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Go to June 16 Opinions and Stories

JUNE 9, 1999
News Story - The Jackson Herald
Grad's boots kick up a fuss
Family, friends say senior should have been allowed to march with class
One boy's footwear at last Friday night's graduation cost him the chance to march in the ceremony with his class and has since kicked up a storm of controversy.
Shane Pearson, a graduating senior at Jackson County Comprehensive High School, wasn't allowed to march in the ceremonies at the school's football stadium after being told by principal Jim Gurley that his shoes didn't meet the graduation dress code. Pearson sat in the stands and received his diploma after the event.
During the ceremony, however, tension over the matter was evident and several students obliquely referred to the situation during their graduation comments. One student joined Pearson in the stands after having received his diploma.
Since the event, family and friends of the boy have begun a verbal and written protest. School officials say they have been lambasted over the matter and a number of letters to the editor were submitted this week
In a letter this week, Pearson claims that the shoes he wore were "dark brown Bass dress shoes" and that Gurley wanted only black dress shoes. But Gurley said Pearson wore "old work boots" to the ceremony and after being confronted, changed clothes as well to a tank-top and blue jeans.
"I'm satisfied with our school's response and the superintendent and the board are satisfied," Gurley said about the matter.
Gurley said all seniors received a copy of the graduation dress code in April and that he had discussed the matter with Pearson the day before graduation.
"...That young man had a personal conversation with me on Thursday after graduation practice and I reminded him that he was not dressed appropriate for the picture and that if he came likewise on Friday night, he would not march," said Gurley. "He came by the school Friday afternoon at 2 p.m...(and) I asked him if he did anything about getting the proper dress clothes and he said, 'Oh, yeah.'"
When Pearson arrived Friday night, Gurley said he told him to change shoes.
"I told him he needed to go get some shoes that were appropriate and he had almost an hour to do that," Gurley said. "I told him he would be put in line if he did that. He came back in about 30 minutes and he was in blue jeans and a tank top in addition to the work boots."
Gurley pointed out that the other 182 students at the ceremony were all dressed appropriately.
In a letter to the editor in this week's issue, Pearson said he didn't have time Friday night to get another pair of shoes.
"I could not understand why my dark brown Bass dress shoes were good enough for church, but not for graduation," he wrote. "
Pearson's grandmother, Lousie Pearson, said she believes her grandson deserves an apology for not being allowed to march.
"He earned that right to take that walk and get his diploma," she said. "He was embarrassed in front of all of his friends. He will have these memories from now on. All Shane wants now is an apology and to be paid for the graduation robe that he didn't get to wear. ... I am proud of him."

 NewsViews Poll Results

We asked:
Should the Jackson County Comprehensive High School administration have kept Shane Pearson from participaing in graduation ceremonies because he hadn't adhered to the dress code?

21% said Yes, the JCCHS administration did the right thing.
79% said No, Pearson should have been allowed to walk in graduation cereonies.

(104 total responses to this informal poll)

The Jackson Herald - June 9, 1999
Academics more important than 'shoes' flap
It's amazing what captures the public's attention. Although Jackson County faces a lot of important issues, few have had the outpouring seen this week from the "shoes" controversy.
The facts are clear: Jackson County Comprehensive High School student Shane Pearson wasn't allowed to march or sit with his class last Friday night after he failed to get the proper shoes as outlined by school administrators. He'd reportedly been warned not to wear the "boots" he'd worn to graduation practice on Thursday, but showed up Friday night wearing them anyway.
In the school system's defense, we offer the following:
· Pearson knew the rules, was warned, but chose to break them anyway. He chose his path and thus must suffer the consequences.
· If the school system starts to make exceptions for one student, graduation would be chaos. If all the other seniors could follow the rules, why couldn't he?
· The student is not a child, but a young adult and should know by now that he can't challenge every authority figure that crosses his path.
· Being part of a graduation ceremony isn't a given right, but a privilege. He got his diploma and the world won't come to an end just because he wasn't allowed to march with his class.
· Our society talks a lot about having more discipline in our schools, but the moment a student flaunts a rule, everyone runs to his defense and slams school administrators. We can't have it both ways - either we want more discipline or we don't.
· If Pearson didn't respect his teachers and classmates enough to follow the rules, then he shouldn't complain when left on the sidelines.
Having said that, we wish the school system would go a step further in its graduation ceremony policies by not allowing students who had failed the state graduation test to march and sit with the class. They should have also been put on the bench for not having lived up to the school's academic standards, just as Pearson was sidelined for not living up to dress code standards.
A lot of people have strong feelings over this incident. Frankly, we don't harbor such a passion for the controversy.
We just wish people were as interested in a school's academic performance as they are in its shoe policies.

Letters to the Editor
The Jackson Herald - June 9, 1999
Lost opportunity to march at graduation
Dear Editor:
After looking forward to my graduation ceremony that I had worked so hard for, this opportunity was stolen from me. I was told to show up at 7:00 with a white dress shirt, a tie, dark pants and dress shoes. I wore all of the above. However, Mr. Gurley (principal) told me my dress shoes "would not do."
When I told him that these were all I had, he said in a sarcastic manner to leave. I could not understand why my dark brown Bass dress shoes were good enough for church but not for graduation. With only 30 minutes left until graduation time, I was supposed to drive to Commerce and find a pair of black dress shoes, size 15, that met Mr. Gurley's standards. Mr. Gurley wanted black dress shoes, but yet in the dress code it simply states "dress shoes."
After I knew there was no time for me to go buy a new pair of shoes in 30 minutes, I accepted that Mr. Gurley was not going to let me walk at graduation. After calming down, I came back to ask Mr. Gurley if I could at least have my diploma, and he threatened to call the police if I did not leave. Mr. Gurley made his threat in front of my fellow graduates and in doing this he humiliated me. I was humiliated and had something taken from me that was a goal for 13 years of my life, and it can never be given back to me.
It was my night to shine and show my family that I had succeeded, and that chance was stolen from me. Lastly, I would like to thank my fellow graduates. Your support made me feel as if I was marching with you all along. That night, a true friend shined through for me. Chad Fulcher, I thank you for being by my side and making me feel special on our greatest night. You were a true friend, and I love you for that.
Shane Pearson

