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Alumni, fans celebrate 150 years of GRPS at hard-fought game

‘Crosstown Throwdown’ part of sesquicentennial year

Photography by Dianne Carroll Burdick

Grand Rapids  — After warming up his vocals alongside fellow Staff Notes GR members, Emilio Rodriguez came off Houseman Field excited to be an alumni of Grand Rapids Public Schools.

“It’s what this game is all about: getting the GRPS family together,” Rodriguez said. “I was a student and now I’m a mentor and I still feel like I’m a part of this family.”

A 2017 Innovation Central graduate, he is now pursuing a double major in music education and music performance at GRCC, while serving GRPS as a mentor for elementary students. 

August temperatures pushing 100 degrees did not stop Grand Rapids Public Schools alumni of all ages from attending the citywide alumni reunion on Friday, Aug. 27.

‘It’s what this game is all about: getting the GRPS family together.’

— Emilio Rodriguez, 2017 Innovation Central graduate

Director of Fine Arts Maggie Malone is also the founder of Staff Notes

Celebrating the district’s 150th anniversary, the reunion accompanied the Crosstown Throwdown football game between Union and Ottawa Hills. A comprehensive directory of all GRPS graduates is in the works, and other anniversary-themed activities are planned including the annual Grand Rapids Turkey Trot supporting district athletics.  

Directed by Debra Perry, Creston class of 1986, Staff Notes GR performed the national anthem before the game, arranged by one of their members, GRPS music teacher Vanessa Allen.

“Our group is super talented and contains several GRPS alumni,” said Maggie Malone, GRPS director of fine arts and Staff Notes GR founder. “We all share a love for music, but more importantly we choose to support students and our schools and it’s our passion to choose them every day.” 

Kimmie Jarnegan, a1985 Ottawa Hills graduate, fondly remembered performing in the theater productions during her high school years.

“My favorite memory of high school was playing the Wiz when we performed ‘The Wiz’ during my senior year,” Jarnegan said. 

Jarnegan also comes from a “proud Ottawa Hills family.” Her father attended Ottawa Hills, as did all of her siblings and now, her nieces and nephews are in GRPS schools. 

While both teams warmed up on the field before the start of the game, Christian Verley, Ottawa Hills head football coach and Ottawa Hills alumni class of 2006, shared his excitement for the big game, which Union went on to win, 35-34. 

“I’m looking forward to seeing the crowd, the alumni and families watch the culmination of our hard work play out in this game,” Verley said.

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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter covering Byron Center, Caledonia, Godfrey-Lee, Kenowa Hills and Thornapple Kellogg. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News, covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry, before finding her calling in education reporting and landing at SNN. Alexis is also the author of a poetry chapbook, “Learning to Sleep in the Middle of the Bed.”


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