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Thirty years ago, a robust rivalry was reborn

+ With the Pasco-Hernando high school football series resuming Friday after a two-year layoff, the Times is taking a weeklong look at memorable games and personalities.

When name-calling and fistfights by parents became expected, administration officials from both Pasco and Hernando counties knew the rivalry had gone too far.

The annual Pasco-Hernando high school football games in the middle of the century brought all kinds of havoc that took a toll on each town the week leading up to the big game.

Teenagers from Hernando threw eggs and purple and yellow paint on Pasco High School buildings and offices in retaliation for the black and red letters painted on Hernando's fieldhouse that read: "You will die."

A rivalry that had grown into one of the most heated in the North Suncoast had to come to a halt.

"It was intense. I had heard there had been an unmanageable situation every time the teams played varsity football," said Vince Thompson, coach of the 1967 Leopards. "Fights broke out with the adults and that trickled down to the kids."

So the series halted. In 1948, Pasco closed out a four-year winning streak with a 34-6 win over the Leopards. The rivalry lay dormant until 1967, when a new generation of teenagers learned the significance of the Pasco-Hernando series. After a more brief two-year layoff, the series resumes Friday at Pasco.

The problems with hazing began to fade away as time healed old wounds. But as the years went on, politics began to play a role in the two teams not agreeing to schedule each other.

As the counties became more populous, most of the northern area students went to Hernando High, the only high school in the county at that time. Meanwhile in Pasco County, more schools were being built, splitting up the growing number of students.

That left Pasco High with a smaller pool of athletes and soon, Hernando simply became too big for many small schools to schedule _ including Pasco.

"As the school sizes changed, we became stacked with good players," said Hernando High assistant principal Tom Varn Jr., an All-Tampa Bay Conference tight end for the 1967 Leopards. "All the teams couldn't compete, and you had to cut somebody. Hernando was the largest in its classification, and it got to be a powerhouse."

But in those years, a new generation of Pasco-Hernando players had been born. The twin sleepy towns of Brooksville and Dade City developed as teens went to each other's dances at the local civic center. Hernando kids drove down to the Frez-ette, which gave way to the A&W root beer stands, while Pasco teens regularly hung out at Brooksville's Dairy Queen.

These were athletes who had competed against each other every season, whether in summer baseball leagues or fall basketball, and had become friends. Little did they know they would become players in one of the most heated rivalries that fall of 1967.

Over the years, Thompson heard the comments in Brooksville at the barber shop, while walking downtown, and even at the grocery store.

Questions such as: "What's going on? Why aren't you scheduling Pasco?" recalled Thompson, 58 and principal of East Bay High School in eastern Hillsborough County. "I started to ask what was going on myself."

At Pasco, coach Richard Romine was feeling the same kind of interest from a community fueled by the small-town rivalry.

"Any time you got a friendly rivalry between teams, everybody gets into it," said Romine, 58 and the principal at Columbia High School in Lake City. "It makes for a good ballgame because the kids play harder, and it's for bragging rights."

Thompson talked with Ken Austin, then-superintendent of schools, and with the approval of Romine, the rivalry was revived.

Pasco-Hernando was back on. And when the players heard the news, despite their friendships, the game began to take on a different feel from the others on their schedules.

"Everybody was hush-hush about the players they had, and we'd just say, "See ya Friday night,' " said Varn, 47. "See, nobody wanted to be the biggest bragger because you didn't know who was their or our best player _ you wouldn't want to say something to the biggest, meanest guy on the team."

Finally, on an ominous Friday the 13th in October 1967 came game day. By 8 p.m., Brooksville resembled a ghost town. Businesses shut down while waves of cheers poured out to Tom Fisher Stadium for Hernando's first home game of the season.

Several busloads of Pasco students and alumni staked their claim to a section of the stadium, dedicated just a year earlier in September 1966.

The seats were lined shoulder-to-shoulder with fans, and three-to-four rows of standing fans clad in purple and yellow, broken up only by speckles of red and black lined the track around the field. And when the Pirates arrived, deputized officers had to part a sea of purple and yellow to get the team onto the field.

"That was the big game of the season," Varn said. "You wanted your guys to scream and shout for your team, you put on the best halftime show. . . . You wanted to impress the fact that this was important."

Brooksville's paper of record in the 1960s, the Sun-Journal, recapped the game with a headline that read "Leopards paste Pirates, 38-7," and the story described a game in which Pasco was outmanned and run over for its fifth straight loss.

The Leopards ran for four touchdowns and 201 yards, mostly on the shoulders of Hale Lee, who scored twice, one of those on a 77-yard punt return. Pasco did not score its first touchdown until 3:16 left in the game, which brought the score to 32-7.

After the game, Thompson would not allow his players to visit Dade City for several weeks, just to let any simmering emotions cool.

"It stood to reason there was some agitation there," Thompson said. "We needed to show some caution, some respect . . . and some class."

The rivalry had been renewed and Hernando's win started a trend where the Leopards took two of the next three from the Pirates to close out the '60s. Nothing has been able to completely extinguish the spirit that so heatedly fueled this rivalry _ albeit nearly to extinction.

"A game like that aids a community in putting forth a little pride if you win," said Romine, who coached the Pirates for only one more year. "If you didn't win, that was the kind of thing that gets coaches run off."

Pasco vs. Hernando

The Pasco-Hernando football series dates at least as far back as 1932:


1932 Tie, 0-0

1933 Hernando 13-6

1934 Hernando 22-0

1935 Hernando 26-0

1936 Hernando 14-0

1937 Hernando 38-7

1938 Hernando 47-0

1939 Not available.

1940 Hernando 20-19

1941 Did not play

1942 Hernando 52-6

1943 Hernando 42-0

1944 Hernando 7-0

1945 Pasco 7-0

1946 Pasco 26-0

1947 Pasco 25-0

1948 Pasco 34-6

1949-66 Did not play

1967 Hernando 38-7

1968 Hernando 21-3

1969 Pasco 21-7

1970 Hernando 26-13

1971 Hernando 22-0

1972 Pasco 20-12

1973 Hernando 28-8

1974 Hernando 55-12

1975 Hernando 7-0

1976 Hernando 24-14

1977 Hernando 26-6

1978 Hernando 47-16

1979 Hernando 24-12

1980 Hernando 30-14

1981 Hernando 26-6

1982 Hernando 9-0

1983 Pasco 14-13

1984 Pasco 33-14

1985 Hernando 27-26

1986 Pasco 13-7

1987 Hernando 34-6

1988 Hernando 35-21

1989 Hernando 21-0

1990 Pasco 10-0

1991 Pasco 28-21 (OT)

1992 Pasco 28-10

1993 Hernando 13-7

1994 Pasco 61-7

1995-96 Did not play