Proud of student's actions
Dear Editor:
I would like to address the events at the Jackson County Comprehensive High School 1999 graduation held Friday night, June 4.
In a time when we, as adults, are trying to reach out and teach our young adults not to give in to peer pressures or the prejudices in this day and time, I am ashamed of the decision made by our board of education of Jackson County and principal James Gurley.
How dare they decide that a graduate could not walk in the exercise program due to the style and color of his shoes! This young man, Shane Pearson, against major obstacles in his life, made the grade plus achieved a football scholarship and deserved to walk with pride with his classmates in the graduation program.
The graduates of 1999 are to be commended on their response to the board of education and principal James Gurley. The students did include Shane Pearson in the program and did so completely and without hesitation. If you were not there Friday night, you missed an opportunity to glow with pride as the classmates of Shane unselfishly made sure that their classmate and friend was a major part of the program. With the first speech given by senior class secretary Holly Gunter, and Jennifer Ledford, salutatorian, to the graduate Chad Fulcher walking off the field after receiving his diploma and taking to the stands to embrace and sit out the rest of the ceremony with Shane at his side, to the 1999 graduates ringing out Shane Pearson's name when it came the time that should have been to present Shane his diploma, to the very end speech given by senior class president Monica Herrera, acknowledging the 1999 class graduates on the field as well as in the stands ... hooray for our young adults!
Unfortunately, to the audience made up of fathers, mothers, grandparents, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts and friends of the JCCHS graduates, they were not aware of the circumstances nor the events in detail taking place on the field. It was stated after the ceremony, that if the audience had been aware of the happenings, two-thirds or more would have protested the decision made by the Jackson County Board of Education and James Gurley.
Everyone should learn a lesson from this. A lesson of no one, regardless of age, race, religion nor means of wealth should be discriminated against.
The Jackson County Board of Education and James Gurley owe Shane Pearson and his family an apology.
Diana Fulcher
Proud mother of Chad Fulcher

Believes poor judgment used
Dear Editor:
I would like to express my disappointment in the extremely poor judgment James Gurley displayed in the JCCHS graduation. It is my understanding the young man in the stands was not allowed to march because he had on brown shoes instead of black. I can't believe you would take something so important in a child's life away from them over the color of their shoes. Hats off to Chad Fulcher who sat with him so he wouldn't be alone. The compassion and respect he demonstrated is something I'm sure was not taught at JCCHS. If you don't enforce a dress code throughout the year, why do it now, and take this moment away from him? One could not even see the color of their shoes from the bleachers, nor was it what anyone was looking at. Personally, I came to see all of the kids graduate, not just the ones with black shoes on. You should be ashamed of yourself!
Mrs. Renea Anderson

Upset about graduation
Dear Editor:
June 4, the graduation date for Jackson County Comprehensive High School, was to be a memorable occurrence for my older brother, Shane Pearson. I was extremely disturbed by the outcome of the whole episode. As you all very well know by now, Mr. Gurley would not let Shane walk because his shoes did not meet the "dress code." But, as many of you may not know, the code says "dress shoes," not "black" dress shoes.
I have seen my brother wear those same particular shoes to church, to football banquets and even to sign for a professional college. Yet, they were not proper attire for a high school graduation where some girls wore flip flops and other males wore brown shoes similar to Shane's!
Shane sat and watched his fellow classmates get the recognition that he also deserved. Mr. Gurley deprived him of his last event ever in Shane's high school history, his senior walk. Why? Because of a pair of shoes that did not meet Mr. Gurley's standards.
Tia Pearson

Wrong decision made at graduation
Dear Editor:
Shane was not allowed to walk down and receive his diploma because he wore brown shoes. Some of the other seniors had brown shoes, some had sandals, and a few had flip flops. They received their diplomas.
It was totally unfair and poor judgment on Gurley's part to not let Shane receive his diploma that night when he had worked so hard for it.
Gurley's decision was totally his personal feelings toward Shane. It is a shame a person in his position let this happen. Gurley is more immature than any of the senior class and all the other students of Jackson County schools.
I feel like the Jackson County School Board should not let this happen now or ever again. What if it was your son or daughter or grandchild or nephew?
Daniel Pearson

Shoes not what school is about
Dear Editor:
Friday, June 4, 1999, was a wonderful day for many parents and students. It was the end of a long road that for some was not an easy one. Students who had worked for 12 or 13 years and had earned their high school diplomas were being recognized all over the county. It was a very proud and happy time for students and parents both. That is, except for one student of Jackson County Comprehensive High School, Mr. Billy Shane Pearson, who had earned his diploma just like everyone else and had purchased all of the required supplies for graduation and was told at the last minute by Mr. Gurley that he would not be allowed to walk with his class because Mr. Gurley didn't approve of his shoes.
That's right, a student was denied his right to receive something very important that he had spent at least 12 years of his life earning because a narrow-minded person decided that his lace-up boots were not acceptable. Shane's boots were fairly new boots and were not disrespectful or immoral in any manner. I believe that they were a Timberland boot product. He was dressed in dress pants, white shirt and tie but was made to sit in the stands and watch as the rest of his class marched and received their diplomas.
One student, Chad Fulcher, had the integrity to receive his diploma and instead of returning to his seat, he went and sat in the stands with Shane. Chad, I commend you for standing up for your classmate and friend. For anyone who has a child in school or has had the pleasure of seeing your child graduate, I hope that you can understand the hurt that was put upon this family due to one person's opinion of shoes.
We live in a time where there are body piercings all over the body, including the face, there are all colors of hair (green, orange, etc.), and we have school systems that are having to put up metal detectors due to violence that seems to be rampant over the last year. I cannot start to comprehend where someone feels that a pair of shoes that are not disrespectful or immoral in any way has anything to do with a student accomplishing what the school systems are supposed to be here for in the first place.
We hear of all the "bad" kids, how about the "bad" people in our system that put more emphasis on something as petty as shoes over the honor of graduation? What kind of attitude are our kids today supposed to have when they have to deal with narrow minds like this day in and day out? No wonder they have little respect for many of the authorities.
This was not my child, but he is a student who was wronged and humiliated in front of his class as well as everyone who attended the graduation. I want to say to Shane that you are a very special person and many are very proud of your accomplishments. Don't let one narrow-minded person hold you back in any way. You have earned a scholarship and have many friends who care and wish the best always for you. Go forward and stay strong.
Connie Presley

