Campbell can never say goodbye to its past.
Not that it would want to.
Opened in time for the 1989-90 academic year, following the merger of the old Campbell and Wills high schools, the story of the Campbell Spartans is forever linked to the history of the two schools from which it came.
Prior to the merger, the old Campbell Panthers, who sported green and gold, won the 1982 Class AAAA boys basketball state championship, while the Wills Tigers, who wore red, black and silver, captured the 1986 Class AAAA boys state crown.
Present-day Campbell will celebrate its past tonight by acknowledging former faculty, staff and players of the old Campbell and Wills basketball teams that helped pave the way for the success of the current Campbell programs. Members of both schools will be honored in Wills Gym between tonight’s boys and girls basketball games against Newnan.
“These were the two schools that won two of Cobb County’s first state championships in basketball,” said longtime Campbell girls basketball coach Randy McClure, who is in his 28th season at the Lady Spartans’ helm.
The Marietta boys also won a state championship in 1983, as did Osborne in 1964.
“Many people are really unaware of the rich basketball tradition in Cobb County, and how its roots run out of the Campbell and Wills parts of the city of Smyrna community,” McClure said.
According to McClure, the recognition is long overdue.
The impetus for the celebration stems from the fact that Campbell will play in a brand-new, 3,500-seat gymnasium starting next season. The Spartans’ current gym dates back to 1965, when Wills opened.
“We’re recognizing (the old schools) now because we’re finally getting a new gym for Campbell,” McClure said. “We’d like to close out the gym we play in now by recognizing those who blazed a trail for the ones who now benefit from their work. Wills (Gym) is where a lot of these players played their games. This is the gym they recognize, and this is where the big time games were.
“Campbell and Wills both had great and unique footprints in the Cobb County athletic fabric. Back then, those two schools were a big deal, and they played in the same region, so the atmosphere was intense. Comparing them to the teams of today, it was like taking Wheeler and combining it with McEachern to form one school. Wills and Campbell ran Cobb County basketball, and if you didn’t get to the game early, you wouldn’t get in.”
McClure has spent more than 30 years as a teacher in Smyrna. Hired as a science teacher at Wills High School for the 1986-87 school year, he was an assistant basketball coach when the schools merged in 1989 and moved to the former Campbell High campus, which is now the present-day Campbell Middle School.
Briefly renamed Smyrna High School before reassuming the Campbell name, the rapidly expanding school was relocated to the larger campus of the former Wills High in 1997.
McClure took over the Campbell girls basketball team for the 1990-91 season and has been at the helm ever since. Boys coach James Gwyn is in his 23rd season.
“This is a big deal for me because I understand it and the history,” McClure said. “I’m the last faculty member from those two schools, so I think the word I’d use for myself is ‘dinosaur.’ So many great people were a part of the school when I started. Nobody stays at a school this long.
“This has been a great place since I started, and it’s been my job, and coach Gwyn’s job, to keep these teams competitive. I hope all of the green and gold, the red, black and silver, and the blue and silver come out (tonight), because it’s finally time to put the Wills, old Campbell and new Campbell pieces together, and just say thanks.”