Ronda O’Dell stood in the Gulf High stadium before the homecoming game and caught up with former classmates.
O’Dell, 51, was one of about 150 former Gulf High students who returned to her old school and participated Friday in the second-ever Alumni Invasion, a two reunion event.
O’Dell is a 1979 graduate of Gulf High School. She used to twirl batons at the football games and still has some of her majorettes costumes tucked away in the closet at her mother’s house.
“We keep those hidden away,” O’Dell said and laughed.
The Invasion is a relatively new celebration that alumni and event coordinated Bill Phillips, class of 1975, hopes to make into tradition, holding it every five years or so.
Phillips spearheaded the first invasion in 2008 and chose this year to celebrate the school’s 90th anniversary and to pay tribute to retired Gulf High coach and principal James E. "Ed" Campbell, who was killed this past March and found dead in his home in Madison County.
Last week’s invasion coincided with the school’s homecoming game again Hudson High, and alumni were invited to the school’s homecoming parade and football game.
Tickets were $25 at the side gate and included a barbeque dinner. The money will go towards scholarships for current Gulf High students and to build the James Edward Campbell Alumni Plaza by the campus stadium.
Before the game, O’Dell kissed her husband goodbye and headed off to the football field with other members of the GHS Chain Gang, a group of volunteers that keeps tracks of yardage on the sidelines during the game.
Nearby, other alums geared up for the impending homecoming court announcement and football game, many outfitted in green and gold shirts and face paint.
Joelene Lowe, 46, and 1984 alumnae, attended the pre-game festivities and joined up with a group of a dozen or so other graduates. She moved back to New Port Richey this past June and reconnected with old pals through Facebook.
“It’s so wonderful to be back,” Lowe said. “I set up events on Facebook and we all go to bad karaoke nights and next month we are going camping. We get together for various activities about once a week.”
Lowe’s fondest memory was sneaking out with her friends to the The Recovery Room for breakfast during first period before the gates were locked. They’d sneak back in time to attend their other classes.
Dale Webb, Class of ‘78, recalled memories of the first class to graduate from the school’s current location and playing linebacker and quarterback for the football team.
“The football team helped clear the land of pine forest so the facility could be built,” Webb said. “We took time off from football practice to do it.”
As the game wound down, alumni headed to downtown New Port Richey’s Peace Hall across from Sims Park to listen to live music and reminisce about their school days with some beer and wine.
The former church was filled with laughter. Alumni recalled fond memories of old teachers and hanging out with friends, and of getting dropped from the Junior Varsity basketball team “for stupid reasons” and sweating over exams.
Pete Altman, 65, and a 1975 graduate, was handed a tattered green and gold book with ripped binding and pages trying to free themselves. It was a 1972 yearbook that was circulating around the room. Altman pointed out himself out and friends that were currently in the room.
Altman talked about homecomings past and the school spirit that enveloped the community.
“Everyone was involved in the school spirit during homecoming week,” Altman said. “The whole town was. It gave you a sense of belonging. It didn’t matter if you were on the team or not because you got to be part of it.”
Want to see more of the invasion? Check out the video on our site.