Nick Lynn never expected to spend
his Sunday afternoon Dumpster diving.
"I was furious," he
Lynn, like countless others, is appalled, saddened and
hurt at the treatment of hard-earned trophies and mementos the Tellico Plains High School band and
choir has collected throughout the years.
Late Friday night,
Lynn learned from outgoing Band Director Robert Cobb that the school had pitched the trophies and
plaques the music department had won into the school's trash bins.
"Several teachers got them out and alerted Mr. Cobb," said Lynn, who was in the band program
for eight years and served as drum major.
Lynn said Cobb
started a group chat on Facebook to set up a time for some of the former members to go to the
school and retrieve the memorabilia. When Cobb, Lynn, and former band student Eddie Mansfield
arrived at the school over the weekend, the trophies were nowhere to be seen.
"We started looking around and found them back in the Dumpster," said
Lynn. "I had to get in and dig for them. From 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, I was in the garbage
saving our trophies."
Lynn took a photo and posted it to his
Facebook wall, simply stating, "Just dug these out of the garbage."
"We were just worried about getting them home and safe," said Lynn. "The last place I expected
to find them was back in the Dumpster. It was upsetting that they tossed them the first time, but
twice is just absurd. I was furious."
The Tellico Plains High
School music program and band/choir director position was eliminated at the request of Principal
Russell Harris in June due to "continued lack of demand for band and choir courses." The Monroe
County Board of Education agreed at that meeting to add an additional math teacher to offer
algebra II as a year-long block course this fall.
News of the
dumped trophies spread like wildfire, with former students, parents and teachers voicing their
opinion on social media sites.
"I never expected it to blow up
like it did," Lynn said. "I just posted the picture for my friends, then people started sharing
it. Then I got a call from WBIR [Channel 10]."
When the story hit
television airwaves, people across East Tennessee were just as shocked.
Chris Williams, who was in the school's choir and show choir from
1993-1995, called it "disrespectful."
"It's a disgrace to the
hard work, the effort and the legacy...If the program was cut, so be it," he said. "But don't
defile the only remains of the hard work and effort put into it."
Sara VanLandingham, who was in the choir, show choir and color guard from 1991-1995, said the
accomplishments of past students and current students should be displayed.
"Being temporarily without the music program does not justify removing
the symbols of hard work, love and dedication put in when the program was there," she said.
Lynn said there was more than just the approximately 40 trophies in
the trash, however.
"They threw away plaques and pictures
too," he said. "They basically tossed everything. We even found an American flag."
Many have noted how ashamed they are of their local school.
"Tellico Plains High School has met their all-time low," said Tonya
Wagner. "Each individual person put their blood, sweat and tears into this band and it was thrown
back into their faces. They were told what they love doesn't matter. This would never happen to
the football, softball, track, soccer, baseball, cheerleading, basketball teams... because those
things 'matter' to the school. Just because the music program was small doesn't mean it didn't
Monroe County Director of Schools Mike Lowry was
unaware of the situation until Monday afternoon.
addressed with the principal," he told The Advocate & Democrat on Tuesday. "The principal is
going to try to make things right with the community and get the trophies back together and make
sure that they are properly displayed."
On Tuesday morning,
Principal Harris remained mum on how the trophies ended up in the dumpsters.
"I apologize that it happened," Harris told The Advocate & Democrat.
"I take full responsibility. I'm not going to try to blame anyone else."
Harris said the school was in need of additional classroom space and
decided to clean out the band/choir room to use.
needed cleaning, needed cleaning a lot," he said. "In the process of that, they got thrown away.
Luckily, someone retrieved them from the Dumpsters."
officials have contacted someone about returning the trophies for placement in a trophy case in
the gymnasium lobby, said Harris.
"We'll display them," he
said. "We hope to have the trophy case ready by tomorrow [Wednesday] and hope to have them on
display by the time students are back for the first day of class."
Lynn and a few others are hoping to have the opportunity to address the School Board on
"A lot of people want to see the program
reinstated, but I know that's probably not going to happen," he said. "We just want our own trophy
case, not to be just thrown in with all the others wherever they fit."
Harris has continued to offer remorse.
"It was a mistake," he said.
But for all the former band
and choir students, a simple apology isn't enough.
"When I go
back to the school, I want to be able to see them and not just shoved in wherever unnoticed. We
don't want them to pat us on the back and say it's OK, not after they threw them away twice," said
Lynn. "They can shut down the program. They can throw away our trophies. But we’'l find
them--those are our memories. No matter how many years go by, those are a part of our history.
It's a part of my life."