Gulf High's success makes alumni want to invade it

Congratulations to the Gulf High Buccaneers football team, currently sporting a 6-0 record. That makes an alumnus feel proud and envious.

We also won six games when I played for Gulf during the 1970s.

But it took us three seasons to do it.

The high point — a term loosely used — was a 4-6 mark in 1972, sandwiched between a pair of 1-9 records. That was pretty much par for the Buccaneers' course last century, with only the 1941 and 1958 teams convincingly over .500.

Gulf was the original home of the Yucks, years before the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers inspired that nickname by losing their first 26 games.

Nowadays it's great to be a Gulf High Buccaneer, or at least a former Buc returning for Saturday's homecoming game against the Hudson High Cobras, and what organizers expect to be the largest school reunion in Pasco County history. The invitation list spans decades, including anyone who ever donned a Gulf uniform.

The invasion's first wave be gins at 6 p.m. today in Sims Park when Gulf players, coaches, the band and fans gather for a pep rally. I'm proud to have been asked to serve at master of ceremonies tonight and for Saturday's halftime show when numerous city and county dignitaries will pay their respects to the school.

Before the 7:30 p.m. kickoff, alumni will gather on the field, divided by decade, for an aerial photograph marking the occasion.

The first-ever Buccaneer Alumni Invasion is the brainchild of Bill Phillips, Class of 1975 and quarterback of some hard-luck Gulf teams. Phillips got the idea last year, after former teammate David Drake (Class of 1973) successfully lured a dozen or so former teammates — myself included — to dinner and Gulf's game against Zephyrhills.

I was surprised by that turnout, but not as shocked as when a vaguely familiar biker introduced himself as Keith Aston, who played linebacker on the 1973 team. Not long after graduation, the rumor spread that Keith had been decapitated in an auto accident. We mourned his loss at a couple of class reunions.

"You're supposed to be dead," I yelled, shaking a ghost's hand.

"Yeah, I heard that," Keith said, obviously not.

Such things happen at reunions, even a gathering of former teammates who won only as many games as there are beers in a six-pack.

"When David put that together in about six weeks, we knew something this big could be done," Phillips said.

"New Port Richey has always been a really strong-knit community, no matter whether we were winning or losing. We have about 250 (alumni) confirmed, and we expect quite a bit of walk-up sales Saturday night."

The Alumni Invasion has grander intentions than jocks re-making acquaintances. Proceeds from ticket sales to a pre-game barbecue (3 p.m., $15) at Des Little Stadium, a reception tonight at Fatty & Mabel's restaurant ($10) and various offers of game program ads and sales of the aerial photograph will fund four new scholarships.

The scholarships will be named in honor of people who have shown laudable support of Gulf High athletics over the years. Phillips is withholding the names of three nominees as Saturday surprises.

The only name revealed so far is Publix store manager Brian Singletary, who for 35 years has donated groceries and provided part-time employment for athletes, working around their school and practice schedules.

"I asked Brian if he could guess how many students he has helped (with jobs)," Phillips said. "The best he could figure was 1,400 people, somewhere in that range. He just enjoys the opportunity to see people grow from high school years to successful lives."

I want this year's Buccaneers football team to meet devoted boosters like Singletary and former players vicariously basking in this unbeaten season. Get a feel for what success means to athletes who didn't enjoy it personally. Realize that an alma mater is lifetime special, no matter what the won-loss records were.

Then go out there and win one for the slip-ups.

Steve Persall can be reached at persall@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8365.

Gulf High's success makes alumni want to invade it 10/23/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 29, 2008 7:34pm]

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