Brother missed experience
Dear Editor:
Jackson County's graduation was to be a special night for my brother, Shane Pearson, and our family. I drove five hours from North Carolina to watch my brother shine for all the achievements in school. Shane had worked especially hard his senior year because he was awarded a scholarship to attend UAB, and his diligent work did not receive any recognition because the principal of Jackson County Comprehensive High School didn't feel Shane's Bass dark brown leather shoes were good enough for graduation. However, if Shane's football jersey were ripped or Shane's basketball socks didn't match, I am sure the principal would never have uttered the words, "Those won't do." However, other classmates wore flip flops, open-toed sandals and even brown dress shoes similar to Shane's dress shoes, and Mr. Gurley never threatened their opportunity to walk or to call the police if they didn't leave the school. Shane was humiliated in front of over 200 classmates and faculty while he was treated like an inferior criminal.
I watched the tears roll down Shane's face as we sat in the stands and watched his classmates on the field, the same field Shane gave four long years for football. Mr. Gurley stole Shane's last walk on the field, the most important walk, because of Mr. Gurley's opinion of Shane's shoes.
Tonya Aiken

Thinks school system owes student apology
Dear Editor:
Just what kind of school system do we have in Jackson County? A young man by the name of Shane Pearson graduated Friday night after 13 years of school (including kindergarten) and was looking forward to graduation with his class, but thanks to a certain principal at Jackson County Comprehensive High School, he did not get to participate with his classmates due to not having black boots on. From where I was sitting, I couldn't tell what kind of shoes they were wearing. I know there wasn't one person out of one thousand who cared what kind of shoes they were wearing other than a certain principal there. This was supposed to be a night to remember for the rest of their lives. And I'm sure its one Shane will remember well, thanks to Mr. Gurley!
I went to the board of education and talked about this matter. I left there and went to the school to speak with Mr. Gurley and he refused to talk with me about this matter. I was told by his secretary that he told me to take it up with The Herald. My opinion is that if a child goes to school for 13 years and passes, he or she deserves to graduate with his or her class, no matter what they have to wear to do this. I think it is very wrong the way Shane was treated and I think the school system owes him an apology.
Charlotte Phillips

Shoes should not be the issue
Dear Editor:
I am writing this letter because on Friday, June 4, 1999, I was proud to be attending the graduation of my niece who is an honor student at Jackson County Comprehensive High School. Little did I know that I would be in for a very rude awakening. We noticed that there was one student who was seated in the very bottom of the stands and dressed in his cap and gown and not on the field with the rest of the class. We thought there may have been an incident that had kept him from being able to actually take part in the ceremony. Well, we later found out exactly what the incident was.
In a time when we are concerned about sending our children to school because of violence and the influence, I am even more afraid now when I found out that the influence was in the school. We found out this young man who had completed all of his requirements just like his other classmates was not allowed to take part because his shoes were not the right color and quote "not black dress shoes." We have police patrolling our campuses and we are talking about metal detectors in schools and one young man is not allowed to be a part of his class because his "shoes" are not the right kind. I am very concerned about what we are teaching our kids if this is the case and what is even more of a concern is who is the "role model" and I use this term very loosely.
The person responsible from what I have been told is the principal, Mr. Gurley, will never have what this young man possesses. He was joined by one other student and this young person also has what it takes to be very successful in life even if their shoes were not the right kind. I saw many students, both male and female, in flip flops, sandals, Nike tennis shoes. Even the speaker was wearing tan Hush Puppy-style shoes. I can't help but wonder what the true reason that young man was singled out. I'm sure that anyone who would like to see this can look at the videos that were made at the graduation ceremony.
It seems to me that instead of looking so closely at our young people we should be looking at those who are supposed to be the role models and guiding them into young adulthood.
I would like to take my hat off to Shane Pearson for the class that he portrayed by taking part and standing up for what was right even though he may have felt he was alone. There are many behind you. Much success to this young man as he has already shown that he is more than those who are supposed to be.
Sue Mayfield

Appalled at decision at graduation
Dear Editor:
I was a visitor in Jackson County on the fourth of June for my granddaughter's high school graduation. I was shocked and appalled to learn one youngster was not allowed to walk with his class to receive his diploma because he was wearing the "wrong shoes." They were brown boots. He had met all criteria for graduating except that he did not have a pair of black shoes. I saw tan Hush Puppies and flip flops.
I would have been prouder of my honor student grandchild had she chosen to leave the field and go up into the stands with her wronged classmate as only one student did. That tells me only one out of almost 200 will judge a person for who they are rather than what they have. How sad, and we worry and wonder where our young people get their attitudes and values.
Jackson County, as a whole, must bear the shame of one person. If this is an example of the people we have over our children, we had all better pray real hard for mercy and forgiveness. We are going to need it. To this young man treated so shabby, congratulations. You are a "Class Act" all by yourself. Good luck and God bless you.
Mildred Smallwood

Relatives thank supporters
Dear Editor:
Shane Pearson's aunt and uncle would like to thank everyone who supported Shane for not being able to walk Friday night to receive his hard-earned diploma. We truly hope what happened to Shane will never happen to any other student who attends Jackson County Comprehensive High School.
I think this proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that the people and the system need to be looked into. Shane couldn't walk because of his shoes but others had on flip flops. So, I ask all parents: How would you feel if this happened to your son or daughter? This was a case of discrimination, Mr. Gurley. For one time, be a man. Admit you were wrong and give Shane an apology. We think Shane should be reimbursed every dime that was spent on his graduation. This has been a total disappointment, not only for Shane, but also for his relatives and friends.
Mary and Terry Bond

Disappointed in decision
Dear Editor:
I just want to thank all the people who supported Shane during the graduation exercises Friday night, May 4. He is my grandson and I feel he really had something very important taken away from him because of personal feelings between him and the man making the decisions. Shane had a hard time to get to where he is now. Shane was wearing a pair of Timberlake shoes, which looked fine. Plus, the fact some of the students wore flip flops and were allowed to walk out with the class. I just hope no other student will ever be discriminated against and made to feel as bad as Shane did.
Mrs. R.E. Pearson

