Ernest Hooper: Tonight I'll root for the other guys

Having lived in the Tampa Bay area for 24 years, I'm a guy who roots, roots, roots for the home team 98.3 percent of the time.

Tonight will be one of those 1.7 percent moments. A part of me wishes it didn't have to be that way.

But it must.

One can never, ever, ever (my daughter has me listening to Taylor Swift) cheer against his high school alma mater. Ever. To do so would be reprehensible and sacrilegious.

So when Robinson High plays host to Tallahassee Godby in the Class 5A state semifinal tonight, I will sit with the visitors. I will fill with joy every time the Cougars thrive, and I will lustily boo every time the Knights make a good play.

I have to do it.

My allegiance will be tinged with only a tiny bit of regret, and that's only because Robinson is such a likable school.

A sense of community permeates Robinson and its sports teams. Much of life in Port Tampa — the area some like to call South of Gandy — revolves around the school.

The staff is dotted with teachers and coaches who once attended the school. The stands fill on Friday nights with the parents and grandparents of Knights players who also attended Robinson.

Sprinkled among the adults are younger students who dream of someday playing for the Knights. When your school sits on the southern tip of a peninsula bordered by two bays, you know the school boundaries won't change. You know they won't build another high school.

You know you're going to be a Knight.

John Bush is in his first year as principal at Robinson, but he has worked at the school since 2009. He says the tight-knit emotions that connect the staff, students and residents mirror what you might find in a small town.

"It's like Gandy Boulevard is a wall, and we don't care to go past that wall because we have everything we need right down here," Bush said. "Our staff has a low turnover rate because once they come to Robinson, they want to stay at Robinson. We're a little school that does big things."

Of course, it has grown and changed since it opened in 1960. The school's mix of traditional students and military kids from nearby MacDill Air Force Base now includes nearly 500 students in Robinson's relatively new International Baccalaureate program.

Bush says the groups get along and you can't distinguish one from the other.

Perhaps other schools can boast of such closeness, but Robinson has an X factor that spurs loyalty.

Plant High School, Robinson's nearest high school neighbor, stands in contrast. It's the darling of the district — older, prettier and more affluent. Plant has a parking lot that looks like a luxury auto dealership. Robinson has, well, a parking lot. Plant plays on synthetic grass while Robinson fights to keep its field from flooding.

The disdain, albeit friendly, fuels the loyalty.

When I grew up in Tallahassee, Godby's biggest rival was Tallahassee Leon, the darling of the district — older, prettier and more affluent.

Even before I enrolled, "Beat Leon" held a special meaning. I still remember that night in 1976 — when I was in sixth grade — when Godby won its first game against Leon at Doak Campbell Stadium.

Such school spirit cannot be extinguished by time or distance. So yes, I will stand with Godby tonight, but when I look across the field and witness the passion of the Robinson faithful, I will totally understand.

That's all I'm saying.

Ernest Hooper: Tonight I'll root for the other guys 12/06/12 [Last modified: Thursday, December 6, 2012 3:30am]

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