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Here's to the folks who suffer the jokes

He bolted through the locker room door with a sullen look only a coach could love.

The game was over, his team had won, but his victory face was a long scowl, void of celebratory thoughts. He said nothing, but his T-shirt spoke volumes: "The Joke Ended, Oct. 15, 1979."

My friends and I, students at a school that had won state championships and never even thought about losing 15 games in a row, looked at each other and laughed. Yes, the Florida High Demons had snapped a 15-game losing streak that had made them the joke of Tallahassee, but seeing the serious look of this player and his boastful shirt was equally funny.

It was hilarious to us until our friend, also a member of the team, explained it wasn't funny to him. The jokes masked the pride and effort produced by the players.

Losing streaks are always good material for stand-up comedians and teen-age friends. But witnesses to the streak never understand how demoralizing "loser" jokes can be.

Last week, the joke ended for Temple Heights. The Eagles, losers of 10 straight and 11 of 13, defeated Trinity Prep 20-7.

Down the road, King _ which I pick to lose every week _ is enjoying a revival and keeping my prediction record below 80 percent.

"I'm real sorry about that," King coach Pat O'Brien said with an incredulous laugh.

The Lions are 3-1 after going 1-9 last year. Both Temple Heights and King have stopped the laughter, but every team, win or lose, should realize that participation, effort and hard work are enough to make you hold your head high.

Stand tall in the face of the jokes.

This week:

Plant City 27, Chamberlain 7: As long as the Raiders receivers hold on to the ball, Plant City should roll. Eight dropped passes _ the total in last week's loss to Lakeland _ are enough, even though the game was played in a steady drizzle. Even with the drops, Alan Kicklighter displayed a lot of poise in almost leading the Raiders to victory. The poise should pay off against the Chiefs, who are mired in a two-game losing streak.

Plant City is the best 3-1 team in the county.

King 20, Bloomingdale 7: This could be the kiss of death for the Lions. I've picked them to lose every week and they're 3-1. But I've picked Bloomingdale to lose every week and they're 1-3. King will win when it shoudl. The Bulls' only chance is a huge game from Chad Hermida and Bobby Lentz.

Besides, King is the best 3-1 team in Temple Terrace.

Hillsborough 18, Plant 14: This game pits two of the county's coaching deans _ the Panthers' Roland Acosta and the Terriers' Dick O'Brien _ in one of the oldest rivalries in the state. Hillsborough and Plant once played on Thanksgiving every year, but that doesn't mean this game will be a turkey. Plant's wing-T attack can cause problems.. The Terriers will need Corey Durant and Dexter Ball to run wild.

Hillsborough is the best 3-1 team this side of the Hillsborough River.

Armwood 22, Jefferson 14: This game won't end early. Both teams like to pass, with Ricardo Watson leading the Hawks and Angel Diaz leading the Dragons. Look for Watson and Co. to bounce back after being shocked by King last week.

They're the best 3-1 team in Seffner.

Brandon 23, Leto 12: Brandon, flying again after threes straight losses, is the best 1-3 team in the county.

East Bay 14, Gaither 13: I'm picking the Indians because they're keeping the wishbone alive, but it could really go either way.

Besides, East Bay is the best 1-3 team south of Brandon, north of Manatee County and east of Tampa Bay.

Other games: Robinson 12, TBT 6; Tampa Catholic 33, Lake Placid 0; Jesuit 24, Boca Ciega 21; Berkeley Prep 21, Northside Christian 7; Bell 8, Temple Heights 0.

Last week: 9-3. Season: 36-11 (.766).