TAMPA — Welcome to Strawberry Crest High School, home of the Fighting ... Berries?
If only it were a joking matter.
The East Hillsborough strawberry industry has entered into the fray over the naming rights to a new high school opening there in the fall, and no one is laughing.
"Strawberry Crest" is the name of choice, touting the greatest support. Proposals also were submitted for "Strawberry Patch" and "Strawberry Palace." Then there is the sweet and simple classic: "Strawberry High."
Another cuts straight to the point. Just name the school "Strawberry Something," O.K.?
"It's very, very much a part of our heritage," said former School Board member Joe Newsome, noting that more than 700 people are petitioning for Strawberry Crest High. "We're known as the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World. We have the Strawberry Festival."
He brushed off fears that the mighty strawberry might not instill fear in the hearts of athletic rivals.
"They could very easily be the Knights," he said, playing off the "crest." "They could be the Harvesters. They could be the Packers."
Some say there's a better option: Commemorate a person, instead of a fruit.
"I just don't get it," said Fran Costantino, president of the East Ybor Historic and Civic Association. She would like to see a school named after John J. Iorio, a revered professor at the University of South Florida and the late father of Tampa mayor Pam Iorio.
"There's so many famous people in Hillsborough County and you're going to ask a child, 'Where do you go? Well, Strawberry Crest,'" she said. "What is the significance of it?"
Plenty, apparently, to strawberry growers. Newsome said many prefer a high school named after the industry at large, rather than an individual farmer. He said the campus sits on land that has sprouted strawberries for a century, until Newsome sold it to the School Board.
School Board Chairwoman Jennifer Faliero represents east Hillsborough and is receptive to the Strawberry Crest push. She was impressed to learn about the berry's history in the region, home to multiple generations of strawberry growers.
She called fears of teasing overblown, recalling similar concerns over the naming of Colleen Bevis Elementary in Lithia. The longtime children's advocate happened to share a name with a cartoon best known for butt-head jokes.
"People were afraid that would become the focus and, of course, it didn't. It went away over time," Faliero said. "I think you'll have the same thing with the high school, should it be named that."
She declined to say how she will vote.
School board members have no shortage of options when they vote on school names Thursday. They must also anoint an elementary school that shares a campus with the new high school. And the elementary and middle school opening in the Lake Hutto subdivision in Lithia still need names.
But no recognition matters more than a high school name. The board jumped the gun when they named a high school opening in Lutz in the fall. Last winter, they voted to recognize George Steinbrenner's longtime philanthropy in the community.
Steinbrenner High School, home of the fighting ... New Yorkers?
Nothing to make fun of there.
Letitia Stein can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3400. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.