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Gaither waltzes into title race // Title dream replaces prom dream

After getting the date, buying the dress and shoes, confirming dinner reservations and basically waiting your entire life _ what if your high school prom suddenly was pulled from underneath you?

"I'd feel terrible," said Suzanne Flege.

The good news is Flege is a junior at Gaither High School, and she can go to her prom next year.

The bad news is Missy Pearson, Gina Krueger, Kari Gordon and Amanda Moore are seniors who play on Gaither's No. 1 ranked softball team, which is in the state championships starting today.

The problem is the Class 6A state title game is in Kissimmee at 8 p.m. Saturday _ the same time Gaither's prom starts at the Egypt Shrine Temple.

"I want to go to both," said Pearson, a second baseman and a pitcher with a 12-0 record.

But, as she and the other seniors agreed, there really is only one choice: softball.

"Both are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities," said Krueger, another pitcher with a 16-1 record. "But we are committed to softball. We worked too hard to get here."

Before they even think about the final, however, the Cowboys (28-1) must beat Lantana Santaluces in a 5 p.m. game today at the Bermuda Avenue Complex in Kissimmee.

"I understand that prom is a big deal, and I know this is very disappointing, but I think they will be focused for the game," Gaither coach Jerlyn Skora said. "I think they know a state championship will go farther than the prom."

On May 8, the morning after Gaither won the regional title 8-1 against Gonzalez Tate in the Panhandle, Gaither assistant principal Jim Pullin immediately called the Florida High School Activities Association and asked if there was a way to switch the championship game to earlier in the afternoon.

The FHSAA said no.

Dozens of schedules already had been sent out and teams had made their plans accordingly. It would be too much of a logistical nightmare to change the schedule this late in the game, the FHSAA said.

"There is nothing more we can do," said Pullin, who was forced earlier this year to change the prom date from May 4 because of scheduling conflicts at the Egypt Shrine Temple. "If there was something I could do, I'd do it. I'm very, very sorry that these girls had to make a choice.

"But I also think they're making the right choice. They should remember that anybody who is a senior gets to go to the prom, but only a very, very special few even get a chance to win a state championship."

Still, it's tough:

"Ever since I was a little girl, I've been thinking about going to prom," Pearson said.

"Oh, yes, she's all ready to go with the dress and everything," said Missy's father, James Pearson. "I know it has to be tougher on a girl than a boy."

"My boyfriend had to ask me if he should buy tickets or not _ and that was kind of strange," Krueger said. "Hopefully, if we're fortunate to win the state title, we can still make a night of it."

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