A Closer Look at Extracurriculars: Activities at Burt High School  

Written by Meghan E. Gattignolo 

High school is a crucial time in the life of students, straddling the threshold of childhood and becoming an adult. Extracurriculars, therefore, are indispensable pieces of the high school experience. These activities – sports, debate, math club, newspaper, yearbook, etc. – give students a fun place to practice their passions, try out new interests and unite peers under a common goal. Participating in extracurricular activities was no less important for the students of Burt High School. The school served Black students in Clarksville from 1923 until Clarksville schools were fully integrated by 1970. For some Burt students, participating in extracurriculars shaped their lives and careers. 

Yearbook Club 

Yearbooks are an exciting way to end a school year, flipping through the pages to find pictures of yourself and friends, and getting all your fellow students to sign the blank pages. The assembling of the yearbook’s content every year is done by students, and provides a chance to develop photography, design and editing skills. The Burtite, Burt High School’s official yearbook, was established in 1946. In the exhibit, you’ll see the first yearbook up close, as well as the final edition from 1970. 


School sports help students maintain their physical health, while teaching values like teamwork and personal resilience. Burt High School’s athletic programs also happened to develop some of Tennessee’s most accomplished athletes. Famously, Olympic track and field star Wilma Rudolph attended BHS. Another athlete, L.M. Ellis, surfaced from Burt High School’s fiercely competitive boys’ basketball team under Coach Davey Lee Whitney. Ellis led Burt High School to win a national championship in 1961. After high school, Ellis went on to play basketball for Austin Peay’s team, subsequently becoming the first Black player for Austin Peay and integrating the Ohio Valley Conference. Ellis passed away last summer, but not before seeing his jersey retired. In 1990, he was inducted into Austin Peay’s Hall of Fame. L.M. Ellis’ letterman jacket and MVP basketball trophy from Burt High School are both featured in the exhibit. 

Marching Band 

What’s a high school without a marching band? High school marching bands provide an invaluable environment for students to learn a musical instrument, while celebrating their school spirit and teamwork. Burt High School’s marching band also showcased an overwhelming pride in the students’ community. In the exhibit, you can check out a marching band uniform, and definitely don’t miss the huge bass drum decorated with the Burt High School mascot – a stunning red-eyed tiger. 

STEM Clubs 

Thanks to the school’s namesake, Dr. Robert T. Burt, Burt High School started out with a strong connection to the sciences. Dr. Burt was an accomplished physician who established Clarksville’s first public hospital. At BHS, young men and women enjoyed the opportunity to explore their interests in math and science clubs outside of class. On display are donated scientific instruments current to the time frame that Burt High School was open. 

Burt High School was originally located on E. Franklin Street near 10th Street, where you’ll find the Burt-Cobb Community Center today. The high school was relocated to Bailey Street behind Austin Peay State University during the 1950s. The building is now an elementary school, part of the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System.  

How important were your favorite high school activities to the rest of your life? Be part of the exhibit and share your experience inside Extracurriculars: Activities at Burt High School, a rare Collections Spotlight, available in the Harvill Gallery until February 26.   

After you check out our exhibit, be sure to make a trip over to the Clarksville-Montgomery County Public Library to check out their hallway of class photos dating back nearly a century. Right next to the Brown Harvey, Sr. Genealogy Room, you’ll find an impressive collection of both Burt and Clarksville High School class photographs, allowing you to put even more names and faces to the story of BHS.  

Meghan E. Gattignolo is a freelance writer and longtime Clarksville, TN resident. She loves to obsess about historical subjects and annoy her family daily with unsolicited random facts. Meghan holds a History B.A. from Austin Peay State University and lives in town with her husband and two daughters. 

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