DADE CITY — Staffers raised the pirate flag Thursday morning at Premier Community Healthcare, joining flags and signs that have already papered the town.
Even the stately sanctuaries along historic Church Avenue, which typically advertise upcoming Christmas services this time of year, are using their marquees as billboards.
"We Support Pasco Pirate Football" declared the marquee at First Presbyterian Church. Across the street, a brick house sported a banner between two Christmas wreaths.
"I'm getting teary-eyed just talking about it," said Melissa Wigfall, 48, whose nephew, Phillip Thompson, plays on the team heading into the state playoff semifinals today. Wigfall can be seen at every game, both home and away, cheering in the stands with a T-shirt bearing No. 21 Thompson's picture, a pirate hat and mask.
Wigfall has known most of the players at Pasco High since they first donned Pee Wee football helmets together as youngsters.
She can't believe they have made it this far in the playoffs. Like countless other fans, she'll board the charter buses for the four-hour trip to the Panhandle town of Crawfordville, where the Pirates will face the Wakulla War Eagles for a chance to play for the state title.
A win in the final game would bring the Pirates their first state championship since 1992. That was before most of the current players were born. Those who were around back then remember how the whole town pretty much shut down the day of that fateful game.
Residents hope the current team will offer a repeat.
"I've watched them play all their lives" said Wigfall, who described herself as a "like a team mom."
"I'm so proud of those boys."
So is everyone else in town.
"The whole community is in a Pirate frenzy right now," said Barbara Schuman, owner of Something Special on 7th, which sells jewelry and custom gifts. The shop boasts a plethora of Pirate gear, from monogrammed shoes to tote bags to necklaces to red and black masks like the one Wigfall wears to each game.
The place is a frequent stop for football moms who get items personalized with their sons' number. It also supplied the cheerleaders with red and black zebra-striped tote bags this year.
So far Schuman can't keep enough gear, which is outselling holiday wear.
"You wouldn't even know it's Christmas," said Schuman, a former cheerleader for the Haines City High School Hornets. "Everyone has gotten caught up in the whole thing."
The town hosted a pep rally Thursday after football practice. About 100 fans in red and black carrying banners and signs gathered in the stadium. The team is set to leave town about 11 a.m. today. In addition to the charter buses, First Baptist Church of Dade City is sending one of its buses to the game.
"If we fill up a smaller one, we'll move to a bigger one," said David Surratt, student minister at the church, which counts quarterback Jacob Guy and long snapper Connor Yann among its members. "The whole town is rallied around this team."