Pride reborn with two Hernando high schools compete

If you care about football, you've no doubt heard all about it by now.

Two teams that have been getting better all year played a game that wasn't decided until a failed onside kick in the last minute.

Two touchdown runs and one catch by Hernando High School's Alvin Delaine were answered by the running and receiving scores of an unlikely star, Nature Coast Technical High School's Anthony Carlucci.

Delaine's friend from Brooksville and former teammate at Parrott Middle School, Isaac Bailey, broke the home crowd's hearts with two drive-killing interceptions.

The score, 22-20, reflected what I saw on the field. Nature Coast is a slightly better team. But if you want to pick which school gained more from Friday night's game, you'd have to say it was Hernando.

That's because its program has been a loser for at least as long as Nature Coast has been a school, six years. The tough, imaginative game it played Friday — featuring, amazingly, even a few well-executed pass plays — showed it's not anymore.

It's because Hernando means more to Brooksville than Nature Coast, a magnet school, means to any single part of the county, and because this game helped restore pride in a program with a long history of good teams and great players.

And, yet, Nature Coast came out ahead, too. Because every dominant program needs a rival and now it has one.

You get to Hernando's Tom Fisher Stadium by driving past the old courthouse and the old houses on Howell Avenue. You can see from the stands, on the edge of the pool of the stadium's lights, the characteristic tall oaks of Brooksville.

"It's the only high school that's in the center of a true community, and that sense of community comes from having a school pretty much in the center of town,'' said David Donato, president of the school's booster club and chairman of the School Advisory Council.

Steeped in history

A fan with an appreciation for Brooksville's past might have noticed retired mining engineer Tommy Bronson watching his grandson, linebacker Thomas Bronson, and known he was sitting in the stadium he helped build in the mid 1960s.

Another linebacker, Josh Parnell, was escorted across the field for the Senior Night ceremonies by his father, Vincent, one of the school's best-ever basketball players.

Former Leopard receiver John Capel, the fastest 200-meter runner at the Sydney Olympics — that he didn't win gold is a mere technicality, in my opinion — was in the press box calling plays as an assistant coach.

Head coach John Palmer is following in the footsteps of his father, Dub. And Julia Jinkens sold programs for the booster club, just as she has for past 35 years.

"For years and years and years, there was only one school in the county to go, so it obviously has a lot more history,'' said Eddie Looper, quarterback on the 1981 playoff team with Palmer and future NFL star Jerome Brown.

What was Hernando High football like at its best? Eighteen years ago, I saw the famous game between undefeated Hernando and Pasco High. The stadium was packed and loud, and exploded in cheers when Leopard back Dwayne Mobley streaked down the sidelines.

The place was dead when I took my son to a game a couple of years ago. And on Friday, if you put aside the Guns N' Roses blaring from the loudspeakers at halftime and the kids in body paint, it was 1991 all over again — as good as it's ever been.

"This is like old times,'' Jinkens said. "I love seeing this.''

Looking ahead

One other reason this game meant a lot to Hernando: The improvement of the football team seems to mirror the improvement in the school.

"The rebirth is not just on the field,'' Donato said. "It's in the entire confidence level and the attitude of the students on campus. There's a sense of pride. There are fewer discipline problems.''

You'd think that pride would keep Brooksville's best players in town, playing for Hernando.

It would seem natural for any good athlete to want to be the next Brown or Mobley.

But Brooksville, of course, has a history of racial oppression and a marching band that once played Dixie at halftime.

You can see why all that tradition might not appeal to black players. And you can see why that for all teenagers — including stars like Nature Coast's Tevin Drake — new might just seem better than old.

"He just wanted something different. He just wanted his own memories,'' Drake's father, Ernest, a former Hernando High basketball player, said before the game.

East vs. West. Modern vs. historic. Purple vs. blue.

The two teams meet Monday, along with Crystal River, to fight for a playoff spot: Round two of a great rivalry.

Pride reborn with two Hernando high schools compete 11/07/09 [Last modified: Saturday, November 7, 2009 12:58pm]

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