JUNE 16, 1999
News Story - The Jackson Herald
JCCHS staff defends principal
According to at least some members of the Jackson County Comprehensive High School faculty, principal Jim Gurley made the right decision by not allowing senior Shane Pearson to participate in graduation ceremonies June 4.
Jimmy Williams, who has taught 24 years at the school, appeared at Monday's board of education meeting to support Gurley and read a prepared statement as a representative of a group of teachers. In the statement, Williams said a wave of letters criticizing Gurley in The Jackson Herald last week were unfair and untrue.
"Contrary to charges in the paper, the student who was not allowed to walk (Pearson) was not singled out in any way regarding dress expectations," he said. "He singled himself out by being disrespectful, uncooperative and physically abusive...when asked to comply."
The teacher recalled a graduation night several years ago when students lit fireworks and played with beach balls during the ceremony. Williams called the ceremony "an embarrassing moment" for JCCHS and said the current graduation rules were developed after that night.
After Williams read his statement, faculty and staff members applauded. A student in the back of the room asked if he could "disagree with that statement." He said that Gurley had thrown him out of the ceremony as well, but was told by BOE chairman Barry Cronic that he was required to be on the meeting's agenda to speak.
"You've got to have permission to address the board," Cronic said. "You have to get on the agenda."
The student apologized and went on to tell his story anyway, saying that his shirt had approval from three administrators before Gurley told him he would have to change.
"I worked as hard as I could for four years and one man was going to take that away from me," the student said. "And I believe he owes both of us (him and Pearson) an apology."
Pearson, who was standing beside the student, then said the dress code only said a white shirt and dress shoes were required.
"It did not say anything about black dress shoes," Pearson said.
But Cronic again told the students that they must have permission to speak at a BOE meeting.
"I will be glad for any of you to get permission to speak to the board," Cronic said. "It is your board. You have that right. But I will not let you address this issue in front of us today. You are more than welcome to come back to any meeting as long as you follow the rules and ask to be on the agenda. I can assure you that this board will hear your concerns."
After the students left, the board moved on to the next agenda item without comment on Williams' statement. The teacher had asked the board for some action.
"I am asking that the board of education make a clear statement, through either a resolution or policy, that the board supports our efforts to have a dignified and proper ceremony," Williams said. "That way, we can make it clear to students, parents, and the community that our expectations will remain high and will be supported in the highest levels."

The Jackson Herald - June 16, 1999
A defense of Jim Gurley
We don't always agree with the decisions made by local school officials and say so openly in this space. So we feel an obligation to defend those officials when they are unfairly criticized by people who don't have all the facts.
Such is the case with the current bashing being dished out to Jackson County Comprehensive High School principal Jim Gurley. The mountain of critical comments he's received over a decision to disallow a student from marching at graduation are unfounded and unwarranted.
We said last week that JCCHS leaders had good reason to stick by their dress code rules when student Shane Pearson showed up wearing boots at graduation. Where we perhaps made a mistake, however, was to give the story a more important display than it really deserved. Some read our coverage as an elevation of Pearson, making him look like an innocent kid who was abused by the big, bad principal.
That was not our intention and in fact, such a view is wrong, flat wrong. A lot of people have responded to the controversy based on rumor and not what really happened.
First of all, the decision to disallow Pearson from marching had nothing to do with the color of his footwear. He was not allowed to march because he wore dirty work boots to graduation, boots he'd been told the day before not to wear. The decision had nothing to do with color.
On top of that, there is some question if the boots shown in last week's paper were really the boots Pearson wore the night of the graduation. Gurley and several others who saw the footwear say he actually wore different boots, although Pearson says those shown are the only boots he owns. Whatever the truth, everyone who saw the student that night agrees that what he wore were dirty work boots, not the spit polished look as shown in a photograph printed last week.
The fact is that the student knew at least one day ahead of time he wouldn't be allowed to march if he wore those boots to graduation. Not only that, when told by Gurley the night of graduation that he couldn't march in the boots, witnesses say Pearson roundly cursed at the principal before leaving in a huff.
That in and of itself is enough to justify kicking him out of graduation, although witnesses say Gurley told the student he'd still be allowed to march if he changed into appropriate shoes.
Those close to the situation also say this wasn't the first time young Pearson had challenged and defied authority at the school, having had a number of earlier run-ins with coaches and other school officials It was, according to some, just another incident in a long string of disciplinary problems with the student.
So what we have here is a controversy that is a non-issue. Pearson went to his graduation seeking a confrontation. When principal Gurley wouldn't back down and let him embarrass himself and his class by marching in dirty work boots, he cursed him and stormed off like an obnoxious brat.
There is no defense for such behavior, no matter how Pearson and his family and friends twist and misconstrue the incident. As a principal, Jim Gurley may not be perfect. But he certainly made the right decision when he refused to let one rebellious student mock what is supposed to be a dignified ceremony.
This newspaper, however, made the wrong decision in allowing our space to be used by the student and his family to spread a twisted version of those events.
Our hat's off to Mr. Gurley and other school leaders for establishing standards that call for decorum at graduation, even if it meant he had to give one trouble-making boy the boot.

Letters to the Editor
The Jackson Herald - June 16, 1999
Senior made wrong decision
Dear Editor:
As parents of two mid-20s young adults, we know of the pride that parents and families feel during high school graduation. It is an important benchmark in the lives of our young people. It is also symbolic of one of life's thresholds-the crossing from one stage of life to another.
Right or wrong, the dress code policy existed for all of the students-for their mutual benefit. This young man made the wrong decision when he had been told of the standards and expectations; standards that applied to him and all participating students.
If his disregard for the standards and rules are an indicator of his attitude and preparation for the next stage of his life, then he will have a difficult time.
We know his family and friends are disappointed and upset, however, their feelings should be focused more toward the poor choice he made than the manner in which the school policy was enforced.
Jim Jester

This student knew the school's rule and chose not to conform
Dear Editor:
On Thursday evening of the week of June 7, I read an article concerning a Jackson County Comprehensive High School student named Shane Pearson. In the same edition's letters to the editor section, I read comments from your readers supporting the student and his rights as an individual. There were no letters of support for the principal of the school whatsoever.
It is admirable that Mr. Pearson has so many supporters as well as a friend that stood with him in protest. However, we should be proud of the principal's courage to enforce a school policy. The rules state that the male students wear black shoes with their gowns. That is the rule!
If Mr. Pearson was a hardship case, he should have contacted the school's principal to discuss his plight. I am confident that something could have been arranged for him. I would have paid for his shoes if it were a genuine hardship!
High school is a time to prepare for adulthood. Responsibility should be taught at home as well as in school. This student knew the school's rule and chose not to conform. He should accept responsibility for his actions and face the consequences. The rules are not made to be broken or bent to accommodate any individual who feels they don't apply to him or her. This student should be reprimanded for disrupting the ceremony for the rest of the class who chose to follow the rules.
I support the JCCHS principal's decision. If this student were an adult working for my organization and did not conform to the dress code and rules of employment, he would cease to be my employee.

