SCHOOL- Classroom confessions: Local celebs 'fess up to youthful indiscretions

Though they have since risen to prominent positions in the Charlottesville community, even our most upstanding and respected public figures weren't always so bright or well-behaved when they were in school. 

Which prominent attorney got knocked flat on his back while trying to impress girls? Which city official spent a night in jail on the night of his Homecoming dance? How do you remove chewing gum if you get it in your hair? Red-faced Charlottesville celebs reveal all in this candid look back at the days of pencils, books, and, sometimes, teachers' dirty looks.

John Whitehead

As one of the country's leading civil liberties attorneys, Rutherford Institute founder John Whitehead always has run head-first into defending the Constitutional rights of his clients. However, when he applied the same tactic to getting the attention of the opposite sex, he met with little success.

"There were some girls I was trying to impress, so I just decided I was going to run through the door to see them," he recalls.

What Whitehead didn't notice was that the threshold he was trying to run through was actually closed by a newly-installed 3/4-inch thick glass door. 

"I ran into it full flush into it and it blew me straight back," he says, "I wasn't unconscious, but I was definitely dazed. After that, I was so embarrassed I went home, went straight to bed, and stayed there all day and all night. My parents wondered what was wrong, but I wouldn't tell them."

And what of the girls whose eyes he had wished to catch?

"They stood over me and asked, 'Are you okay?'" Whitehead says. "Then they never talked to me again."

John Carden

Prior to his days making a living at it, Salon Druknya hairstylist John Carden won friends and influenced classmates at the North Carolina School for the Arts in Winston Salem with his command of all things coiffure. However, there was one occasion senior year when it got him into a sticky situation.

"I was at a dance, and a friend of mine got gum stuck in her hair because this other girl who didn't like her had walked up behind her and put it there," he recalls. "I've had the reputation of being good with hair since I was about eight, so we went back to her dorm to get it out."

Carden's good deed did not go unpunished. While working his magic, a school official caught the boy in the girls' living quarters, a strict no-no.

"I got written up, but nothing else came of it," he says.

And just how do you get chewing gum out of hair?

"Finger nail polish remover," says Carden, "It crystallizes the gum and then you can take it out easily. It works every time."


Beth Duffy

Each night on CBS19's evening newscast, the ensembles Beth Duffy wears make her as smartly dressed as any news anchor in the business. But to hear Duffy tell it, that fashion sensibility had yet to be fully developed when she was but a freshman at King George High School near Fredericksburg. 

"When I was going out for the track team, I wanted to impress older guys, so I showed up not really wearing running attire, but wearing a lavender, striped polo shirt," she explains.

Her wardrobe choice wouldn't have necessarily been a problem, except for the facts that she was running on a soggy infield and that Duffy had before never attempted to run the hurdles.

 "I just remember my knee hitting the hurdle, and then flying through the air spread eagle and into the mud," she remembers. "I never put that shirt on again."

Duffy remained undaunted and, four years later, graduated a varsity athlete– playing field hockey.


Matthew Willner

Matthew Willner didn't learn how to play the guitar until he was 18, but he looked the part of a rocker long before he picked up a six-string. 

"I was 15 in 1986," he says, "when mohawks still pissed people off."

So, after meticulously shaving his head and using myriad products to spike the tufts of remaining, dayglo hair, Willner showed up to Tandem School (now Tandem Friends School) and got the desired reaction to his new 'do.

"They had an interim headmaster at the time who was trying to clean up the school's image as a liberal hippie school," he says, "so he wasn't crazy about me being a typical, disruptive teen and told me to wear a hat."

When Willner refused, it proved to be the last straw for school administrators, who soon expelled the future frontman of such Charlottesville rock outfits as Replicant, Full Flavor, and Plutonium. With hindsight, though, the veteran musician says he understands the situation differently.

"Now, I can see why they did it," he says, "because when prospective parents see some kid with a mohawk and combat boots, they'd say, 'I don't want to send my kid there!'" 

Willner then sported a variety of "punk haircuts" at Charlottesville High School, and marvels at how the once-shocking styles he sported have become de rigeur today.

"Back then, if you were white and shaved your head," he says, "unless you were Telly Savalas people thought you were a racist skinhead. Now you've got to have some severe facial piercing to shock people."


Denise Lunsford

Now that she's running for Albemarle County Commonwealth's Attorney, Denise Lunsford has shown there are many aspects to her public persona: the experienced lawyer, the loving mother, the community volunteer. But voters might not be familiar with one of her former identities: the rebel cheerleader.

"When I was in eighth grade in Calhoun, Tennessee, I went on a retreat for the cheerleaders to our sponsoring teacher's parents' house on a lake," she explains, "and one night some of us snuck out to the boathouse to smoke some cigarettes."

Though she wasn't caught that night, it soon became evident that Lunsford's mind for crime was not the sharpest.

"To put out the cigarettes, we threw them in in the lake," she says, "not realizing that they float."

Upon getting caught, Lunsford was ordered to tell her parents of her meandering from the straight and narrow and still remembers the moment she confessed to her mother.

"I was sitting in that big, green Lincoln of hers and told her I got caught smoking," she recalls, "and I saw her hands tighten around the steering wheel and she said, 'Smoking what?'"

After reassuring her mother that the tobacky was not of the wacky variety, Lunsford says all the punishment she got was a stern warning not to smoke again. 

"Of course," she adds, "the next day I went to school and the teacher said she'd reconsidered and [we] didn't have to tell our parents after all."


Ric Barrick

In the days before he became the City of Charlottesville's official spokesperson, Ric Barrick was but a student within its public school system. Like a lot of Charlottesville High School seniors before and since, Barrick's Homecoming experience was a memorable one– just not for the reasons he had wanted.

"I was in the back of an overcrowded Jeep with my date," he recounts, "when somebody got out and sprayed shaving cream all over somebody's door."

Apparently, the owner of the newly-foamy house didn't think the prank was so funny and the next thing Barrick knew– in spite of his claim he was only in the wrong place at the wrong time– he and everyone else in the vehicle were behind bars.

"Especially given that my dad was Commonwealth's Attorney at the time, jail was not a place I wanted to be," he says.

Barrick says he can still recall the look his date's mother gave him upon arriving at the hoosegow.

"That was the last date I ever had with her daughter."

Stevie Jay

One man theatrical machine Stevie Jay has always felt comfortable addressing crowds. So it stands to reason that when he provoked the ire of administrators at Coral Gables High School in Florida, it would be over a loudspeaker.

"I just didn't think it was fair to make poor people spend money on tuxes and gowns for prom," he explains, "So my friend was the president of student council and he agreed to put me on the morning announcements to tell everyone that this year's prom was going to be 'come as you are.'"

The ensuing meeting between the boy who would be Stevie Jay and the man who was in charge of prom remains etched in the performer's memory.

"Here I am, this hippy dippy dramarama kid with long hair, and there's Coach Simpson, in his suit coat, horn-rimmed glasses, and brush cut hair cut, looking like he could be Drew Carey's mean father, telling me 'I don't know where you get off!'"

Though his reign over prom fashion requirements lasted a mere 24 hours, Stevie Jay says he still looks back on the moment with pride.

"People were coming up to me saying, 'hey, dug you on the loudspeaker,'" he says. "For one day I had changed that long-standing tradition."