For a century, the Poets have called Montgomery home.
Some of Montgomery's most famous residents have passed through Sidney Lanier High School since it first opened its doors in the fall of 1910.
Zelda Sayre was a Poet shortly before she met F. Scott Fitzgerald. Hank Williams was a Poet until he quit school to pursue a musical career. Bart Starr led the Poets onto the field before leading the Green Bay Packers to multiple NFL championships.
On Saturday, more than 850 people are expected to gather at the Renaissance Montgomery Hotel & Spa at the Convention Center to celebrate the storied school's centennial.
Starr will be one of the featured speakers at the banquet, along with John Cochran, a Lanier graduate who is a reporter for ABC News and won an Emmy award when he worked for NBC News.
Lanier first opened its doors in 1910 on South McDonough Street, at the current site of Baldwin Arts and Academics Magnet School.
The school was named for the famed Southern poet Sidney Lanier, who lived in Montgomery from 1866 to 1867.
The original school was the first public school in the city for both sexes and incorporated the existing boys' and girls' schools.
J.S. McCants took over as principal in 1917 and is credited with shaping Lanier's legacies in both academics and sports. He implemented new academic programs and also coached the football team, winning a state championship in 1920.
Construction of the late Gothic Revival building on South Court Street, where Lanier now sits, began in 1928.
The new school incorporated the students of Lanier and Montgomery County High School, and some contend the school's name was decided by a football game between the schools in 1928.
Lanier's new location opened in 1929 and quickly gained the nickname "The Million Dollar School." Students also would come to know the building as "The Castle."
Other well-known people who have graced the school's halls include Toni Tennille of Captain & Tennille, opera singer Nell Rankin and George Wallace Jr.
It is also the alma mater of astronaut Kathryn Cordell Thornton, Southern Poverty Law Center founder Morris Dees, film producer Broderick Johnson, former commandant of the U.S. Marines Carl Mundy, U.S. appeals court Judge Joel Dubina and many others.
Bill Joiner, a former Lanier basketball coach, said that every Lanier graduate could hold his or her head high.
"You don't have to be a big name to be proud of being from Lanier," Joiner said.
The Alabama Historical Society placed the school on the State Historic Register in 1988.
Lanier remained the only major public high school in Montgomery until Robert E. Lee High School opened in 1955. Lee was built to alleviate crowding at Lanier.
The school was integrated in 1964, beginning a shift in demographics at the school.
Once all-white, the school is now predominately black. The most recent enrollment numbers put Lanier at 1,182 students, with 1,175 black students, three white students and four classified as other.
Lanier through the years has won multiple sports championships and also has received commendations for its academic achievements.
In 1957, Lanier was ranked one of the top seven high schools in the nation. In 1984, academics were in the spotlight again with the creation of Lanier Academic Motivational Program.
Lanier established legacies in both football and basketball in the 1960s, with coach Bobby Wilson leading the Poets to the state championship in football in 1961, 1966, 1967 and 1968.
The Lee Generals, who had become Lanier's bitter cross-town rivals, won state football championships in 1960 and 1969.
The Lee-Lanier rivalry understandably became legendary during that decade, and alumni talk about the excitement that spread through the city every year when the teams played.
One of the more memorable years was 1966, when No. 2-ranked Lanier beat No. 1-ranked Lee 10-0 in the final game of the regular season. Both teams advanced to the playoffs and ended up playing each other for the state championship. Lanier stopped a late General drive with an interception to preserve a 9-7 win.
It was the first year of the state high school playoffs, and it was the first high school game to be televised in Montgomery. It also started a three-year state championship run for the Poet football team.
Meanwhile, Joiner was helping to create a dynasty in basketball at the same time, with the Poets winning state championships in 1962, 1963, 1965 and 1967.
"During those years, we were winning in all sports," he said.
Joiner coached from 1961 to 1968. A 1949 graduate of Lanier, he is a member of the Legends of Lanier, the group that organized this weekend's centennial celebration.
Joiner stressed that the celebration is not just about sports.
"From 1961 to 1968, Lanier High School was very much the dominant sports program in the state of Alabama, but that's not what we are celebrating," he said.
Joiner said he had great players and that they were the ones who deserved the credit.
"The school won and the players won. We had great players, an outstanding group of young men," he said.
Joiner said Lanier football games would draw an average of about 22,000 people to Cramton Bowl, and that Lanier-Lee games sold out to the capacity of about 25,000 within about a day.
"If you went to Lanier High School, you should be able to remember some great times," Joiner said.
Lanier Academic Motivational Program was introduced in 1984, part of a federal magnet program to keep schools "viably integrated," said Mary George Jester, who helped create the program.
