Thursday, November 23, 2017
News Roundup

'Ultimate Eagle' remembered as Brandon High prepares for 100th celebration

RECOMMENDED READING


BRANDON — The road leading to the entrance of Brandon High School's football stadium off Kings Avenue is aptly named Fussell's Way, and it leads to Pat Fussell Field at McLane Stadium.

As the school prepares to celebrate its 100th anniversary March 1 at the field, people who knew Fussell best say naming a rudimentary road or basic boulevard wouldn't have done justice to her legacy.

She's a woman who dedicated her life to the school.

Friends remember Fussell as an iconic teacher, a charismatic leader and a comical jokester. After graduating from Brandon in 1959 and the University of Tampa in 1963, she returned to her alma mater in 1964 as a physical education teacher.

A year later, she followed in her mother's footsteps and began leading the Brandon Dancerettes, a post she reinvented, invigorated and blossomed until her death in August 2001.

Some recall a militaristic matriarch who led her female troops with an overdose of prim and proper cotillion lessons. But no matter whom you ask, they all agree that Patricia Fussell will forever be known as the "Ultimate Eagle."

• • •

Pat's mother, Betty Fussell, taught for 36 years at Yates Elementary and Brandon High schools. She founded the Brandon High Dancerettes and color guards. When her daughter took over, the drill team became an institution.

"It was a very prestigious group to be a part of because they were so successful," said Karen Jessee, head majorette and Miss Brandon 1973. "It was a tough squad to become part of."

Making the team was just the first step in a litany of learning experiences for those half dozen majorettes and more than two dozen Dancerettes who yearned to perform in front of huge halftime crowds at Eagles football games and enter the world of statewide competitions.

In order to participate, your hair couldn't touch your shoulders and uniforms could not be worn out socially, especially not to cruise what was then a new McDonald's on State Road 60 after football games, a popular tradition.

She forced girls who broke the rules to dress out — bobby socks, white boots and all — but sit on the bench during games as a humiliating detention.

In 1970, Mike Burnett dared to date one of Pat's head Dancerettes, Yvonne, now his wife.

"She had a lot of input on the way you ran your life," said Burnett, who returned to the school in the late 1970s as a PE teacher and assistant football coach. "She really ruled the roost."

Burnett left Brandon in 1983 to become Armwood's first football coach, but returned to the school as an administrator and athletic director in 1996. That's when he became Fussell's "boss."

"That's a misstatement," said Burnett, now the PE department head at Newsome High School. "She was her own boss. She was supportive of the athletic program. If you talk to a wide variety of people, some didn't care for her. It was a love-hate thing.

"Those close to her knew she had tough love."

It took decades for Martha Futch Bennett to learn that lesson.

"As a student, I really couldn't stand her," said Futch Bennett, who went on to teach for 30 years in Hillsborough County. "She was such a . . . hard nose.

"As a professional, I became a cheerleading coach with 14 girls and then I understood exactly why she ran her squads the way she did."

• • •

On Friday nights, under the lights and in front of thousands of people, Fussell and her girls grabbed the spotlight. Always performing alongside the band, the squad and its vociferous leader danced its way into the hearts of Eagles fans.

"She was something to behold," said Alvany Wilson, who began as an English teacher at Brandon in 1951 before serving as dean of girls from 1968-1976. "She was marching the sideline always wearing a hat and sometimes it had a feather in it, following her troops down the field."

The legend of the Dancerettes surpassed high school football games, however. Fussell's girls performed at an NFL game, Detroit vs. Washington, and all over Florida including marching down State Road 60, parading through Walt Disney World and performing at the 1971 inauguration for Gov. Reubin Askew in Tallahassee.

Fussell's growing reputation led to her involvement in the 1984 Super Bowl. Fussell coordinated the local portion of the halftime show at Tampa Stadium.

"She was a go-getter," said Claire Jones, Brandon's librarian from 1973-1999. "We used to call her girls Fussell's Bussells."

Jessee concurs that Fussell's heart was in the right place. She recalls Fussell inviting the team to her family lake house in Central Florida as a graduation parting gift many summers.

She credits Fussell with helping her forge lifetime friendships, including a group of seven friends from the team who still dine together monthly.

• • •

Fussell was inducted into the Brandon High School Hall of Fame in 2005. Her dance squad survived another decade without her, but became defunct in 2011, giving way to winter guard.

