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Friday, October 21, 2011

Former Annandale High School students reconnect at 30th reunion

AHS Class of 81 members at Kilroy's, from the left: Carla Edwards, Cathy Burke, Pam Nelson, and Dee Daniels
The memories flowed last weekend as members of the Annandale High School Class of 1981 reconnected for their 30th reunion.

“As people get older, they are more appreciative of these kinds of friendships,” says one of the organizers, Andrew Ratliff. “People who might not have been friends before are willing to connect now.”

The reunion festivities included the AHS homecoming game Friday evening followed by an informal gathering at Kilroy’s, a dinner-dance Saturday night at the City Club in Washington, and a family picnic Sunday at Burke Lake Park.

Facebook has been fantastic in locating members of the Class of 81 and letting people know what’s going on in their lives,” Ratliff says. So far, about 240 of the 550 members of the Class of 81 have been found. Many are still in Northern Virginia, but some people came to the reunion from California, Oregon, Florida, and the Midwest.

At the reunion, it was interesting to see people “from different orbits” interacting and getting to know one another, Ratliff says. After three decades, there have been reversals of fortune. Some people who weren’t popular in high school, for example, are now more self-assured.

According to Ratliff, about four couples who were dating in high married soon after graduation and are still together.

And then there’s David and Laura Gogal. He was president of the Class of 1981—and is now known by the alumni as “president for life.” She was a cheerleader and vice president of the class. They were friends in high school but never dated.  Laura says they were in chemistry class at AHS when “we talked each other into running” for student leadership positions.

They both moved back to the area after graduating from the University of Virginia, but it wasn’t until they were working on planning the 10th reunion that they got to know each better. They began dating and have been married ever since. David Gogal, an attorney, continued to go back to AHS for some years to teach kids about the judiciary system by having them conduct mock trials with real judges.

Football games, pep rallies, and sock hops were popular at AHS, the Gogals note, and after the games, students used to hang out at the McDonalds on Little River Turnpike. Making floats for the homecoming parade was a huge activity, says Laura, who recalls working on a float featuring a giant shark and the message, “just when you thought it was safe to go back on the field.”

When asked how the AHS of today differs from the way it was back then, several people mentioned that it was much less diverse in the late 70s and early 80s, although it was beginning to attract more international students.

Class of 81 member Annette Agregagado, who was a recent immigrant from the Philippines, says it was “kind of scary” when she started going to school at AHS because she was shy and didn’t speak English that well, but says “people were really friendly.”

Kathy Ryan is pleased that AHS has become such a cultural Mecca in recent years, and believes her daughter, a sophomore at AHS, will benefit from the school’s diversity. When Ryan went to Virginia Tech after graduating in 1981, “I had a very small view of the world,” she says.

Ryan lives in Wakefield Chapel, about a mile from where she grew up. At AHS, she was student government treasurer and managed the girls basketball team. She says the coach, Katherine Bucks, was “fantastic,” and the principal, Mr. Finch, “was a terrific person.”

“Everybody liked Mr. Finch,” David Gogal added, and Laura Gogal fondly recalls math teacher Mr. Walton, English teacher Ms. McLean, and French teachers Madame Worrel and Monsieur Mautone.

For Clifton resident David Everard, one of the organizers of the reunion, his best AHS memories are winning a marching band competition in Virginia Beach in 1980—he played the trumpet—and cheering on the school’s nationally ranked football team. The Atoms won the state championship in 1978 and were rated the top team in the nation that year.

When asked about the most famous member of the Class of 81, Everard mentioned author and historian Matthew Stewart, whose books include The Management Myth, The Courtier and the Heretic, and Monturiol’s Dream.

Ratliff, who played the bassoon and percussion in the band, also cites the Virginia Beach competition as a highlight of his time at AHS, along with a band trip to Disney World, playing two lead roles in “Carnival” on alternate nights, and having the senior class play he was in win the “class acts” competition. His band in high school, Sorcerer, performed in the AHS talent show, and his current band, Bad Hair Day, played at the reunion dinner-dance Saturday evening. (Ratliff is also in a Beatles cover band, Apple Core.)
Not all the memories were happy ones. Three of his classmates died in alcohol-related car accidents when he was a student, and one of his best friends drowned.
Some of the highlights from the late 70s and early 80s, like sock hops, have fallen by the wayside, but other traditions continue. AHS students still have a powderpuff football game, members of the senior class still leave their mark on the school’s chimney, Friday night football games are still the place to hang out and be seen, and graduation is still at Constitution Hall.

Something else hasn’t changed, either: At last Friday’s game Ratliff says he witnessed “verbally abusive behavior” in the stands. “It was bullying, plain and simple,” he says, involving white kids taunting a Hispanic student. In his day, Ratliff says, people were picked on if they didn’t have the “right clothes,” such as Ocean Pacific shorts or an Izod Lacoste polo shirt.

According to Ratliff, the popular kids in 1981 tended to be the rich, white kids. There were also the “brainiacs,” the kids who were interested in science and math and participated in “It’s Academic” and the debate team; the jocks; the band people; and the “partiers,” who “hung out in back smoking pot.”

“There was a clear division between the jocks and freaks,” says one member of Class of 81. although “a lot of the jocks were smoking weed just as much as the freaks. There were people dealing right by the door as you came off the bus.”
In his junior year, the principal brought in an administrator, Mel Riddle, to clean things up, he recalls. Riddle would sit in a nearby church tower with binoculars and a camera to observe kids dealing drugs and get them to confess or “rat out their friends.” Riddle went on to become principal of JEB Stuart and T.C. Williams high schools.
Andrew Ratliff (in the purple shirt) in between Adrienne Doe and Sam Platt

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