For 1,600 students at Heritage High School in southern Blount County, the daily rhythm of classes, lockers, and after-school activities comes with a spectacular backdrop.
"All you have to do is look out the window and there are the Great Smoky Mountains. That's what I think of in terms of 'heritage' in East Tennessee," said Earl McMahan, principal of Heritage High School. "We have some outstanding students and a wonderful community that I'm proud to be a part of."
McMahan has served two stints at Heritage High School in his career as an educator, but he does not have as much experience at Heritage as science teacher Sam Kyker.
"I've been here since 1977 when the school opened," said Kyker. "I'm the last original teacher. I can remember when we were in the planning stage of this school."
Several rural communities in the county consolidated into Heritage High School in order to pool resources and offer more opportunities to students.
"They were smaller high schools. You had Townsend, Walland, Everett, and Porter High School all coming in to form Heritage," said McMahan.
"We're always trying to improve so our kids can have all the advantages once they get out of school," said Kyker. "Most people don't think about the name now, but there was a committee with people from all the schools in 1975 to determine things like the name, mascot, and the school colors."
Kyker said three of the four schools already had red as their dominant school color, so the selection of red was an easy decision.
"We kept the color red, but we didn't keep any one school's mascot. We came up with a new one and 'Mountaineers' seemed like an obvious choice considering our location," said Kyker.
As the towns came together for the future, they wanted a name that would preserve some of the individual pride each community felt prior to consolidation. Timing also played a part in the choice of the word "heritage."
"We settled on 'Heritage' because of the date. In the mid-1970s we were all having bicentennial celebrations leading up to the 200th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence in 1976," said Kyker. "It seemed like a natural fit and a way to preserve the heritage of the area and the schools that were coming together."
In the decades since they schools came together, the school's heritage has been one of academics and athletics with scenery that enhances it all.
"To me, there's no setting like sitting up in those stands overlooking the East Tennessee Great Smoky Mountains," said McMahan. "To have a cool and crisp Friday night with the leaves changing is a sight to behold."
"As far as location, I think it's the best place in East Tennessee and maybe the entire state to watch a football game. You also know you're always going to get a fantastic performance from the band," said Kyker. "It's all a beautiful setting that creates a lasting spirit for the community."
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