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Documentary pays tribute to Hillsborough High

Hillsborough High is the oldest public high school in the county. Its final home was built in 1927.

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Hillsborough High is the oldest public high school in the county. Its final home was built in 1927.

OLD SEMINOLE HEIGHTS — In 1949, Hillsborough High School's clock tower emerged over Central Avenue, along with a plaque that bore the name of every student who died in World War II.

But through the decades, more names began to appear.

They were etched into the walls by kids who climbed inside.

Jill, 1951.

Fred was here, 2003.

Jennifer K. wuz here 4-eva.

Graffiti? Maybe.

But when Hillsborough school superintendent MaryEllen Elia climbed up there on a ladder, she saw something more.

"A legacy," she said in a new documentary called Halls of Tradition. "It was putting your name on an important place that was important to you."

The documentary is dedicated to all those kids and any others who want to remember their days at Hillsborough High, the oldest public high school in the county.

In honor of homecoming, it will premiere Saturday, screened twice at the school's auditorium, back to back with Seminole Heights: An Intimate Look at the Early Years, a documentary that sold out the Tampa Theatre this spring and was later named a finalist in the Independents' Film Festival.

To some, Hillsborough High looks misplaced in Seminole Heights. Its Gothic-inspired architecture, arched hallways and stained glass windows call to mind the Ivy League universities of the North.

But the school's origins are much more humble.

It opened in 1885 on a floor of the Hillsborough Masonic Lodge downtown.

Its pioneers: 16 students and one teacher. Its first graduating class: four.

In the four decades that followed, the student population outgrew its first downtown home and a second location, which is now the D.W. Waters Career Center in Tampa Heights.

The school's final home was constructed in 1927 for $757,000. Architects, anticipating growth, built it to fit 2,000, almost double its enrollment at the time. Today, enrollment matches capacity.

More than 38,000 students have passed through the school, experienced its traditions.

There were the Thanksgiving Day football games against rivals at Plant High, marked by pep rallies in which girls wore big mum corsages.

And legends that the school was haunted, that a man touching up paint on the gargoyles put down his brush and quit because he thought they were staring at him.

The memories began to be immortalized in 1889 in the Red and Black, the first high school newspaper in Florida.

And in black and white photos in 1911, in the first yearbook in Florida.

And now on film, the school's memories live on, like the etchings on its clock tower.

Information in this report was taken from the documentary. Alexandra Zayas can be reached at azayas@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3354.

>>if you go

Two chances to see film

Halls of Tradition: Hillsborough High School, an Education Channel premiere, mentions some of the school's 38,000 alumni, including baseball greats Dwight Gooden and Gary Sheffield, country singer Slim Whitman, drag racer Don Garlits and several Tampa mayors.

A showing of Seminole Heights: An Intimate Look at the Early Years, produced by the neighborhood association and directed by resident Gene Howes, will follow.

Screenings are at 3 and 7 p.m. Saturday at the school, 5000 N Central Ave. Tickets are $5 for both films and can be purchased at the door or in advance at Sherri's Yesterdaze, 5207 N Florida Ave.

Documentary pays tribute to Hillsborough High 10/02/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 2, 2008 3:38pm]

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