By that time, the neighborhood around Lanier was majority black, and there were fewer and fewer white students on its rolls. The idea was that the program would draw some of the best students from all parts of the city.
"It was a really new concept at that time," said Jester, who taught at Lanier in the 1970s before returning as an administrator.
LAMP was not, however, a "gifted" program, she said.
"It was for academically talented and highly motivated students," she said.
Jester created the program with the help of Wiley Cutts, the principal at the time.
We put into it what we could to make it successful," Jester said.
In 1999, LAMP left Lanier and became Loveless Academic Magnet Program High School. The move allowed the school to admit more students and add such things as an independent athletic program.
LAMP is routinely named among the country's best schools by magazines such as Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report.
There are a number of highly successful graduates of LAMP, who were there when it still was part of Lanier.
"Kids (LAMP educators) saw who had potential have gone out and really developed that potential," Jester said.
LAMP graduates include noted scientists, writers, television producers and business leaders.
Lanier through the years
There have been many changes at Lanier throughout its 100 years, from no longer being the only high school in the city to integration to the creation of LAMP. Here are some of the memories Lanier graduates have of the school:
Rosemarie Porter, class of 1944
Rosemarie Porter said what she remembers most about Lanier are the people and the dances after the football games.
There were sororities at the school then, and Porter was the president of hers, Nu Beta Chi.
The classes were smaller then, and even though it was a large school, it was a friendly environment. "You knew just about everybody," she said.
Football games -- as they would be for years to come -- were "the biggest thing in town."
Porter now lives in Millbrook after having lived 18 different places since leaving Lanier.
Emory Folmar, class of 1948
Former Montgomery Mayor Emory Folmar graduated from Lanier in 1948.
At that time, it was the only high school in the city, which Folmar said gave him the opportunity to meet people from every part of the city.
"There were folks from all over town, and it was wonderful," said Folmar, who is now the administrator of the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board.
Folmar was captain of the football team, and also was on the track team. He said Lanier football games were huge in Montgomery at the time.
And it wasn't just a football game. "It was a city event," he said.
Even though there were more than 2,000 students at Lanier when Folmar attended, he said there was also a special closeness.
"There was a cohesiveness and a family situation at Lanier I doubt could be repeated," he said.
Dean Cobb, class of 1960
Dean Cobb said what he remembers most about Lanier is pitching for the baseball team.
Cobb said his catcher was Tommy Neville, who also played football and went on to be a star in the NFL.
Cobb lived at Maxwell Air Force Base, but unlike some military kids who only stayed for a couple of years, Cobb was in Montgomery long enough to make a lot of friends. "I was one of the lucky ones," he said.
Cobb said he remembers what an intense rivalry existed between Lee and Lanier in football. Even though Lee did not even exist until 1955, it did not take long for the two schools to become the fiercest of rivals, he said.
"It was like the (Chicago) Bears and the (Green Bay) Packers. I mean, they hated each other," he said.
Cobb now lives in Stockton, Calif., but he said he looks back fondly on his days in Montgomery.
"I just have a lot of pleasant memories of the kids I grew up with there," he said.
Maggie Bowden, class of 1968
Maggie Bowden attended Lanier shortly after the school began to integrate.
Bowden said she felt bad for the black students because there were so few of them in such a large school.
Integration itself seemed to happen without much fanfare, Bowden said.
"It all happened kind of quietly when it came down to it," she said.
And it was a more innocent time for high school students, Bowden said.
"I graduated from high school having never had a drink, which I understand is impossible these days," she said.
Bowden worked on the North Tower, Lanier's literary magazine. Inside the actual, physical North Tower was a small room that had a special feature that the rest of the school did not -- air conditioning.
Bowden said the room became an oasis for her where she could work on the magazine.
Overall, Bowden said her memories of Lanier are positive.
"It was just big and bustling and fun," she said.
Bowden attended Vanderbilt University after graduating and still lives in Nashville, Tenn.
Brenda Smith Franklin, class of 1970
Brenda Smith Franklin was among the first black students to attend Lanier after integration. About 26 other black students graduated with her, Franklin said.
Her parents had decided to send her to the school because they felt she would receive the best education there, she said.
"Lanier was considered one of the better schools," she said.
Franklin found the atmosphere at Lanier to be less than welcoming. White students were not used to going to school with blacks, she said.
"We were in their school. They did not want us there," she said.
At the same time, Franklin said it was a great experience for her because it opened her to a different culture and a different way of viewing things. "It gave me a sense that my world was not the beginning and the end," she said.
It was a learning experience for some teachers as well, Franklin said.
"I think it opened the eyes of a lot of teachers that there were smart black students," she said.
Franklin recalled a time when one of the black students brought a copy of Ebony to school and left it in the library. School officials confiscated the magazine immediately because it was considered "radical," she said.
