Not everyone can say they get their groceries at their old high school, but graduates of Young High School can make the statement honestly – sometimes with a tear in their eye.
Young High alums who still live in South Knoxville often shop at the Kroger on Chapman Highway, the anchor store in the Chapman Square shopping center. Young’s last class graduated in June 1976, and the next school year Young merged with rival South and the two Knoxville City schools became South-Young High School.
(That marriage didn’t last long. The school was combined with county school Doyle High in 1991 and became South-Doyle High School, now the only Knox County school serving grades nine through 12 in South Knoxville and South Knox County.)
Young’s graduates are still fiercely loyal to their alma mater, with at least three classes having already held reunions this year.
Part of the strong bond lies in the school’s format.
“Young was a junior-senior high, so you actually spent six years with your classmates,” says Terry Caruthers, class of 1976. “You developed almost a familial relationship.”
Caruthers says that as the school headed toward the end of its run, the class sizes dwindled.
“You just developed more of a closeness than you would in your typical high school experience.”
Although 1971 graduate Nancy McCarter attended Anderson and Galbraith schools before entering Young in ninth grade, she agrees.
“You knew most of the kids, either from one of the schools that you went to or from church in the neighborhood,” she says. “And the ones that you didn’t, everybody was always real friendly and got to know people.”
The original Young High School opened in 1913 (some sources incorrectly list 1912) before Chapman Highway even existed, and over the years students arrived in everything from horse-drawn wagons to flashy automobiles. Notable graduates included Mildred Doyle, Knox County’s longest-serving elected school superintendent; actor David Keith; writer Sam Venable; and artist Gale Ferguson Hinton.
Young High was different, Caruthers says.
“It was not your typical, regimented school like you would normally think of,” she says. “They would release us to cross Young High Pike and go to what was then the A&P to do our shopping for whatever meals we were going to make for the home economics class. Can you imagine doing that today?
“For gym class we had to cross Chapman Highway and walk down to the field to play tennis. They’d load us on a bus and take us down to Palace Bowling Lanes for bowling classes.”
In other ways, Young was like other schools, particularly in its heated football rivalry with nearby South High. McCarter recalls how they’d play tricks on their rivals.
“We used to order wreaths and have them delivered,” she says. “Sometimes we’d even comb the trash pile at Woodlawn Cemetery and deliver them personally. We never took them off the graves – at least, nobody that I knew of did – but I knew where the trash pile was.
“Those were the good times. You always had lots of school spirit. They had bonfires and pep rallies and things like that. … It was just fun.”
Betsy Pickle is a freelance writer and editor who particularly enjoys spotlighting South Knoxville.