One last time the students at Fayetteville High School paint the halls featuring different homecoming themes. One last time a couple is crowned Homecoming king and queen. One last time alumni members line the sidewalks outside the school reminiscing on the times they were the students, rather than their children. One last time the football team plays a game as the Pirates.

One last time.

Just inside the double glass front doors of Fayetteville High School, to the left, a picture of a Volkswagen bus is painted along the corridor's window. A pirate is perched in the driver's seat. The phrase “Peace Out, Patriots” is lettered above to acknowledge the school's 2018 Homecoming rival — the Midland Trail Patriots. 

A small sense of loneliness fills the halls. No teachers. No students. No faculty. All are out gathering along the streets of Fayetteville for “One Last Time.”

Homecoming, of course, is all about returning home. On Friday, Oct. 19, Fayetteville High School students did just that as they celebrated their final homecoming parade and game while past students and other community members also came home. 

Fayetteville High School will be closing its doors, officially, at the end of the 2018-19 school year, as its remaining students consolidate with Oak Hill High School for the upcoming years.

The Fayette County Board of Education proposed consolidation in 2015, and in July 2017 the State Board of Education voted to approve closures and consolidations for Fayette County schools except for Meadow Bridge High School, which will remain open. Fayette residents have spent the last year participating in local forums, protests, and board of education meetings — most against consolidation plans. 

For the Homecoming parade, sidewalks outside the school were lined with people, many of whom live in homes along those walkways. One home posted a green sign sporting "FHS, Class of '71." 

"The Shoemakers live there," adults told their children as they pointed to the ranch-style brick home, brown in color. 

Suzann Shoemaker stood just a little farther up the street at a church — a prominent landmark for many of Fayetteville High School's homecoming parades. She was pointing every which way as she directed parade floats, all while sporting her kelly green school sweater, with the year she graduated etched on the back —1971. 

"F-H-S" was chanted in the background by the Fayetteville High School marching band as they walked up the streets. Children reached to the ground to grab every bit of candy thrown. A string of women dressed in green with diamond-encrusted crowns sat atop convertibles, representing all the Miss Pirates of Fayetteville High School's past. 

Shoemaker met her lifelong love, her life partner, when she was a senior at Fayetteville High School. 

"It was prom," she recalled. "It was prom when we actually started dating each other."

When word spread that Fayetteville High School would consolidate after this school year, Shoemaker said the memories came rushing back. Fayetteville has been her home her entire life. Now, the heart of the community was closing its doors, and it gave her a bittersweet feeling, she said. 

Fayetteville High School had decided Shoemaker's future before she even knew it herself. She said she has her teachers to thank for that. 

"My teachers I had during those four years made such an impact on my life. My math teacher during that time was the reason I decided to become a math teacher myself," Shoemaker said.

After attending Concord College and earning her degree, she found her way back to Fayetteville High School — her way back home. 

Before retiring in recent years, Shoemaker served as a math teacher and guidance counselor at the school for 33 years, all while living across the street. 

"I can look right out my window and see the school. I see it every day," she said. "It's just always been my home."

The small-town feeling has always been present, in 1971 and in 2018, Shoemaker said. 

She said, "It's always been a strong sense of community." 

Although there are many similarities between Fayetteville circa 1971 and 2018, Shoemaker said back in her day, the town action always involved the school.

In 1970, Fayetteville's population was 1,712. Nearly a half century later, in 2017, the population had grown to 2,772. As the population grew, to, too, did the number of students. Fayetteville High School currently serves 475 students, far more than in 1971 when Shoemaker was a student.  

"We didn't have cars like a lot of these students today. We couldn't just hop in the car and take a trip to Oak Hill. So, whatever was happening at the school that weekend, that's what we all did," she said. "That was what we all looked forward to.

"It was our home away from home."

Shoemaker often takes walks by Fayetteville High School, just to reminisce. Although she feels consolidation may provide more education opportunities for the town's students, some of Fayetteville's identity may soon be lost.

Although other schools near the town will remain open, many others are closing as well, including Rosedale, Mount Hope, New River, Valley, Fayette and Gatewood elementary schools.

"Much of the older generation in the town keeps up with Fayetteville High football, and I don't think we will really all do that once the students are at a different school," she said. 

"It was good, good to have all of this for us and the town, one last time." 

After the parade, after residents returned to their homes, the cool, sunny day turned to dusk. That's when the lights came up at Fletcher M. Arritt Stadium.

The Fayetteville High School Pirates were hosting the Midland Trail Patriots from just up U.S. 19 across the New River Gorge Bridge, competing for bragging rights and the annual "Battle for the Bridge."

With fans filling every inch of the stands, others crowded the sidelines. Scents of pizza, hot dogs and popcorn filled the air. The line to the concession stand wrapped around the building. 

Although Ken Adkins was never a football player when he attended Fayetteville High School, he was an avid baseball and basketball player.

"I did a lot with horses, so the football practice schedule kind of interfered with that, but you bet I was still at every football game cheering the team on," he said. 

Adkins graduated from Fayetteville High School in 1984, and now teaches ninth and 10th grade English there. Just like many in the town, he left when he graduated but found his way back home. 

He's taught at many schools in Fayette County, but nothing has ever felt quite like Fayetteville High School, he said. 

"I'm teaching English class in the same classroom I had English when I went to school here. Now, I'm teaching the kids of all the people I went to school with."

"It's a unique place, Fayetteville High School. It's a unique place where you learn and grow, then come back because it's sense of home." 

Homecoming is always bigger in Fayetteville than in other towns, Adkins said, and it's just always been that way. He called it "a different dynamic than most places." 

Students are taught to wear green and white every Friday of football season from the time they're in grade school, Adkins said. 

"It's just how you're raised," Adkins said. "Football in Fayetteville, well, football has always been king in this town. Once that goes, a lot of the town's traditions will leave with that. I just don't know what will happen. I hope the closeness will remain, and I hope Homecoming will still be celebrated, but maybe in just a different form."

On this particular night, the Midland Patriots got the best of the Pirates, 26-10, in the last game of this storied rivalry.

"This is home," Adkins said. "We may have celebrated Homecoming one last time, but this place will always be home."

Email: jnelson@register-herald.com; follow on Twitter @jnelsonRH 

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