Virginia Mansfield, now an editorial aide on the Metropolitan staff of the Washington Post, graduated from Fort Hunt High School in 1973. During her years at the school, she was on the tennis team, was in the chorus, concert choir and madrigals, and was a student government representative and co-editor of the school newspaper. By Virginia Mansfield Washington Post Staff Writer
I was watching the 11 o'clock news the night of March 14 when I first learned that my old high school, Fort Hunt, was going to close. Although I had been following the attempts by school officials to deal with declining enrollment in the Mount Vernon area, I never thought it would happen. So there I sat, stunned, as a cold-hearted newscaster told me the best part of my adolescence was going down the drain.
By the time film clips of crying students flashed on the television screen my mind was far away. A flood of memories revived all that Fort Hunt meant to me. As those memories forced their way into my consciousness, a sadness gripped me.
In a world that's constantly changing, Fort Hunt to me represented stability. It has been a constant reminder that the energy, creativity and freshness of youth is an endless part of a community. And it has been central to the Fort Hunt community, bringing people together for concerts, sports events, plays and cookie sales. It was where we voted and where we organized neighborhood cleanups.
Alumni, parents and students all showed up at the fall football games. I sometimes think the adults had more school spirit than the kids did. Many of them attended the football games, long after their kids went off to college, to root for the Fort Hunt Federals. Telling those dedicated fans to root for Groveton, to be called West Potomac next year, is like telling Washington to root for the Dallas Cowboys.
The reality of Fort Hunt's closing will, of course, hit the community next fall. It will hit some people this summer when they go to play tennis at Fort Hunt's courts and there are no vibrant young men practicing football.
Or when there are no kids flagging down motorists at Hollin Hall Shopping Center offering to wash their cars for $3 to raise money for the Fort Hunt drill team.
But it will hit me this spring, as I drive to the 7-Eleven store on prom night; my mind won't go dizzy with memories of my own prom 12 years ago as I watch kids that remind me of myself at 17 drive off in the warm night air to meet their own memories.
A lot of people may think: Well, there will still be high school kids in the Fort Hunt area going to proms. But it will be different, at least for me, because those kids will be in an entirely different school, and in fact, be part of a different community.
I know this is not at all mature, but once a Fort Hunt Federal always a Federal. When I called my best friend from high school, Kathy Resch Matthews, and asked her what she thought of Fort Hunt closing, her first reaction was, "I can't believe those poor kids are going to have to go to Groooovetoooon, isn't that gross?"
I can't remember the last time Kathy used the word gross in her adult years, but when your high school closes, the first emotion you experience is that of a 17-year-old. Kids have special names for rival schools and they will use those names whether they're 17 or 54. A high school rival is always a rival. No one matures that much.
It will be different next year.
The students who will soon be attending West Potomac won't sing in the same chorus room I sang in, they won't work in the same theater I helped build sets in, and they won't know of the immense admiration that Fort Hunt graduates of all ages have for teachers like Paul Levy, who for 20 years maintained a great wit and had a God-given talent for making history and government come alive in a stuffy second-floor classroom at Fort Hunt.
To teachers and administrators like Levy and Jane Glazer, the English teacher whose encouragement led me to a career in journalism, my heart goes out to you. In many ways this move will be hardest on the dedicated staffs at both schools, and on those who will lose jobs.
Fortunately, Levy and Glazer will transfer to West Potomac, but the teachers with less seniority, many from Groveton, will not be accommodated in the merger.
Meanwhile, I will still be taking my annual ride past good 'ole Fort Hunt on the first crisp fall evening. As always, for one brief moment all my adult troubles will disappear as I imagine hearing the distant pounding of a marching band practicing for a football game that night.
Then I'll snap out of it and drive on.
But I'll be changed, because that fleeting glimpse of my youth will remind me that life is still just as sweet, even though it is sometimes sad.
I'll miss having my faithful alma mater there to help remind me.