Rickey Watkins was tailgating with a group of his former classmates on Capitol High School’s campus Saturday when Michael Jackson’s “P.Y.T.” began playing over loudspeakers.
Watkins, Capitol Class of 1999, began dancing, and his friends smiled and laughed as he busted a move.
Watkins’ dance moves embodied the atmosphere of an alumni tailgating gathering at the school marking Capitol High’s 60th anniversary celebration.
“I get to see folks that graduated from the ’50s and ’60s,” Watkins said. “It’s like a bigger family.”
The tailgate event was part of a weekend-long celebration put on by Capitol’s Alumni Association. The group also hosted an alumni basketball game Thursday and a banquet Friday.
However, the festivities were coming at a pivotal time in Capitol High School’s history.
The school just returned to being a co-educational institution after six years of separate schools for boys and girls.
The state-run Recovery School District has taken over the school after 100 Black Men’s charter ended in June.
The school’s enrollment is projected to be fewer than 200 students this year. It had more than 1,000 students as recently as 1999.
Capitol High Principal Onetha Albert said she wants to raise the school’s spirits by making a connection between current and former Capitol students.
“When the community is involved, you’re able to do more with the school,” Albert said.
The mood among Saturday’s tailgaters certainly wasn’t somber, though. It felt like game day outside a football stadium.
Aromas of smoke and barbecue were wafting through the air. Tents were scattered throughout the campus’ quadrangle. Most tailgaters clustered under the shade trees to stay cool.
Albert walked around campus and introduced herself to as many alumni as possible.
“We’re just sitting out here having a good time,” Albert said.
Metro Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle reconnected with old classmates Saturday at a tent with campaign signs and barbecue.
Marcelle, Class of 1978, represents Metro Council District 7, where Capitol High is situated.
Marcelle said she wants Capitol High to raise its enrollment and academic performance high enough to move back into the East Baton Rouge Parish public school system.
“I’m hoping and praying the community can come together and move the school forward,” Marcelle said.
Bruce Miles, vice president of Capitol’s Alumni Association and an assistant basketball coach, echoed Marcelle’s sentiments about moving Capitol High back into the parish school system.
Miles said he was optimistic about Capitol’s future because of what he described as a recent jump in test score performance.
“This administration is doing a great job,” Miles said. “We are definitely headed in the right direction.”
A few current students did appear on campus Saturday.
Capitol’s football team attended the alumni tailgate celebration.
“We want our kids to experience … the success that we’ve had,” said Capitol coach Damieon Mills, Class of 1995.
Frederick Reed, Class of 1964, played quarterback for Capitol’s football team back in the day.
Reed said he remembers crowds of 6,000 gathering for Capitol football games — 10,000 whenever Capitol played McKinley High.
“That was the biggest rivalry in all of Baton Rouge,” Reed said.
Reed, a retired community health center director who is running for state representative in District 101, also said he wants to see the school’s enrollment rise again.
“We understand that it’s going to take time,” Reed said.