Mill Creek principal Dr. James Markham is presented with a token for his retirement by football players prior to the Mill Creek and Dacula football game in Hoschton on Friday. Dr. Markham who has been the principal at Mill Creek for the past nine years plans to retire on Dec. 1, 2012 to battle his multiple myloma cancer. The football field will be named Markham Field in his honor.
HOSCHTON -- Even Mrs. Markham didn't know -- she would have most likely ruined the surprise, her husband admitted Friday, if only for etiquette's sake.
"She would have probably told me to wear a suit or something," Jim Markham said with a laugh.
High school football began in earnest across Gwinnett on Friday, with some 17 games taking place for teams from throughout the county. The night's action, though, was undoubtedly the most special in Hoschton, where the home of the Mill Creek Hawks got a brand new name.
The turf inside Mill Creek Community Stadium is now officially dubbed Markham Field, a nod to the aforementioned Jim Markham. The Vietnam veteran and longtime Gwinnett County administrator has been principal at the high school since its opening in 2004.
Aside from the school board, which had to approve the move, only about seven people knew what the surprise ceremony prior to Mill Creek's home opener would hold.
Neither Jim Markham -- nor his wife -- were among them.
"I really don't have a good response right now," Markham said Friday, on the sidelines now bearing his name. "I was totally shocked. I had no idea. It's the kindest thing anyone's ever done for me."
Markham has been an educator for 45 years and with Gwinnett since 1991, serving as principal at Parkview (1991-93), Berkmar (1994-2004) and Mill Creek. He announced earlier this month that he will be retiring Dec. 1 to battle the cancer that's developed from his exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.
During the brief ceremony prior to Mill Creek's solid thumping of rival Dacula, Markham was presented with a hat, a trophy, a banner signed by every senior and, most unique of all, his very own letterman's jacket.
It all had to be a surprise, Athletic Director Gary Long said.
"We were afraid if he caught wind of it he would nix it from the get-go," Long said.
Long said Markham has meant "everything" to Mill Creek.
"Dr. Markham's goal from Day 1 was to create the best high school in America," Long said. "He's an incredible leader ... I'm sure there are other people out there that could have done a great job, but I'm just not sure they would have gotten us to where we are as fast as we're there."
"He's been inspirational to all of us."
Soon, the strip across the bottom of the stadium's scoreboard will no longer welcome fans to "The Home of the Hawks," but to Markham Field.
Eventually, a granite monument with Markham's likeness will be constructed in a grassy area between the stadium and the football team's fieldhouse.
Markham, ever humble, said he never would have suspected such an honor because "I don't think like that."
"I will be forever in their debt," he said.