Don Powell
Jefferson, GA

Reader offers suggestion to local schools
Dear Editor:
It was heartwarming to see the many praises heaped upon the graduating students of the Jefferson and Commerce school systems offered by both the print and television media of the area. As a contrast, I have watched the events of the last month at Jackson County Comprehensive High School with alarm. The issue at the commencement exercises was only the last of many questionable actions of the administration at JCCHS. I am afraid that the school board, high school administration and, for that matter, we the parents of Jackson County have lost focus of what is important.
How are we as parents, and the school, preparing our youth to join our society as vital contributing members and eventually assume the leadership of our community? I question whether the administration has as its top priorities the education, development and inspiration of our young people to prepare them for the future.
I offer as an example an incident that occurred earlier this spring that, at the request of the parents, did not get the media exposure it perhaps should have. The wrestling team bleached their hair as a demonstration of team and school spirit. Shortly after that, another student, a top-ranked academic student and top-ranked athlete, dyed his hair red as a demonstration of school spirit the evening before a large regional track meet that numerous college scouts and recruiters were to attend. When the student appeared at school, he was told to report to the administration. A change to the dress code was quickly developed, published and distributed, and the student was suspended for the day and until his hair was returned to a more natural color. Of course, the student was not permitted to take part in the track meet and thus lost his opportunity to demonstrate athletic skills at this very important time.
How did this action on the part of the administration further education for the student or the school? What lesson was there in it? Where was the good for either the student or the school? It certainly did not provide further opportunities for the student. It made the school administration look petty in the eyes of several college recruiters. One recruiter was overheard commenting that the senior class should all dye their hair red for commencement. Luckily, that did not take place.
One month ago, my daughter, outraged by the administration's attitude toward student elections, hastily wrote and emailed an editorial to this newspaper. Student response to this was very telling in itself. The first response was basically that it didn't matter who they voted for, nothing would be accomplished, and that elections were merely a popularity contest. Her second point was that life was unfair, elections are useless, get used to it you can't do anything about it.
How very sad to have a 15- or 16-year old girl already so cynical. The frustration my daughter has had as a class officer getting any type of student body empowerment from the JCCHS administration, this last year, has proven this young lady's first point. The lesson learned from the administration was the second point. The second respondent was even more strident in her condemnation of attitudes at JCCHS, going as far as to state that teachers were encouraging her to drop out of school. As a parent that has tried to inspire my children to strive to their highest potential and then strive higher, I resent these alleged school attitudes that undermine these principles.
As a former Army officer, I appreciate the need for order and discipline in education. However, it needs to be understood that discipline is a means to an end and not the end itself. These actions by the JCCHS administration appear to be more an effort to demonstrate absolute control over the students than keep good order and discipline.
The bottom line is performance. Do these actions by the JCCHS administration help our students for the future? I would encourage all parents to visit the Georgia Department of Education web site at to get the answers. At the present time, the results of the 98-99 school year are not yet available; however, school year 97-98 is very revealing. The teachers are for the most part doing their jobs. JCCHS ranks below national averages, but has a very high ranking within the state based on Georgia high school graduation test. JCCHS ranks very poorly on students graduating on time and receiving diplomas with college prep and vocational endorsements. It appears that the teachers are giving our students the tools to succeed, but the administration is not showing them how to use these tools.
I offer the following recommendations to improve the education climate at JCCHS that would have minimal cost to the school system but could reap major rewards.
1. Invite college and vocational school recruiters into the school to address all students during an assembly or seminar at least once a term. All classes should be in attendance. Waiting to their senior year is too late. (This could be set up by the student council.)
2. Develop a program to inform students and parents of scholarships and grants available for postsecondary schooling. A seminar should be held at least once a term. Presently, JCCHS students and parents must attend such seminars in other school districts. Assistance should be available to help complete applications. Again, this should be available to all classes so that students may learn requirements for these aids and act upon them. Waiting to their senior year is too late.
3. The student council should select and appoint a liaison with the board of education. This position could present ideas to the board that may not be approved by the administration. The board would have to allow the student council the opportunity to table items for discussion.
4. Students' course evaluations should be passed out at the end of the school year to get feedback from the students about ways in which to improve classes and determine teachers that may reflect poor attitudes. The student council could be used to distribute and collect these forms as well as tabulating data.
5. Use current databases to track the progress of students after leaving teachers. Do the students of particular teachers have more difficult times in the next sequence of classes?
Finally, the parents of our students must take a greater role in their education. We must remember that the job of the teachers and administration is not an easy one. These school officials and those around the country are being forced to become the babysitters and police officers due to student misconduct. We must teach our children manners, morality, ethics and discipline. This is not the responsibility of the schools, nor do I want them to take this responsibility. Parents of Jackson County must hold the board of education accountable for the performance of the school administration. The administration must hold our teachers accountable for their performance. The future will hold all of us accountable for our collective performance.
Jon E. Freeland

Gee thanks Mr. Gurley for your contribution
Dear Editor:
I would like to address several of your views in reference to this controversy.
1. "Pearson knew the rules..didn't respect classmates..shouldn't complain & must suffer the consequences." I don't feel he was intentionally being disrespectful, if he was, he would not have complied with the rest of the dress, the shoes, pants, and tie. I don't blame him, I don't see the necessity of buying another pair of size 15 shoes, which realistically are about a hundred bucks, just to wear one night. If they were good enough for his college scholarship signing, they were good enough for highschool graduation.
2. "exceptions for one student, graduation would be chaos." Exceptions were made for several others (flip-flops and sandals) and the ceremony did not appear chaotic to me. ALL of the others did not follow the "rules", he was not the only one, and the others were not disciplined. Exceptions were also noted for the ones who marched who did not pass the state test, and Academically were not true graduates. Is this not an exception to the rule? I thought this "privilege" as you called it was designed for the students who had met all of the criteria for graduation. Why were these students marching when criteria had not been met?
3. Graduation ceremony is NOT a privilege but a right. This young man worked hard for 13 years, and passed the state test. I'm sorry but he EARNED the RIGHT to take part in the ceremony. Your remarks about the world not ending because he didn't march were very disrespectful. I bet you would feel quite different if this had been your son or daughter.
4. Our society does need more discipline in our schools, everyone agrees. But we must also choose our battles. I've heard of discipline for just about everything in school, but never over one's shoes. We're not slamming school administrators, just simply saying discipline needs to be administered in the proper places.
Finally, I do respect your last statement and think you hit the nail right on the head. "We just wish people were as interested in a school's academic performance as they are in its shoe policies". I couldn't agree with you more. But I do need to ask, who were you exactly implying? The administrators or the other views? Maybe if Mr. Gurley's priorities were in there proper places, ALL of the students would have passed the state test and graduated instead of the several who didn't.
I also want you to know I am not a relative of Mr. Pearson, nor am I a personal friend of the family. I do not even know him. However, I do feel like right is right and wrong is wrong, and I feel he was treated very unfairly. 20 years from now when everybody recalls memories from this graduation, this will stand out the most. What a shame. Gee thanks Mr. Gurley for your contribution.

