on Springbrook High.
Local merchants donated food and flowers, while student organizations, including the forensic club and yearbook staff, sold homemade cakes and cookies.
Ann Meyer, Gaithersburg principal, was pleased by the boosterism, calling it an expression of "their love and loyalty to Gaithersburg High School. It's a tribute to the traditions and accomplishments of the school."
The first Gaithersburg High was in the building now occupied by the elementary school. Today's sprawling, split-level high school, with four tennis courts, is expected to have a June graduating class of 446, compared to 38 in 1933, with about 65 percent of the students continuing on to higher education.
As Gaithersburg grew from rural to suburban, the composition of the student body has changed. Today, Meyer said, about 21 percent are minority students; five years ago, minorities made up only 15 percent.
The high school supports 21 sports programs and a variety of other student activities.
John Harvill, head football coach, said his team lacks accessories, such as jerseys and special pads, that the school should provide. Students now pay for their own, he said.
"We can't provide the little extra things for the kids to make football more attractive," he said. Harvill said it was "completely ridiculous for the county not to provide adequate funds for the school's athletic programs."
Although there may be some grumbling about clubs and athletic teams not getting enough funding, Fran Edlovitch, high school athletic director, said she tries to spread her about $7,000 budget from the Montgomery County schools' athletic department "evenly across the board."
Her decisions are made according to safety factors and the number of students on each team, she said. Although Edlovitch maintained she has brought the high school's sports program out of a deficit budget within the last four years, she admitted the program "is only comfortable."
Harvill said he and his football team appreciate the work of the booster club, which last year raised $11,600 for the school's extracurricular programs. The team "couldn't survive without the booster club," he said.
Lee Etta Powell, associate supervisor for up-county schools, said parents should show more financial support for extracurricular activities. She also suggested the county school board and County Council increase the schools' allotments for these programs.
Pat Steele, class of 1957, linked greater funding for student programs with higher taxes. "If you want these programs, stop complaining and increase the taxes. Either cut back (on the activities) or fork out more money," she said, pinning a giant, yellow football mum to her shirt.
In the big match with Springbook, Gaithersburg lost 7-3. But the fans' spirits and excitement continued at an alumni dance that night at the local Knights of Pythias Hall. Alumni paid $5 a couple to jitterbug and boogie to the beat of the band Nitelife.
"We left at about 1:15 a.m., but other people didn't leave until 1:30 a.m," Offutt said, nursing a cold caught because of the weekend's activity.