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Community upset by school's stadium plans

Tampa has another stadium controversy brewing, but this one doesn't pit Bill Poe against the Hillsborough County Commission or Charlie Miranda against the Tampa Bay Bucs.

This time, it's Tampa Catholic High School versus homeowners from the surrounding Wellswood neighborhood.

Tampa Catholic is scheduled to go to the City Council at 6:30 p.m. Thursday with a request to build bleachers containing 4,000 seats and a concession stand with restrooms around its football field. Lights would go up around the football and baseball fields on N Rome Avenue.

Although the Wellswood Civic Association has taken no formal position on the project, opponents in the neighborhood have organized a letter-writing campaign. So has the school. As of Monday afternoon, the City Council had received nearly 300 letters, with opponents outnumbering supporters about 3-to-1.

While the debate is unfolding on a smaller scale than the one about the Bucs stadium, it does touch on similar themes of trust and the influence of money in sports.

When the land for Tampa Catholic was assembled about 30 years ago, there was a "gentleman's agreement" that the school would have no stadium, said Mary Jo Murphy, spokeswoman for the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg.

But now the school has 720 students, and "the growth of the last 30 years has brought them to the point where they want to enhance their total program" by building a stadium, she said.

Supporters have held meetings to explain the plan, but 72-year-old Florence M. Perotti wants none of it. She's heard that there will be only one game a week, but after 34 years on Park Lane in Wellswood she also remembers the original agreement about the school's athletic facilities.

"I don't buy any of that," she said. "The only reason they're doing this now is they're looking to upgrade the athletic program. . . . The students don't bring in the money; the sports bring in the money."

No one on the City Council will have their school loyalties tested by the decision.

Chairman Ronnie Mason graduated from Hillsborough High, Miranda went to Jefferson, and Gwen Miller is a graduate of the old Middleton High School. Joe Greco and Rudy Fernandez both went to Jesuit High School, where Fernandez was student body president. Scott Paine and Bob Buckhorn attended high school out of state.

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