Renea Anderson

Pay attention to where the finger is pointed
Dear Editor:
After reading Mike Buffington's article on the incident with my brother, Shane Pearson, I am appalled that a man who has his name, picture and occupational title spread all over the newspaper is screaming, "Get over it" when Shane did not get to receive recognition for his 12 years of work in school. Pardon the cliché, but if the shoe was on the other foot, I doubt Mr. Buffington would be so quick to make judgments and discard the importance of recognition.
There are a few points that Mr. Buffington and the school are forgetting: Shane wore the "proper" attire, according to the graduation dress code that specifically states: "dress shoes." Shane did not try to defy or get away with anything. He was not asking the school to bend any rules. He was adhering to the rules set by the school. It was only when Mr. Gurley did not approve of Shane's dress shoes that a problem arose. It did not begin with my brother. Mr. Gurley started this chain of events.
Next, Mr. Buffington stated that graduation was not a God-given right, but a privilege. Yes, he is correct in this assertion: Shane earned this privilege and deserved to walk at graduation just like all of his lassmates. To a man that is many years past graduation with a job at the newspaper, perhaps graduation is not a significant event. However, to my 18-year-old brother, who worked many long years and gave a lot of time and energy into various programs at Jackson County Comprehensive High School, graduation meant a lot to him. He never chose to be discriminated against; keep in mind who is at fault in this unfortunate ordeal. Pay attention to where the finger is pointed.
Tonya Aiken

Other graduates ignored dress code
Dear Editor:
I agree that when children are specifically told to wear certain attire to any specific school function that they should, within their ability, do that. However, the problem that I have with the decision that Mr. Gurley made on June 4, is that it did not seem to apply to anyone except Shane Pearson. If you were at the graduation ceremony, or you happened to purchase a graduation video that the school offered, you will see that there were several other students that did not dress accordingly. Why was Shane picked out of all the others to not be included?
Yes, he may have been told the day before about his shoes, but I am sure all of the other students were aware of this situation. If the truth be known, more than likely the ones that did not wear the proper shoes were rebelling, just as you indicate Shane did. So all of them should have been excluded, not just Shane.
Why were students allowed to walk and receive their diploma that still did not have all of their credits? Simply because they have black dress shoes? Something is wrong here.
All in all, I feel that it is a shame that with all the peer pressure that kids have on them today, he chose to stay in school and get a education and a diploma. And that, Mr. Gurley, you and your black dress shoes will never take away from him.
Robbie Rawls

My brain is going to function the same way whether I wear brown shoes or black shoes
Dear Editor:
I graduated from Jackson County Comprehensive High School Friday, June 4. This is a major turning point for any high school senior. It is a day that will always be remembered. For most, this is a great experience. For me, it was not so great. Many of you are probably wondering why.
Let me start from the beginning. For the last few months, we seniors have been getting ready for our big day, graduation. A part of this preparation involved graduation practice on June 3. This is the day that we, as seniors, learn how to march onto the field and all such stuff as that. As any high school graduate knows, it is a general rule to wear nice, dark clothes under the graduation gown. Naturally, that would include dark shoes. We were told not to wear tennis shoes, but it was never specified that the shoes being worn must be black, just dark. Thursday, at practice, our principal Mr. Jim Gurley checked everyone's apparel, shoes included. There were a few problems, but he spoke to those few. No big deal.
Friday, we were all to meet in the cafeteria at 7 p.m. I was stopped at the door. Suddenly, the skirt that I had worn the day before to have checked was not appropriate. Luckily, I had a nice pair of pants in my car. Unfortunately, one of my fellow classmates was not so lucky. The shoes that he had on were not black, so he could not walk with his graduating class. Never mind the fact that his brown shoes were perfectly fine when checked the day before. Now, the rules were changed from the printed copy seniors had received. Shoes not only must be dark, now they must be black.
This concerns me. I never realized that graduation was about one's appearance. I have been in the Jackson County school system for 12 years and I thought that I was graduating for my academic accomplishments, not being rewarded for wearing black shoes. I was not aware that appearance was so important. To me, this is the graduate's day. If the person in question wanted to wear purple and orange polka-dotted shoes, who is Mr. High and Mighty Gurley to question that? My brain is going to function the same way whether I wear brown shoes or black shoes. Either way, that diploma was earned. Does anyone reading this really believe that the color of a person's shoes should determine whether or not they walk and receive their diploma? If so, you are just as closed-minded as Mr. Jim Gurley.
What if a graduate didn't have black shoes and could not afford to buy any? Do they deserve that sort of treatment? We all worked hard to reach this point in life. Who deserves to have the memory of this day destroyed by such a petty issue? In my opinion, Jim Gurley has a few issues of his own that he needs to try and resolve by the next school year. The classmate in question is a bright student. He just received a scholarship. It is true, he is a clown and acts up, but he earned his diploma and the right to walk with the class of 1999.
When I look back at graduation, I will remember Jim Gurley and his final decision. I will not think of diplomas. I will not think of tears, not one fell from my eye. I will think of my fellow classmate sitting in the stands with all of our parents, friends and family members, including his own. Most of all, I will think of how happy I was to finally get out of the ever-diminishing Jackson County school system. I will think of Mr. Gurley and how he ruined the most important day of our lives. You need to set your priorities straight, Jim Gurley. Learn what those diplomas that you hand out stand for. You need to think of Colorado. Most of all, think of the face of that certain student who you made sit in the stands. He deserved to be graduating on the field with the rest of the graduating class. I will always remember you, Jim Gurley, but not for the reasons that you want to be remembered by your former students.
Tiffany Deaton
Class of 1999

Worse than Horrid

Dear Editor:
I think this situation with Shane Pearson is worse than horrid. This shows what a person who thinks he has power can do. Mr. Gurley should not only be made to give him an apology, he should be terminated from his position because of his poor judgment.
I have known Shane since he was a small child and to know all of the things life has dealt him this is the most cruel and inhuman thing I have ever heard of.
Why when so much violence is in the schools was this principal so concerned over just one senior's shoes? He should be thankful that they had a peaceful school year instead of something so stupid.
I would like to say to Shane to hold his head high and don't let this incident, even though not a good one, bring him down and definitely don't let this one person make you dislike others because of his ignorance.

