By Jim Buchanan

They went on to become sailors, soldiers, airmen, lawyers, dentists, leaders in government, education, law enforcement, parents and grandparents.

But for three decades, they were Sylva-Webster Golden Eagles.

Over the years, various classes have gathered for reunions and everyone always wants to know what people have been up to. You know people in your class, but people also bonded with those in other classes.

This year, Cathy Stillwell Gibson and friends have come up with a twist: Bring the entire alumni body together to reconnect and share memories of their years at Sylva-Webster High School to celebrate our past and present connection.

“With the present polarization in our society,” Gibson said, “anything that can be done to bring communities together is a good thing.”

Gibson, a 1969 Sylva-Webster graduate, said the idea had been bandied about for years, but solidified as she and friends were discussing their reunions. So they decided to head up the organization of a gathering in downtown Sylva to celebrate all of Sylva-Webster. Facebook pages already existed that were bringing alumni together online, offering an opportunity to communicate and get the ball rolling.

“The idea of gathering the whole group was hindered by finding a proper venue,” Gibson said, “but when we thought about using the town-owned pavilion and property on Scotts Creek in downtown and each class bringing a canopy, we formulated a plan.”

The gathering, Sylva-Websterfest 2019, is set for Saturday, Sept. 21, from 3-9 p.m. at Bridge Park on Railroad Avenue in Sylva. Initial plans feature two bands, the Elderly Brothers and Train, performing one and a half- to two hour sets, each interspaced with planned programing and some spontaneity. Each class under their own 10x10 canopy will provide name tags (with year) for their class, honor deceased members of their class, and appoint a spokesperson to brag on their class from the microphone for about five minutes.

The scope of the event covers the Sylva-Webster graduating classes from 1961 to 1988, and includes the years from 1989-1991, when students started as Golden Eagles and graduated as Smoky Mountain Mustangs. Plans include recognition of Sylva-Webster’s six football titles, two state baseball championships, the National Marching Bands of America crown and other notable achievements.

Gibson, who transferred into Sylva-Webster, says she was immediately swept up in a spirited sports tidal wave. This was about the same time integration started, bringing new talent to an already strong team.

“The level of sports excellence was so high, there was no bias,” Gibson said. “Those guys were our heroes. The level of achievement was just so incredible that we thought we were the cream of the crop.”

Former Golden Eagles are encouraged to spread the word to students, former teachers, staff or anyone who wants to reconnect with the Sylva-Webster experience. There are tentative plans for the Jackson County Genealogical Society to be on hand at a tent to welcome anyone who might not belong to a certain class, gather info and to display annuals spanning the decades.

There will be food trucks and beverage stations available. Otherwise, there is no entrance fee, since individual classes have submitted $100 for their class. Anyone who wants to sell at the event should get approval from Gibson and the organizing committee.

Work has started on a sound booth where people can record stories of their days at Sylva-Webster to be compiled on a CD.

As a kickoff to the Saturday event, the class of 1969 is sponsoring the band Train from 9 p.m.-midnight Friday, Sept. 20, at the recently merged Mad Batter/Lazy Hiker at 617 W. Main St. No admission will be charged and the event will be open to all alumni of Sylva-Webster, as well as the public.

The Class of 1969 will bring covered dishes and eat together at the Comfort Inn from 5-8 p.m. on Sept. 20 to celebrate their 50th-year reunion.

It is anticipated that Sept. 21 will offer a free-form event where people can reconnect and enjoy. In the event of inclement weather, plans are being made to move to another venue. The Herald will update this story closer to the event as final plans come into focus.

To learn more, visit the Sylva-Webster High School Alumni page on Facebook, email or call Gibson at 586-5466.