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Still a Bearcat...after all these years
May 24, 2006

Excitement is in the air over at the high school. It will reach its peak tomorrow for the more than 300 BHS Seniors—and their moms, dads, grandfolks, aunts, uncles... Lots of folks will be clapping and cheering when the young scholars march across the stage and receive their diplomas.

About the happiest guy around will be the man giving each one of them a handshake and his heartfelt best wishes—Principal Tommie Howell.

Tommie (or should I say Mr. Howell?) will be looking for a bright future for each of the young men and women he has watched grow through their Bearcat years. He's mighty proud of all of them, but he'll also be looking back. He'll be remembering a day about this time of year thirty years ago.

That's when the Bainbridge High School class of 1976, proud of their spirit of independence in America's bicentennial year, marched across the stage at Centennial Field and began their adventures with grown-up life.

Again, there were over three hundred exuberant young men and women in caps and gowns. First, they listened to their outstanding students classmatesJan Kres and Betsy Tuten speak. Then it was time to march across the stage, accept their diplomas and receive good wishes and hand shakes from Principal H.C. Miller. They scattered far and wide, close and near—Jan and Betsy, Bruce Kirbo, Jr., Frances Kwilecki, George Herring, Cathy Cox, Nate Holt, Kathy Varner, David Kendrick, Karen Pritzl and Tommie Howell among them.

I stopped by Bainbridge High to chat a bit about those good old days and the good now days recently. Principal Howell, clad in a festive purple and gold shirt, greeted me in the hallway. I commented on his appropriate dress.

"I've got a closet full of purple," he smiled and told me. He wears it lots, especially on Fridays. Good to show the Bearcat spirit.

Which Tommie has in abundance and always has. He's a Bainbridge lad. "A home boy," he claimed. He started out at West Bainbridge High School, which despite the name housed grades K-12. For middle school he went to Hutto where he keeps fond memories of two special teachers—Saint Thomas and Joe Sweet. Remembering those days, Tommie said, "I always loved school and learning." Especially science.

After middle school, the years at BHS flew by. That graduation afternoon at Centennial Field, Tommie stood with the honor graduates, but high school days had not been all classwork and study. Tommie remembers the Key Club and Quiz Bowl team as his special extracurricular favorites.

"We had to raise our hands—no buzzers then!" he said remembering the Quiz Bowl competitions. By the way, the school still fields a successful Quiz Bowl team coached by teacher Richard Whitehead.

The 1976 yearbook, the Purango, reveals young Tommie did more than Key Club and Quiz Bowl. He wrote for the (still in publication) school newspaper, the Golden Graffiti, was on the Student Council twice, in the Honor Society and was winner of the VFW award. Busy times.

Busy times that didn't end with BHS. In the fall of 1976 Tommie enrolled at the then-fledgling Bainbridge College and started creating some of his finest memories including continuing his Quiz Bowl career. He recalls the extraordinary faculty—Jim Young, Bob Lane, Ed Mobley, Ray Chambers and the rest. "It had a rich academic environment."

This came home to him when he transferred to Florida State University in the fall of 1978. "It was a different experience." Because of incompatible requirements between Florida and Georgia, Tommie had to retake some classes. There was "no comparison in the quality." Bainbridge College won!

Tommie had to start thinking about the future—a major, what he would do with his life. He'd entered college aiming at pre-optometry, but as he took classes at FSU he realized there was something else he wanted to do. Something, he told me, he'd always wanted, but now it was time to make the decision. He moved over to the School of Education declaring a major in Science Education. He graduated in 1980.

Tommie Howell became what he'd always wanted to be and what he loves today. Tommie Howell—teacher.

He came right back to Bainbridge to Hutto Middle School where the principal was the science teacher who had inspired him years before, Saint Thomas. Now Tommie was the science teacher.

Soon he was teaching science at Bainbridge High, and then in 1990 he joined the administrative team (but he kept teaching physics for several years). He became principal in 2002. He's where he wants to be, overlooking a domain of more than 1500 students and a staff of 172—110 of them certified teachers.

Bainbridge schools are part of the Howell family. Tommie's wife, Amy Brock Howell, teaches at the high school. "What else?" Tommie asked. "Science." Son Bryce who is 8 attends Elcan-King and one-year-old Brock Gannon has a lot to look forward to!

"It's not all work and school, surely?" I asked Tommie and it's not. He loves taking his pontoon boat on the Flint River. Loves it so much that he and Amy bought a house near the river. He also plays tennis. In fact, he and Amy started their romance when they were partners in a mixed doubles tennis league. They are still a team—but they are no longer tennis partners. It's better that way.

I wished I'd had my camera out when I asked Tommie if he cooks, but I don't know if this paper would have run it!

"Cook!" "Cook?" Apparently Amy does most of the chef work at the Howell household. When pressed, however, Tommie did come up with a no-fail recipe from his bachelor days. He still serves it occasionally.

Tommie Howell's no-fail bachelor fried chicken

Leave the high school parking lot, turn right and proceed up College Street to Collier. Turn right. Just before Shotwell turn left into the Carter's Fried Chicken drive-through line. Proceed to the window. Check out the chicken selections. You can't go wrong.

I hate to run a recipe I haven't tested. I tried this one several times. I can vouch for the chicken livers. The dark meat dinner is good as well. It's as successful if you choose to go in and order at the counter.


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