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ST. PETERSBURG — They slumped motionless in their vinyl school bus seats. Moving proved too painful.
Their feet ached. Their bruised legs burned from exhaustion.
The journey that took the 1992 Lakewood girls soccer team to the bay area’s first state title in a burgeoning sport, a path that led them past national power and tournament favorite St. Thomas Aquinas 2-1 in the semifinals and over Rockledge 1-0 in the final, was infinitely more glamorous than the ride home from Fort Lauderdale’s Lockhart Stadium.
The Spartans were, in a word, whipped.
As the bus turned into the Lakewood parking lot, its headlights focused on the mass of Spartans’ supporters, hundreds who had assembled to welcome back their conquering heroes.
They never knew so many people cared about what they had been through. Their pain receded.
“I think we all started crying because it was like a movie,” said Julie Schramek, a sophomore forward for the 1992 championship team.
“It was overwhelming how many people — friends, family, classmates that came back,” added Emily Clark, another sophomore forward on that team.
On Wednesday night, the 1992 Lakewood girls soccer team returned to the school where it won a state championship 18 years earlier as part of the Spartans’ athletic Hall of Fame 2010 induction ceremony. Bob Stephens (coach), Tron Armstrong (football), Terri Julian-Polk (track), Ricky Anderson (football) and David Booze (football) were also honored.
That bus ride home was one of many memories the former players reminisced about during a pre- and post-ceremony reception.
“All my high school memories, I think for a lot of us, they kind of fade as time goes on. It’s been almost 20 years,” said Kristin Beck, formerly Kristin Dobbs, who scored the title-winning goal against Rockledge on an early second-half penalty kick. “But that state championship tournament is so vivid in our minds.”
Nobody gave the Spartans much of a chance in the semifinals against St. Thomas Aquinas, which went on to string together seven straight titles a year later (1993-99). Aquinas was the bully, a team more brutish than Lakewood was used to.
“We were a little lucky,” said Spartans coach William Carter, who guided Lakewood for 11 seasons, starting in 1987. “(Aquinas) missed a penalty kick that hit one post, bounced in front of the goal and hit the other post. They peppered us the second half. They must have had 25 shots the second half. I think it ended up 25 shots to 6. But we never quit. We never gave up.”
The win over Aquinas took its toll physically on the Spartans, who were worn down for the final against Rockledge.
That is, until Beck’s penalty kick sealed the first title for a county that now boasts 10.
“We might not have been the best team, skill wise, but we definitely had the most heart,” Beck said.
Lakewood athletic director Javan Turner said the Hall of Fame is an important link connecting the school to its past.
“We want to celebrate our former athletes and encourage them to come back,” he said. “They’re always welcome here at Lakewood. Once a Spartan, always a Spartan.”
Photo: Lakewood High principal Dennis Duda, congratulates Tara Pickhardt Harris, of St. Petersburg, and other members of the 1992 Lakewood High School girls soccer team, Wednesday evening at Lakewood High. Members of the team were inducted in to the school's Hall of Fame during a girls basketball game.