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Lions Unite

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Oviedo High School graduates from the 1950s and early 60s gather for a once-in-a-lifetime reunion to celebrate the school’s storied past

Out of habit, photographers gripped their cameras and said, ”Smile.”

The requests were superfluous, though, as smiles were the order of the day – broad, genuine ear-to-ear grins that indicated, ”We are glad to be here.”

Approximately 100 Oviedo High School graduates from the classes of 1953 to 1963 recently attended their first collective gathering – or combo reunion, if you prefer – with OHS alumna Rose Beasley Banks traveling the farthest, coming all the way from the state of Washington.

For many, like Fred Alford, it was the first such encounter with so many classmates. The excitement level was so high, Fred could hardly contain himself.

“I’ve never done this before,” the retired insurance executive said as he walked into the reunion. “It’ll be fun.”

Fred graduated from Oviedo High in 1959. There were 17 OHS Lions in his graduating class, and they’d never before gathered for a reunion until the November shindig at Tuscawilla Country Club.

“Oviedo High was so small, and reunions were not that common back then,” says Fred. “Grades 1-12 were all in one building where Lawton Elementary is now.”

Small-town values ruled the roost for most of the graduates at this reunion. Many married their high-school sweethearts, and many of those marriages have since lasted for more than 50 years. Cornelia Weitmon Roddenberry from the Class of ‘53 has enjoyed the longest marriage among her peers, at 61 years.

Oviedo High’s small size in the ‘50s and early ‘60s had its drawbacks. Because each class typically had only 15 to 25 members, it was impossible to field a football team.

“We just couldn’t get enough players,” several graduates lamented during the reunion.

But, boy, could they play basketball!

At the end of the 1956-1957 season, the Oviedo High Lions became the first team in Central Florida to win a state championship. The Lions took the Class C title behind the likes of Carl “Slug” Fabry, Ferdinand and Michael Duda, and Tom Brown. In fact, the team beat both Boone and Edgewater high schools that year, which was icing on the cake.

“We learned so much from Coach Paul Mikler,” says Carl, the team’s center. “We had the school’s first undefeated team at 26-0 in 1956, and then we were 24-2 when we won the state title in ‘57.”

The assembled graduates also reminisced about many memorable incidents that took place during their tenure at OHS, including the mysterious donkey on the roof caper.

“Hey, tell us about the donkey,” the effervescent Tommy Estes said, pointing to the reputed ringleader, who nodded his head and grinned, but said he doesn’t remember much about it. “I don’t know how they ever got that donkey down from there. I heard they had a ladder up to the trap door to the roof. You know, donkeys will climb up, but they won’t go back down.”
Danny Beistle, one of the architects of the two-day reunion, was touched by an unexpected tribute.

“When the disc jockey played ‘Danny Boy,’ the crowd got up and gave me a nice round of applause,” says Danny, who was president of the Class of 1957. “I was very pleased.”

Danny says he, Bob Schaeffer, and Leona Hart Abell attend church together in Oviedo and had talked about planning         a reunion.

“Finally, I just said, ‘Let’s do it,’ and we did,” Danny says. “After all, we are not getting any younger.”

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