"Ebony was no different than Life, but they confiscated it," she said.
Franklin, who recently returned to Montgomery from her current home in Carlsbad, Calif., said racial issues appear to remain at Montgomery high schools today.
She pointed out that Lanier, Lee, George Washington Carver and Jefferson Davis high schools are all predominately black.
The city's white students, meanwhile, continue to fill the rolls at private schools.
The lack of diversity is poor preparation for the real world, Franklin said.
"What are they going to accomplish by going to predominately white schools? They are still going to have to graduate and go out into the world," she said.
Arthur Baylor, class of 1974
Montgomery Police Chief Arthur Baylor remembers what a large school Lanier was at the time.
For instance, only juniors and seniors could drive to school because there were not enough parking places to accommodate sophomores, Baylor said.
"They used to have two pep rallies be cause it wasn't big enough to hold everybody," he said.
Baylor graduated from "Sidney L" along with several other people who would serve the city in one way or another, including recently deceased City Councilman Willie Cook and former Police Chief John Wilson.
Baylor, the city's first black police chief, said he did not remember race ever being an issue when he went to school at Lanier.
"My memories of Lanier were all positive," he said.
Baylor was a member of the ROTC, and he said he attended quite a few football and basketball games during his time there.
Baylor has been nominated as U.S. Marshal for the Middle District of Alabama. The nomination is pending confirmation by the U.S. Senate.
Jana Morgan Bailey, class of 1979
Jana Morgan Bailey estimated that by the time she graduated, the school was about 60 to 65 percent black.
Bailey said white and black students generally got along and that most students shared a sense of pride in the school.
"There was a lot of school spirit. Everybody still went to the football games and pep rallies," Bailey said, adding that she never missed a football game during her entire time at Lanier.
Bailey moved away from Montgomery and later returned. She said it seemed that things had changed.
"I think a lot of it had to do with there being so many private schools," she said.
Bailey said there were a lot of benefits to having a mixed school population that many students today are missing.
"I think the diversity is what helped us all grow individually and also as a group," she said.
There also was a high standard of education at Lanier, she said.
"There were teachers who were there who still had the old style of teaching. We were there to learn," Bailey said.
Ravi Howard, class of 1992
Ravi Howard worked on Lanier's literary magazine, North Tower while he attended LAMP.
Howard is now an award-winning writer, and he credits LAMP with helping lay the foundation for his success.
"It was a good mix of academics and professional development as well," said Howard, whose novel "Like Trees, Walking" won the 2001 Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Award.
Howard lives in Mobile and is working on his second novel, which he said he hoped to complete soon.
Howard said the encouragement of English teachers when he turned in short stories for class assignments helped sustain him as a writer. He continued to keep in touch with those teachers after he graduated.
"It is good to be a part of that kind of community, to still be in contact," he said.
While Howard has not returned for a class reunion, he said he has reconnected with many classmates through social networking websites.
Making those kinds of contacts is a good thing to do, Howard said.
"It reminds us how important it is to stay in touch with people we grew up with," he said.
Brent Capell, class of 1993
Brent Capell credits LAMP with preparing him for college and his current job as a nuclear physicist.
"The classes were tough, but at the same time I don't think I realized how good of a base it was until I got to college," said Capell, who lives in Pittsburgh and works with Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory.
Like many others, Capell lists attending football games among his memories of Lanier, but he said other activities opened a lot of doors for him.
"I participated in a number of scholastic events through LAMP. It gave me a lot of opportunities to meet a lot of people I wouldn't otherwise meet," he said.
Capell was not the first in his family to graduate from Lanier. His grandparents also graduated from the school, he said.
He said he still tells people about going to a high school whose mascot is the Poets.
"I think people are amazed by that," he said.
Marquez Williams said his favorite part of attending Lanier was taking part in sports.
Williams played football, baseball and wrestled for the school. He was a wide receiver and outside linebacker in football and a right fielder in baseball, but he excelled in wrestling.
At Lanier, he had a lot of good teachers, he said.
One that Williams said stood out was Mr. Myers, who taught English.
"He took the time out, not just in school, but also on weekends, we would shoot ball. And in school if we needed any help, he would help us out," Williams said.
Sidney Lanier High School will have its centennial celebration Saturday with an open house, a reception and a banquet. Football legend Bart Starr will be the keynote speaker, and award-winning journalist John Cochran will be the emcee.
10 a.m. to noon: Open house at Sidney Lanier High School. There is no charge, and everyone is welcome.
6:15 p.m.: Reception at the Renaissance Montgomery Hotel & Spa at the Convention Center
7 p.m.: Banquet at the Renaissance
Marquez Williams, class of 2009