TAMPA — It's official: A high school named Strawberry Crest opens next year — and the football team will not be the Mighty Shortcakes.
Of course, if they don't play well, they could get in a jam.
The specter of ridicule could not dissuade the Hillsborough School Board from naming a new high school in the eastern county after a fruit. To this community, the strawberry is so much more than dessert.
"When it come right down to it, we're just proud people. Not only of that little red berry, but of the way agriculture has shaped and benefited our people," Lauren Der told the board, pointing out that strawberries grew for decades on the land beneath the campus. "The strawberry has formed the foundation of our community and now, literally, will be the foundation of many people's education."
Not everyone found the name so sweet.
Opposing camps packed the boardroom. Supporters of Strawberry Crest wore red berry stickers. Many of their neighbors wore black T-shirts, with their cause spelled out in white letters: Name It Griffin High School.
The family of the late Osburn Griffin, a pioneering strawberry farmer, led that cause. He once farmed much of the land where a school now sprouts.
The mascot issue was not off-limits. Griffin supporter Dianne Silliman recalled when a Turkey Creek High School was home to the Fighting Gobblers.
"I can assure you there was no fun for the marching band while they were marching down the streets of Tampa and being called that 'gobble gobble gobble,' " she said. "We would surely not want to saddle our children with any name that will call for unnecessary ridicule."
Several speakers later, Sandee Sytsma, wearing a little ruby berry on her lapel, fired back that the students could pick a fine mascot, perhaps the Titans or Spartans. Honoring all the farmers and not just one mattered more to the daughter of Roy Parke Jr., another legendary strawberry farmer who recently died.
That argument seemed to resonate with the board members, who christened Strawberry Crest High with four votes. Two others would have gone with Strawberry High. One board member preferred Dover High.
"The kids will come up with something great. They could be the wolves. They're not going to be the Strawberry Shortcakes," board member Candy Olson said. "I think that the heritage is really important."
Strawberry Crest High was not the only contentious debate at a meeting in which three other schools were named. In a 4-3 vote, the board named a middle school after Glenn Barrington, their deceased colleague and a longtime Hillsborough educator.
The elementary school adjacent to Strawberry Crest High took the name of David E. Bailey Jr., honoring a former principal in Plant City and a local preservationist.
A Lithia elementary school was named for Richard "Dick" Stowers, a former funeral home director and Brandon civic leader.
In other business, Walt Shaffner, currently principal at Progress Village Middle Magnet, was named the district's director of nontraditional programs.