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Tradition of painting Summit Street coming to an end

Someone who isn’t familiar with the traditions associated with Russellville High School might think a band of graffiti artists were turned loose on Summit Street.

Names of all kinds in bright colors and varying fonts decorate the half-mile stretch between Waterloo Road and Wilson Boulevard, and up until the road was repaved almost a year ago, it was hard to find a foot-wide patch of pavement that hadn’t been painted.

As strange as this might seem to outsiders, those who are familiar with the community know that in reality, the names have been painted on the road by members of each senior class who have come to follow in the traditions of many other seniors before them.

Russellville Superintendent Rex Mayfield said he isn’t exactly certain which class started the tradition, but he said it has probably gone on for close to 30 years.

“This isn’t a school-sanctioned event,” Mayfield said. “It’s just something the graduating class always does.

“They usually go late at night in groups and by the end of the semester, you can always tell where the new names have been painted because they show up brighter than the older ones that have faded out.”

The tradition isn’t a school-sanctioned activity since painting on a public road is technically against the law, but local law enforcement has had a lenient policy on the practice since it is usually a harmless activity and a tradition that ranks right up there for many RHS alums with holding your right arm extended into a fist to represent a torch during football kick-off in the fall.

But as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end and Russellville Police Chief Chris Hargett said that the tradition of painting Summit has come to an end.

Hargett, who graduated from RHS in 1986, said he is fully aware that the practice is something that is special to many people, but with the mounting complaints he and other city officials have received, his hands are simply tied.

“We have tolerated the students painting on Summit for years, but we have been receiving numerous complaints about the paint actually getting on people’s cars and not being able to get it off,” Hargett said.

“We have one man who drove through some of the wet paint recently in his brand new truck and he’s now seeking over $2,000 in damages from the city because of it.

“We know this is a fun tradition for the kids – and I hate it for them – but when things like that start happening, it isn’t just an innocent thing anymore – it’s destroying people’s property.”

Hargett said in the past seniors used spray paint to write their names on the road, which dries much quicker and causes less problems, but the trend has changed to using brightly-colored canned paint and rollers.

“Each class wants their names to be bigger and brighter than the class before them, which has led to the trend of using paint and rollers instead of spray paint,” Hargett said.

“This type of paint takes longer to dry so there’s more room for it getting on a person’s car when they drive over it, especially if the kids have painted on the banners in the road and not just the pavement.”

News that the tradition of painting on Summit will be coming to an end has been met with mixed emotions in the community.

“Traditions like this make RHS a special place to alumni and future students,” 2002 graduate Tara Vincent said.

“To stop this one of a kind tradition is like saying you have to stop being proud to be from Russellville.

“I can understand the concern of neighbors and citizens in the Summit area since they might get paint on their cars or it might pull value away from their home, but it has been going on for years and years. It seems like such a shame to stop it now.”

Heather Conner, who graduated from RHS in 2003, said getting to paint Summit was one of her favorite memories from high school, so it was sad to know future classes wouldn’t be able to have the same experience.

“I remember seeing the painting on Summit when I was a little girl and the fact that it was ‘only for seniors’ definitely made it more special and added to the anticipation,” Conner said.

“Painting Summit was all about tradition and being with friends for me. I went with several truck loads of people late at night and it was great because there were people from all different ‘cliques’ who were out there painting the road together.

“It was really cool to see that we could all be friends. It definitely made a difference in the camaraderie of our class. My parents had told me that graduation was the last time that we would all be together, so I wanted to be as involved as possible with my classmates, and I am thankful that I took the opportunities, like painting Summit, to spend as much time with those people as I could.”

RHS alum Laura Stockton, who graduated in 1998, said that painting Summit was something she did with several of her friends, including her high school sweetheart and now husband, Jason Stockton.

“Many of Russellville’s traditions are wrapped up in football, so that’s what made painting Summit so special – it was a tradition apart from football, something special that all of the seniors could be a part of if they wanted to,” Stockton said.

“Painting Summit was a lot of fun and every time I would drive over my name after that those fun memories would come flooding back.

“It was great to know I was part of a tradition that had gone on for as long as I could remember.”

2005 grad Robert Thornton said he can remember the anticipation of the day when it would finally be time to add his name to the road like the rest of his older peers.

“When I was in middle school, we had to go down Summit to get to school and I remember seeing the names,” he said.

“I would try to read them and after asking why they were there, I knew I wanted to do the same thing when I was a senior.

“I hate it for those kids who, like me, started anticipating being part of this tradition when they were younger and now won’t get to.”

Hargett said even though the police department will no longer be allowing students to paint their names on Summit Street, he was hoping to find a way to still allow graduating seniors to carry on the tradition some way.

“I’ve been in contact with school administrators and we’re trying to find alternatives to just letting the kids go whatever night they choose and paint on the road and leave wet paint for others to drive over,” Hargett said.

Mayfield agreed that every effort would be made to preserve the spirit of the tradition.

“I know how much this means to the students,” Mayfield said. “Traditions are a big part of our school system.

“Hopefully we can find something for our graduating seniors to do that will be fun and memorable for them and not destructive or damaging to anyone else.”