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Alma mater loyalty beats hometown pride

A favorite memory of my freshman year in high school has me huddled with my girlfriends on wrestling mats.

It was Brian Piccolo Day and St. Thomas Aquinas High School was renaming the football field in his honor. As Brian's Song, the 1971 film with James Caan and Billy Dee Williams, played on a movie screen, we sobbed in unison.

It was 1975, and St. Thomas could claim two of America's most beloved athletes: tennis great Chris Evert and Piccolo, the Chicago Bears running back who died of cancer at age 26.

I'm a Raider, Class of '79, and I will go on record as saying that last December I sat on the St. Thomas Aquinas side of the field when my alma mater came to Largo High School to play in the 2007 state semifinals.

This is not to say that my heart wasn't broken for Brynn Harvey and Leonard Johnson when the Packers lost. My son aspired to play under Rick Rodriguez, for goodness sake.

But on that December evening, I had a chance to get a peek at legendary coach George Smith. Back in 1975, Smith was also new to St. Thomas Aquinas. In the last three decades, he's rolled up a win-loss record of 331-65.

I've got two words for my hometown of Largo: Be proud.

When the Packers venture into Brian Piccolo Memorial Stadium, they'll be running onto a field that has produced players like Daryl Porter of the Detroit Lions, Stefan Humphries of the Denver Broncos and Michael Irvin of the Dallas Cowboys.

The Packers also will be taking on a team ranked No. 1 in the nation by USA Today.

Another Fort Lauderdale native on staff here, columnist Bill Maxwell, has memories involving St. Thomas as well. His centers on St. Thomas' rivalry with his school, Dillard High.

"Dillard was the 5A powerhouse of the region, and wouldn't you know that St. Thomas and Dillard would play in a cross-division rivalry and St. Thomas, a 4A school, would always whoop Dillard. I finally just started cheering for St. Thomas.''

And what two words does Maxwell have? "Largo, beware."

Alma mater loyalty beats hometown pride 12/09/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 10, 2008 9:03pm]
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