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Ridgewood High faithful recall 'Pride of Pasco' as school forges a new path

ALICE HERDEN | Special to the Times Anthony Basile chats with graduate Robert Krahn from the Class of 1994 during closing ceremonies at Ridgewood High School Tuesday night.
Published May 23, 2018

NEW PORT RICHEY — The line snaked through the hallways and into the cafeteria, as the Ridgewood High faithful waited for their chance to secure a piece of the school's 40-year history.

They came by the hundreds — current and former students, staff and parents — to memorialize the "Pride of Pasco" before it makes way for a technical school named after founding principal Wendell Krinn.

"You lived it every day. It was always a piece of you," said Anthony Basile, Class of 1994, who traveled from Orlando in the rain for the activity. "Ridgewood has been a very big part of this community for so many years. It's a shame to see it closing down.

"It's like a piece of us is dying."

Basile wore his weightlifting letterman's jacket to show his bona fides. He said he hoped to run into some old classmates he hadn't kept in touch with.

He missed his recent class reunion, and figured the closing ceremony might turn into one.

It did.

While looking at the collection of photos and trophies available to take home, Basile heard someone call his name.

"I haven't seen you in years," exclaimed Robert Krahn, also from the Class of '94.

The two embraced and began reminiscing.

A lot of that occurred Tuesday.

John Walsh, one of the school's original teachers, greeted old colleagues and students while remembering the days when Ridgewood first opened as a junior high, with nothing but orange trees in the area, and later became a high school.

Having been retired 20 years, Walsh said he "just wanted to see" the school one more time. He didn't anticipate knowing anyone there, but began seeing familiar faces within minutes of his arrival.

One of his favorite memories? A faculty vs. student sporting competition.

"The kids were real cocky and didn't think we could play," he recalled. "Did we show them."

Everyone who attended had a key moment that defined their Ridgewood experience and, often, their futures.

For Jessica Ruwell, a graduating senior, it was the marching band's 2015 first-place showing in competition. She played the sax, and the selections were from Cirque du Soleil, and she smiled just talking about it.

For Will Nichols, Class of 2008, it was the football team's 9-1 season — best in school history, he and other teammates said with clear pride as they searched for the jerseys they wore in those games.

Nichols, who grabbed lots of photo requests by wearing a neon yellow "School Shirt" used when students violated dress code, particularly focused on the school's Tampa Bay game of the week. They were on television, and "I scored a touchdown."

For Ken Jahrling, Class of 1986, it had to be his election as student council president.

"I went from being a very poor student to student council president," said Jahrling. His son Marshall — who will attend Krinn Technical — stood beside him, holding his dad's photo that had hung in the school.

He remembered making signs to cover the walls and handing out orange and blue buttons to anyone who would take one.

"Winning student council meant a lot of change for me," he said, noting the strong support of Krinn and teachers in setting him on the path to success.

Indeed, more than anything, Ridgewood was about making people, said Fai Fai Ho, who wore a vintage Class of 1997 "Kiss Our Class Goodbye" T-shirt and coach Larry Beets baseball cap.

Whether it was academics, athletics or arts, "the school really was the Pride of Pasco," said Ho, now a district music teacher. "For those that leave here, we take that special time with us. I don't think it will be duplicated."

He viewed the conversion to Wendell Krinn Technical as bittersweet.

The community is losing its traditional high school, with sports teams and bands and the spirit that comes with sending generations to it.

"But Mr. Krinn's goal of getting people ready for real life will live on," he said.

And that's a good thing for the area, which had seen Ridgewood decline from its glory days, many agreed. Part of the reason for the conversion was the school's poor state test results, which put it on a path for potential takeover if nothing changed.

"We needed this," said learning design coach Christina Finn, whose daughter is a rising senior.

The technical school will help students with different expectations, goals and skills discover a path to a career, while still providing the needed academics, said Finn, whose new job will be at Connerton Elementary.

"I do think this is a great step for Ridgewood," added her daughter, Amanda.

Betty Wipert, the school's only remaining original staff member, said that's the big takeaway. It's fine to remember — and there's plenty of good to recall, she said — but it's also important to find positives in the change.

"I'm sure it will be okay," said Wipert, the school's data entry specialist, who retires May 30 after 40 years. "It's just a new thing going on, and you've got to roll with the flow."

Martha Krinn-Lovelace, Krinn's widow, offered a similar message during the official closing ceremony in the gym, also named after her husband.

"Don't cry because it's over," she said to applause. "Smile because it happened."

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at jsolochek@tampabay.com. Follow @jeffsolochek.

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