HAZARD — Perry County Central (PCC) opened in 1995 and combined the schools of MC Napier and Dilce Combs. PCC won their first state championship that same year with their drama program’s performance of a play called “Smoke on the Mountain” during a state championship tournament. A former cast member recalled the performance and some of the memories they had during their time in PCC’s drama program.
Sam Neace, a high school senior at PCC in 1995, played the dad of the family in “Smoke on the Mountain.” Neace describes the play as, “the play is really just a church service. There is a family who is coming into the church. A family of singers and they sing and they do these testimonials, but they mostly kind of funny and there is one that is sad. It is really just a big church service on stage.”
Neace recalled what lead Director Carol Combs to choose “Smoke on the Mountain.” Combs took the drama students on a trip to Lousville for dinner theatre performance, and the play that was being performed was “Smoke on the Mountain.” Originally, Combs did not want to direct this play, because she had another play in mind. Neace and a few others convinced Combs to do “Smoke on the Mountain.”
Combs had previously been the speech and drama teacher at Dilce Combs for several years. She started the drama program at PCC.
The drama team traveled to Bowling Green to compete in the state championship. Neace said the set consisted of three benches and a podium, where the preacher stood. Neace mentioned that there wasn’t really a plot, the cast members just had monologues. PCC’s drama program competed against such schools as Dunbar, who Neace said had choreography and set changes that amazed him and his cast mates.
“We were sitting out their watching, and thinking to ourselves that we don’t stand a chance. We won. We won first place in the whole state,” Neace said.
A few of the cast members won top 10 spots in the all star cast after the state championship was awarded.
The cast included eight students: Derrick Moore, Sam Neace, Stephen Brashear, Rakisha Pollard, Sandy Burns, Kovie Barger and Casey Fulton. Neace pointed out a few of them was in the play because of their singing abilities, while the others were in the play because of their acting talents.
“The singers were fantastic. Whenever they would sing, I didn’t even try. That is where my acting skills came in. I would just lip sync and look like I was singing cause they were really great,” Neace said.
Neace told the story of him and one of his class mates calling the assistant superintendent of Perry County schools in 1995 and asked the assistant superintendent if the drama program would have a parade if they won the state championship, like the football and basketball teams did.
“We called him, Derrick and I, before the tournament and said ‘Now if we win state, is there going to be a big parade for us at the county line?’ he said ‘Yea, if you all win state, we will do that.’ Sure enough they did. When we got back to the Perry/Leslie line, there was the parade and they took us to the school and there was a big cake and everything,” said Neace.
After they won state, the PCC drama program performed two public performances. Both of the performances sold out the auditorium in Perry Central. The success of the sold out performances lead the drama program to travel around to local churches and perform. Neace thinks they went to around eight to 10 local churches.
Neace believes that if it wasn’t for the drama program, he wouldn’t have graduated. Neace said that he would always argue for the arts in public schools because of how speech and the drama program helped him. He said that while there was some initial concerns about MC Napier and Dilce Combs combining, it faded soon after.
“If we hadn’t of combined my senior year, I’d probably would have never had my state championship,” said Neace.
TJ Caudill can be reached at 606-436-5771 or on Twitter @HazardHerald.