About 200 seniors gathered at the high school at midnight before the first day of school Wednesday to cover the campus of Marietta High with toilet paper until it looked like snow. Yards and yards of toilet paper hung from the branches of every tree around the school. A banner was hanging from the front of the building that read “Class of 2015. We do it better.”
“It’s more paper than I’ve ever seen before,” said Principal Leigh Colburn.
Colburn, who has been principal for 10 years, has seen the results of the tradition each year. But this time the tradition hit close to home. Colburn’s son, Phillip, is a senior at the school. He said he tried to sneak out of the house Tuesday night to participate in the prank without his mother knowing.
“She didn’t know until the dogs woke her up when I left,” he said.
Colburn treated her son just as she did every other senior Wednesday morning, and their punishment was to clean up the paper.
The tradition has been ongoing since the ’60s, Colburn said, and she knows it will happen every year as a rite of passage for the students.
“As a principal, you have to learn how to balance what crosses the line and what doesn’t,” Colburn said.
Colburn can’t be too starkly opposed to the prank because she rolled the school when she graduated from Marietta High School in 1983.
“What they did (Wednesday) was so much bigger than what we did,” Colburn said.
Senior class co-publicists Annie Martin and Neal Majors said they bought 1,000 rolls of toilet paper together, and they required every student who wanted to participate to bring 50 rolls with them. The two estimated students used 5,000 rolls to cover the school.
“We mostly told people to come through word of mouth,” Majors said. “As publicists, this is pretty much our job — to put this event on.”
Elizabeth Osoinach, class president, said she rallied the seniors to be competitive and do it better than before.
“We just told everyone to bring 50 rolls and bring their school spirit,” Osoinach said.
Colburn said the prank is tolerated because it doesn’t produce any lasting damage, and it creates a good moment of bonding and community for the school.
“For (the students), it’s more of a celebration of school spirit and to get excited for the first day of school,” Colburn said.
The principal told senior students who participated they would have to clean up the mess even if that meant staying after school hours or on the weekend to get it done.
“The epic cleanup has begun,” Colburn announced Wednesday morning.
Associate Superintendent Dayton Hibbs said students know the consequences of rolling the school.
“They know up front what they’re getting into — that they’ll have to clean it up,” Hibbs said.
Jill Mutimer, a member of the Marietta School Board, said this year’s class had it easy. When she rolled the school as a senior in 1984, the principal at the time, Herb Garrett, made the senior class come to school at 5 a.m. the next morning to clean it up.
Mutimer was impressed with this morning’s results.
“I think that’s about the best I’ve seen,” Mutimer said.
Before Mutimer rolled the school, Marietta Councilman Grif Chalfant said he did it in 1965.
“What we did was minor league compared to this one. This was the big time,” Chalfant said.
Chalfant and Mutimer both said they didn’t know when or how the tradition started, but they know it will continue.
Members of the class of 2015 spent the first half of Wednesday cleaning up the trails of toilet paper hanging from the tops of trees to the ground on dozens of trees around the school. One student turned on the stereo in his car, rolled down the windows and provided a radio soundtrack for the cleaning crew that morning, turning the cleanup into more of a party than a punishment.
Students didn’t seem too concerned about the work ahead of them.
“We were kind of banking on this time out of class to clean up the mess,” said senior Ivy Shannon.
Colburn said the students had cleaned most of the paper up by noon Wednesday.
Marietta Middle School Principal Forrestella Taylor said the class of 2015 was under her watch when the seniors were freshman three years ago because she was assistant principal of the ninth grade at Marietta High School in 2011.
“That was my freshman class. I was so proud of them when I saw it,” Taylor said. “They were rock stars from the beginning.”
Junior Earl McKinney didn’t even stop to look around on his way into the school Wednesday morning because the tradition has become the norm.
“You kind of expect it now,” McKinney said.
Leigh Ann Worden, whose daughter, Anna, started at the school as a freshman Wednesday, said she had never experienced the tradition before.
“We think that’s the cool thing about Marietta High School,” said Leigh Ann Worden, a stay-at-home mom who lives in Marietta. “It has so many traditions, and we haven’t even begun to know them all.”