THE VILLE – Sumner High School.
It’s the first black high school west of the Mississippi River.
Situated at 4248 Cottage Ave. in the historic Ville neighborhood, it was once the high-class nucleus of black St. Louis.
It was also the cornerstone of a thriving community that included Annie Turnbo Malone’s Poro College, The Normal School and the venerable Homer G. Phillips Hospital, a world-class training institution for African-American doctors.
Sumner High was founded in 1875. Over the years, it has produced greats including activist and comedian Dick Gregory, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame singers Tina Turner and Chuck Berry, tennis great Arthur Ashe, dancer Josephine Baker, Emmy Award-winning actor Robert Guillaume and TV news anchor Julius Hunter.
The list of great alumni marches on. The school was also known for its dynamic principals, teachers and staff.
Then there’s Missouri Sports Hall of Fame coach Larry Walls and the Sumner Bulldogs’ football dynasty. And many can’t forget the high-stepping, jiggy, jam-blowing marching band, which for many years was a favorite in the annual Annie Malone May Day Parade.
That all said, no wonder the annual homecoming, reunion and tailgate party is known as the largest among city schools. It culminates week-long activities that include bowling, happy hour and a dance.
Every year it draws hundreds back to their old school stomping grounds, an Saturday was no different.
Alums grill, blast music, enjoy eats and spirit and fellowship. They set up photo booths for class photos and fellowship. There’s plenty of hugs, dancing and walks down memory lane. Every class has its own section around the area surrounding the school grounds.
“This is a how it is supposed to be; this is a historic high school,” 1986 alum Kenneth Adams said of the homecoming, reunion and tailgate.
Adams also remarked that there were a lot of tough people out there that he remembered walking the halls of Sumner with, but that the day was full of peaceful fun. No fights or shootings were reported.
“Not one fight with all these tough guys out here. I really like this,” Adams remarked.
Brian Mason, another 1986 alum, who was talking to Adams about the festive day, tipped his hat to the Sumner High School Alumni Association.
“They go really hard all year to make sure this is great every year,” Mason said. “And they don’t get paid for it, but you would think that they did.”
Betty Louis, class of ’76, was still raising money the during the homecoming festivities. Louis is treasurer of the alumni association and puts out the newsletter and other communications including obituaries on the Bulldogs Not Forgotten Facebook page.
She still makes sure she has some fun amid all the work.
“I had a blast at all of the events. I truly enjoyed myself,” Louis said.
Oh, the homecoming game.
Many people come just to fellowship and skip the game. It was, however, an emotional one this year. The school’s football team was discontinued because of a low roster number, and they have merged with the Soldan International High School Tigers. This year they played Lift For Life Academy.
For several years the Sumner’s football bulldogs had played Vashon High School Wolverines, as the homecoming match up. This year, Vashon alumni were invited to tailgate along with Sumner. Vashon High is the second oldest black high school west of the Mississippi.
“The football team hasn’t been up to par for years, but we remember when it was; but we still come to have a good time,” said Perry Levi, ’83.