Coming home.

The words evoke memories of friends, family and good times.

What else could be a better theme for this weekend’s Dover High School multi-year reunion?

The event, to be held from Thursday, June 12, through Sunday, June 15, will mark the end of another era in the school’s history and the beginning of another, said Jean Thornburg Taylor, Class of 1982.

As one of the organizers of the Coming Home weekend, Taylor is looking forward to renewing old acquaintances and making new friends.

“High school is a time when you’re challenged, not only academically but also socially,” she noted.

“It’s a time where you lay down the foundation for the direction your life will take. The opportunity to come back to that place is an awesome one.”

The latest era in Dover High’s story will begin this August with the opening of a new high school, under construction on Route 8, west of Dover. The 290,000-square foot building will replace the current high school, which was opened in 1965.

That building, in turn, supplanted an older school, which beginning in 1923 had housed students from first through 12th grades. That building was spared from demolition when the high school was moved in 1965, and now serves as Central Middle School.

But the current Dover High faces another fate: it is to be demolished by the end of 2014.

The genesis

Taylor and classmate Rob Kellam began pondering a multi-class reunion in while at their own 30th class get-together in 2012.

But it was a story in the Dover Post that said the old school would be torn down once the new one was built that spurred them to action, Kellam said.

“When I found out they were taking the school down, I wanted to do something,” he said.

“Within five minutes of reading it, I called Jean,” he said. “I said, it’s now or never. We’ve got to do it now or we won’t do it.”

A small group of like-minded alumni formed the core of the reunion committee after word began to spread through social media – the group is on Facebook at Coming Home Dover High School and also has a Twitter account at dhsaade − and by old-fashioned word of mouth.

The reunion committee is made up of about a dozen former students, from Allan Angel’s Class of 1971 to Paul Skiver, who graduated in 1993.

Rivalry, history and loyalty

One of the hallmarks of Dover High’s legacy is its decades-old rivalry with Camden’s Caesar Rodney High School. The competition between the schools at one time was so intense that football games between the two sometimes were cancelled because of the possibility of fights.

But the competitiveness also had its lighter side, such as when Steve Batey, Class of 1980, conspired with his friends ahead of the two schools’ annual gridiron matchup to “borrow” CR’s game cannon, which was fired whenever the Riders made a touchdown.

Principal Pat Lynn, however, didn’t see the humor in the stunt.

“Pat Lynn told us if it wasn’t returned, Dover would forfeit the football game,” Batey said. “We loaded it into a station wagon and dropped it off in front of the elementary school.”

Fortunately, a passing state trooper didn’t stop to question the conspirators, and CR recovered their cannon – although Batey and company had repainted it in Dover’s traditional blue and white color scheme.

There was practically no fraternization between the schools, said Kathryn “Kitty” Day Wall, Class of 1947.

“You didn’t associate with CR kids at all,” she said. “I dated a lot of guys, but I never dated a boy from CR. Never.”

Dover High also made history at the beginning of the 1954 school year when a small group of black students were the first to be admitted after the United States Supreme Court struck down racial segregation in education.

Unlike similar attempts in other school districts, which were disrupted by virulent attacks on black students, things at Dover went relatively well, particularly after school and city officials made it known that any disruptions would be dealt with immediately.

“If it appears there will be violence, we will stop it,” then-Chief of Police James Turner promised.

Two of the students, Marshall Arnell and Cherritta Laws, became the first black students to graduate from Dover High four years later. Arnell, who died in 2011, returned to Dover High to teach and later became the school’s vice principal.

Laws later worked as a speech pathologist in the school district and is retired from the Delaware Department of Education.

There’s also an unquestioned loyalty to Dover that marks many of its graduates. Angel fought to stay at Dover, even though his family had moved outside the district before his senior year, an example of one of the first school choice cases in the area; Kellam should have been transferred to Smyrna when his family moved there, but Lynn was able to arrange his remaining a Senator.

Heather Hughes Hennessy, Class of 1985, knows all about that loyalty. Her mother, Beverly Carey Hughes, graduated in 1959; her husband and two children also attended Dover High, with son Brandon receiving his diploma on June 4.

There will be a definite twinge of sorrow once the current Dover High locks its doors for good.

“I think it will be sad,” Hennessy said. “All of those memories will be gone. For me, it’s been kind of neat to be able to walk the same halls my children walked.”

What’s happening

Although the weekend has been advertised as a reunion for Dover High students, all events are open to the public, but tickets are required for admission.

The Green will host free public concerts from 7 until 9 p.m. Thursday, and the Garrisons Lake Golf Course will be the site of a golf outing Friday morning. Various class reunions will take place at different venues throughout Dover on Thursday and Friday afternoon and evening.

Saturday events will take place at the current school building on Pat Lynn Drive, including a last tour, an art display and a fashion and talent show.

At 11:30 a.m., there will be an attempt to break the Guinness Book record for the number of alumni gathered in one place; at least 3,300 former students are needed.

A Last Dance will take place at 6:30 p.m.; each hallway at the school will be home to music from each era of the school’s past, Kellam said.

Sunday events will take place at Central Middle School, with an interdenominational service at 8 a.m., followed at 12:30 by a symbolic Passing of the Torch, from one school to the next.

Two separate torches will be carried from Central Middle School and the former all-black William Henry High School (now William Henry Middle School) to the current Dover High; those torches will light a third torch, which will be carried from there to the new school.

But it won’t be just one person carrying the torches, Kellam said.

“They will go through many different hands,” he said. “We don’t want to have just one or two people involved.

“This is a symbolic ceremony of passing from the old school to the new school. We would like as many alumni as possible to take part in this.

“We may never have the opportunity again in the school’s history to get so many people together.”