Janie Loggins

"Priciple had no right to tell that guy can not be in his graduation." (huh?)

Dear Editor:
My close friend and I have came to the conclusion that the principle needs to get his facts straight. He had no right to tell that guy can not be in his graduation. He went to school for 13 years, 14 years if he went to pre-k, not to minchun that there was many other kids who had on flip flops and they were able to attend, I think that the priciple didn't like that student so he made up a reason so he couldn't attend the graduation.
Tiffany Picquet
Note: This letter was left unedited.

Who is really looking at the shoes?
Dear Editor:
I'm a band student at JCCHS. Being on the field, the band got a close look at what the graduating students were wearing. Some of us had noticed that a lot of the students were wearing flip flops and sandals. Some of us that new (sic) Shane Pearson could not understand why he was not down on the field walking.
When I found out that the reason he could not walk was because of his shoes, I thought it was ridiculous, because someone who passes all of their required courses, gets a scholarship to play football, is liked by a lot of students and faculty members, but does not get to march because of the type of shoes he is wearing does not make any since (sic) to me. The type of shoes should not matter when a person is graduating. If a person can go to school for 12 or 13 years, wears the right pants, the correct shirt and tie, but not the correct shoes, who is really looking at the shoes?
I believe that Shane does deserve an apology from Mr. Gurley, and the rest of the board of education.
Nina Curell
JCCHS Band Member

Shane did not get to shine because of the color of his boots
Dear Editor:
My name is Ashleigh Saxton. I am a 15 year old student at Commerce High School. I did not attend the Jackson County High School Graduation on June 4, but I read the article in the newspaper and would like to voice my opinion on this matter.
I do not know Shane Pearson personally, but I know of him. I think it was a very wrong decision made by Mr. Gurley. Graduation is a time in your life were you want to be noticed for your successes. Shane did not get to shine like he wanted to all because of the color of his boots.
As many people in the other articles said, "other students had on flip flops, sandals, open toed shoes," my question is why were these individuals not made to leave also? I really think the school faculty, mainly Mr. Gurley owes Shane an apology for humiliating him and taking away his time to come out on top and be recognized. I know our school administration would never take away a students privilege and long time accomplishments to participate in an important event as graduation is, no matter how they were dressed. I personally feel there was a grudge between Gurley and Pearson. For Mr. Gurley to have only set out this individual and not any of the other students who did not meet the dress code either, I feel there must have been. I understand there was a dress code for this ceremony, but it particularly stated "dress shoes".
Seeing the shoes Shane wore, I would have thought they would be fine for the event. It just goes to show you what kind of people we have in our society. My sympathy and apologies go out to Shane Pearson and his family that came out for this special day in his life and never got to see him walk out on the field with his class and get what he has worked for for the past 13 years of his life. I would also like to show my gratitude and praise for the young man who had the privilege to march with his class on the field, Chad Fulcher. That was a brave and nice thing you did for your friend. He will always remember you. If I had been there graduating with the class, I would have done the same! Shane, hold your head up, I'm very proud of you and so are many other people!
Ashleigh Saxton

Is Editor Childless?
Dear Editor:
My question to you is, do you have children? If so, how would you feel if your child had met all requirements to walk and receive their high school diploma, but because of their shoes was not allowed to? How as a parent would you feel?
As a parent myself, graduation from high school is supposed to be one the most proud and exciting moments I look forward to experiencing. You are right that graduation is a privilege. A privilege is something you earn. And according to the requirements of JCCHS and the state of Georgia, Shane Pearson had earned that privilege by academically qualifying for graduation. The comment that disturbs me the most was "the world won't come to an end because he wasn't allowed to march with his class." No one is saying that it will. The point we are trying to make is a very important moment which should have been a memorable one for Shane instead was destroyed.
You probably don't know this, but he had brought a picture of his mother who he lost at a very young age to carry with him across the stage. He had worked for 13 years overcoming a lot of obstacles to do this for her. And very much wanted to carry her picture as he marched across stage for his senior walk to receive his diploma. But this too was taken away from him.
This was not only supposed to be a celebration for his graduation, but a tribute to his mother. I also agree "academics is more important than shoes." Shane had met all the academic requirements to be eligible to walk and graduate with his class. But, in this case, I suppose all that hard work didn't matter.
I don't understand how you, if you are a parent, could make the comments you did in your editorial. Maybe graduation doesn't have the same meaning to you as it does to all of us that are upset about what happened to Shane.
Michelle Buffington
Shane's cousin
(No relation to editor!!)

Education a Constitutional Right! (with or without shoes?)
Dear Editor:
I hope you print this response regarding the boy who wasn't allowed to walk with his graduating class. This situation reminds me of what my generation experienced in the late 1960's and early 1970's. That was when boys began wearing their hair either shoulder length or longer. In order to graduate with their class, they had to wear short haired wigs! Luckily, that was a short lived discrimination in my community.
The Constitution says that every child has a right to an education. Shane Pearson took advantage of that right and did it well, better than others. As far as I'm concerned, the local school officials have no right to design a dress code in order to determine who will walk and who will not walk during the graduation ceremonies. The schools already have a dress code in place for the students so that they provide a neat appearance. Who gives anyone the right to change it along the way to suit them?
As a taxpayer who pays "very high!" school taxes to support the educational facilities in this county, I say that every student who has earned their diploma can walk with their class at any one of these public facilities! I don't care if they wear one red shoe and one blue shoe! As a school taxpayer in this county, I make a formal complaint to the board of education of Jackson County that a school official was allowed to "change the rules" for one day and deprive a student of the right to receive his diploma with this classmates!
I raised four children in this county who all agree received more discouragement than they did encouragement in their education at JCCHS. In fact, if it hadn't been for the help of private schools, they wouldn't have been able to get into college. We could all write a book on it!

