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College circus goes to school

(ran West, East, South, Seminole editions)

Fun was the operative word as more than 1,000 people, young and old, turned out Saturday for Bauder Elementary School's circus at the Seminole High School football field.

The event joined friends, neighbors and families in laughter as they watched trapeze artists, acrobats and jugglers perform their skills.

That was Bauder principal Jan Johnston's goal: "We wanted to do something that would pull the community together."

But the event was much more.

For many, it was a time to reminisce. Student members of Florida State University's Flying High Circus performed the acts, and many in the audience remembered their own time as circus performers for the college.

The Flying High Circus was formed nearly 60 years ago just after FSU went co-ed. The thought at the time was to create a physical education program that could be open to both men and women. Since then, the student circus has become a tradition, performing throughout the country and even internationally.

Most of the student performers take a one-semester physical education class to learn how to perform, then join the troupe. Many stay throughout their college years.

For some students, the circus is why they enroll at FSU in the first place.

"My mother says I left home to join the circus, not just to go to college," said 24-year-old Michael Flateau of Tampa. Flateau has been with the circus four years, specializing in juggling and bicycle acrobatics.

"It's a blast," he said.

When Courtney Lathrop, 23, saw the circus in her hometown of Stratford, Conn., she decided she wanted to attend FSU to be part of the "magic." Saturday she was a member of the "Bike for 5" acrobatic act.

Milla Voellinger, 19, of Fort Myers first saw the circus when visiting her brother at FSU. She quickly fell in love with the idea of the circus and now is a trapeze artist.

Some students go on to become professional circus performers, longtime circus director Richard Brinson said.

For Joe and Linda Skala of Seminole, the circus brought back "wonderful memories." Their son, Brian, was a juggler in the FSU circus and now performs as Captain Hook in a Universal Studios production in Japan.

Terry Smith came to the Bauder event from Bradenton to relive her time on the FSU circus high wire.

"It was one of the most carefree times of my life," Smith said. Her 14-year-old daughter, Sara, hopes to go to FSU to follow in her mom's footsteps.

Bauder hopes to make the circus a tradition here.

"The circus will come back to Bauder," says Denise Bebell, president of Bauder Boosters Inc., which sponsored the event. "We'd like to make it an entire weekend event," she said. This is the first time Bauder has hosted the circus.

Bebell declined Tuesday to say how much money the event raised, but did say the funds will be used for technology and playground equipment for the school. In the past the booster club has raised funds to support students, teachers and a wide variety of school programs.

"It was one of our best fundraisers yet," Bebell said.

For Brinson, the circus director, there was something bittersweet about Saturday's event, however. It will be among his last. Brinson will retire next year after 35 years training students for the circus.

He, too, was once a student performer.