Tim Williams, a 1974 Brandon graduate, recalls Fussell invited him to happy hour at Chili's in what turned out to be just hours before she died. Williams remembers a woman who never married because her first true love died in the Vietnam War.

Instead, she gave her life to the Brandon Dancerettes and majorettes. It was Fussell's way.

"She was Brandon High School," said Williams, who also noted that Fussell's funeral procession took her past McLane Middle and Brandon High schools one last time. "If you were one of her girls, that was your second mother. It hasn't been the same since she left."

Eric Vician can be reached at [email protected]

 
Comments
New Weeki Wachee basketball coach transitions from years on college sidelines

New Weeki Wachee basketball coach transitions from years on college sidelines

WEEKI WACHEE — Mark Lee was looking for an accomplished coach to take over Weeki Wachee High’s boys basketball team. Not only did he find what he was searching for, but he may have gone above and beyond with the hiring of Rick Scruggs.The 30-year vet...
Published: 11/23/17
Presenting the 2017 Sports Turkey of the Year

Presenting the 2017 Sports Turkey of the Year

Happy Turkey Day!Today is a day of tradition.The Macy’s parade. Turkey and stuffing. The Lions and Cowboys.And our annual "Turkey of the Year.’’It’s a tradition started by my former colleague at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the brilliant columnist P...
Updated: 21 minutes ago
Nikita Kucherov really does admire Patrick Kane

Nikita Kucherov really does admire Patrick Kane

TAMPA — Lightning wing Nikita Kucherov has watched plenty of film on Blackhawks star Patrick Kane.Kucherov marveled how the 2015-16 league MVP uses deception to "hide" from defenders. He noticed how patient Kane was with the puck, how well he passed ...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Lightning beats Blackhawks in OT

Lightning beats Blackhawks in OT

TAMPA — The Lightning entered Wednesday’s game against the Blackhawks determined to avoid its first losing streak of the season. And it did in dramatic fashion, with Brayden Point’s power-play goal in overtime lifting it to a 3-2 victory. "A big boun...
Updated: 10 hours ago
SOCom asking rifle makers for single weapon to serve many sniper roles

SOCom asking rifle makers for single weapon to serve many sniper roles

When Ryan Cleckner was an Army Ranger sniper in Afghanistan, he had as many as nine rifles he would use in different situations. But whenever a mission would evolve quickly, he would have to choose which ones to lug onto a helicopter. Even narrowing ...
Updated: 11 hours ago
As rules change, many Florida immigrants face a choice: Do they stay or go?

As rules change, many Florida immigrants face a choice: Do they stay or go?

Lys Isma was born in Haiti, but she’s used to driving in Miami with a license, going to college and living without fear of being deported.The Florida International University biology student has lived in Florida since she was 9 months old. Undocument...
Updated: 11 hours ago

Basketball: USF Bulls bounce back with rout of Howard; FSU, Miami win

TAMPA — Three nights after running out of steam in a loss at Indiana, USF had enough to steamroll Howard of the MEAC.A 17-1 run late in the first half helped the Bulls to a 75-52 win Wednesday before an announced Sun Dome crowd of 2,080. USF (3-2) he...
Updated: 11 hours ago
From USF-UCF, to UF-FSU, to Alabama-Auburn, it’s a busy college football Thanksgiving weekend

From USF-UCF, to UF-FSU, to Alabama-Auburn, it’s a busy college football Thanksgiving weekend

 
Published: 11/22/17
Bucs journal: Gerald McCoy says team has not turned the corner yet

Bucs journal: Gerald McCoy says team has not turned the corner yet

TAMPA — The Bucs have some positive momentum with back-to-back wins, but DT Gerald McCoy said it’s too soon to say his 4-6 team has turned a corner."We haven’t turned a corner yet," McCoy said Wednesday, preparing for Sunday’s game at Atlanta. "It’s ...
Published: 11/22/17
Across country, small retailers aim for emotional ties big chains may lack

Across country, small retailers aim for emotional ties big chains may lack

Associated PressSome smaller retailers will tug at shoppers’ heartstrings during the holidays, trying to create an emotional experience or connection that a big national chain might not provide.Store owners are going well beyond the usual holiday dec...
Published: 11/22/17