FORT VALLEY -- A couple of years ago some old high school friends from Peach County returned home for the funeral of a classmate and had a Big Chill moment.
They were reminiscing about a summer kickoff event they had founded as teenagers and ran for many years. Called the SunSplash, it was last held in 1998 because so many members of the group had scattered around the country pursuing careers.
We decided we didnt want a funeral to be the only time we got together, said Chuck Miller.
They decided to bring back SunSplash, and held it Saturday at Festival Park, providing free food and drink and music.
In the early 80s, when most of them were in high school, they started a group called Diplomats Inc. They wanted to make sure they stayed on the right track in life, and through the group they gave encouragement and help to each other. If one was having trouble with a subject in the school, the others would help.
I would best describe it as an accountability group, Miller said.
It seems to have worked pretty well. Miller is now a chief master sergeant in the Air Force. Another member of the group played in the NFL, another became a Marine helicopter pilot and another an investment banker. Others had successful military and business careers.
One member of the group, Tim Watson, was an academic all-American in football at Howard University and was drafted in the sixth round by the Green Bay Packers. He was cut several times by different teams, but managed to eke out a 7-year career. He credited his involvement with Diplomats with giving him the drive to succeed.
Today he is a pastor, motivational speaker and author.
If you are up against a challenge and you go at that challenge 100 miles per hour, with everything youve got, you can overcome anything, he said.
Greg King is a native of the Bronx in New York, and came to Fort Valley as he was entering high school. He could have easily fallen in with the wrong crowd, he said, but instead he found the right crowd in the Diplomats. We knew we could lean on each other, he said. Even to this day we do.
King would go on to become a lieutenant colonel in the Marines and a helicopter pilot.
As youths, they came up with the idea for SunSplash because they wanted to do something for the community. So they each made a $50 donation for the inaugural event. Now that they have successful careers, they upped the price. For Saturdays event, each member of the Diplomats donated $300. They said the plan to keep doing it each year.
To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.