Laureen Sauls

(Editor's note: The U.S. Constitution does not guarantee everyone the right to an education.)

Boots No Big Deal
Dear Editor:
How can anyone wonder why there is so much concern over Shane's boots instead of other matters within the county? With all the violence taking place in our schools in this country, making it to graduation is a big accomplishment. As most know, with all the killings this year, several students did not make it to their graduation ceremony. Not allowing a student to participate in graduation ceremonies for something as insignificant as the color of his shoes is a total outrage. I know that a dress code was given to each student, and I also know that the dress code only stated "dress shoes". If a certain type of shoe is required, then it should be stated in the dress code. I disagree with Mr. Gurley's statement that all the other 182 students were dressed appropriately. There were students with brown shoes and even flip flops. So my question is, why single out one individual? This is not a matter of a student trying to be disrespectful to his teachers or his school, this is a matter of one principal making a poor decision.
Students are killing other students because they are not part of what is called the "in crowd"; they do not look the right way or dress the right way. I understand their feelings, but I do not understand and I do not believe killing someone is the answer. So society thinks we should tell our young children that everyone just be treated the same no matter what they look like or how they dress. We tell them not to pick on someone who is different. Then a principal has the nerve to tell a student that he can not participate in graduation because he is dressed differently. What kind of message is this suppose to send to our children?
As adults, how can we preach right and wrong when we are not willing to live by the practice we preach? Hats off to Chad Fulcher for standing by his friend. In my opinion, the entire graduating class should have walked off the field, or stopped the ceremonies until Shane was seated on the field with the rest of his class, where he should have been to start with.

Pam Henson

What difference do shoes make?
Dear Editor:
The one thing that keeps going through my mind after reading this article is "What difference does it make what is on their feet?" These kids have worked long and hard to get their diplomas and I commend each and every one of them on their hard work. I don't know what kind of history Shane Pearson has had in school but the point is that he did earn the right to march with his class to receive his diploma. With so many kids dropping out of school and not caring about an education, it's a shame that Mr. Gurley took this moment away from Shane Pearson. In my opinion, what matters most when they walk up to receive their diploma is not what's on their feet but what is on their minds and in their hearts.
Alethia Boone

Wishes senior well in college
Dear Editor:
I am writing this letter in response to the uncaring act of Mr. Gurley and the board of education of Jackson County. Mr. Shane Pearson is a very close friend of my son, John Hethcoat. My son was very upset that Shane was not given the opportunity to walk with their graduating class of 1999 after everything Shane has gone through in his life and still finishing high school and excelling football and receiving a scholarship.
This particular event is very important in any senior's high school career. I think not allowing Shane to march with his classmates was poor judgment on the part of everyone involved. On behalf of my son and our family, we would like to express our congratulations to Shane to wish him well in his college career. We will be keeping a constant eye on him. I'm sure when it comes time for him to graduate from college, they won't be concerned about what color shoes he will be wearing. I can honestly say that I am glad that this is the last year that I have to deal with Jackson County Comprehensive High School.
Lori Baldwin and family

Student has right to be outraged
Dear Editor:
I believe this young man should have been allowed to participate in his graduation ceremonies at Jackson County Comprehensive High School. Both my sons graduated from this school and I know there are some fine educators there. However, it only takes one incident of poor judgment by someone in authority to send the wrong signals to our young adults. Employers of these young adults will expect them to adhere to the rules, so I do see both sides of this issue. But, employers are expected to treat everyone fairly and with dignity. If the letters I've read are true about other graduates wearing flip flops and etc., then a difference was made between this young man and the other students, hence, unfair treatment, and he has a right to be outraged.
Jack Martin

Incident suspicious to former graduate
Dear Editor:
I am writing in response to the story about Shane Pearson. As a former classmate, I know the excitement graduation brings. You work hard, do your best, and then the day comes when you walk down the aisle and receive your diploma. It's a moment that I will remember for the rest of my life. Mainly because of the events that occurred before and during the graduation exercises.
I believe that there was some other reason why Mr. Gurley asked Shane to leave, which had nothing to do with Shane's shoes. I say this because I know plenty of other students who were not following the dress code: Approximately three of the girls had on what looked like sandals, and one of the girls wore pants during graduation, while another girl was asked to change for wearing pants. There was a guy on the field who was allowed to graduate, yet he was also wearing brown dress shoes. Now, I'm not trying to change the subject, I'm just trying to point out the fact that Mr. Gurley failed to say anything to these people, yet he didn't hesitate to say something to Shane. It's just a little suspicious to me.
I know that Mr. Gurley would probably say something like, "I can't catch every person who violates the dress code." And I also know that there were teachers at the door checking to make sure that what we were wearing was appropriate, but it seems like Mr. Gurley would have checked everybody out before graduation began, if the dress code was so important to him.
The fact that Shane got into the lunchroom, where all the graduates lined up, without a problem, yet was later asked to leave is also something to think about. It just doesn't make sense that someone's marching status can be determined by the color of their shoes. If the school is more concerned with something as simple as the color of someone's shoes than anything else, then I think they have problems, which they need to deal with immediately.
John Dills

Just cruel
Dear Editor:
I am writing about the graduation that Shane Pearson could not walk in. I feel that is just cruel. I don't know Shane, but I feel for him. He worked hard for that diploma I am sure, and I would like to congratulate him myself. I think that every one of those graduates should have sat in the stands with Shane. But maybe they didn't know the situation. All I can say is, I would have sat with you, Shane. In a time when we are looking to keep our kids in school and keep them, this principal is worried about shoes. That is awful. He should be happy with all these kids making it through school. I can guarantee that under those robes some of those students didn't fit "dress code," so what does it matter about a pair of shoes? If the principal had such a problem with his shoes, he should have offered to let Shane wear his. You just can't take this important moment from someone so lightly. He earned it and Mr. Gurley and anyone who allowed this decision to hold, owes Shane a public apology and the refund of his robe.
Maybe his classmates could have a special ceremony just for Shane. I bet a lot of Jackson County would show up. Congratulations to you, Shane. I am sorry this day was ripped from you so heartlessly. But know that you have a lot of people on your side. God bless you.
Crystal Hutchason
Ft. Rucker, Ala.