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Super Bowl XXXVII

Young fans sleepy, hoarse, happy

They may a little young for the memories, but Bucs fans who came to school Monday wore their colors and their enthusiasm on their sleeves.

By MELANIE AVE, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 28, 2003

They can name their favorite players, tick off highlights of the big game and explain how the Tampa Bay Bucs were the losers who became champions of the football world.

The day after the Bucs captured a Super Bowl victory over the Oakland Raiders, young fans who were not even born during the team's inaugural 1976 season basked in the glory of the win.

At West Tampa Elementary School in Hillsborough County, Michel Olivia, 10, held up a newspaper photograph of coach Jon Gruden hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy in the air and told his teacher, "If only I could be in this picture. I could dye my hair blond."

At Bay Point Elementary School in St. Petersburg, Shelby Eyles held a toy hamster in front of a camera for the school's televised morning show as it sang Queen's We are the Champions.

The fifth-grader, all of 10 years old, said: "We waited 27 years for this to happen."

Many students and teachers took the day off, as some public schools around the Tampa Bay area reported a higher than usual number of absences.

St. Mary's Episcopal Day School in Tampa, where the Gruden children are enrolled, canceled classes Monday to give families time to celebrate the "significant moment in the history of our community," said headmaster Scott Laird.

Hillsborough County didn't have enough substitute teachers to cover teacher absences that were twice as high as usual. Student absences were about 10 percent higher than average.

In Pinellas, 583 teachers didn't show up, compared to the average 450 absences.

School absences were up in Pasco County, as were the number of tardy slips written.

About 50 students -- 9 percent of the student body -- were absent at Gulfside Elementary School in Holiday.

"The ones that are here are a little sleepy," said principal John Shafchuk Jr. "I guess everyone had a good time yesterday."

Many of those who made it to school came dressed in Bucs T-shirts, beads and jerseys.

Kayla Saastamoinen, a seventh-grader at Seven Springs Middle School in New Port Richey, wore her lucky Warren Sapp team jersey.

"She wore it to bed last night, and she wore it again today," said her mother, Wendy Saastamoinen.

Just like the adults who stayed up late and screamed throughout Sunday's Super Bowl victory, hundreds of children did the same. They came to school, sleepy and hoarse, but still excited.

"I stayed up late last night watching the highlights of the game," said Meg Ryan, a fifth-grader at Lakewood Elementary School in St. Petersburg.

Football was undoubtedly the topic of many conversations.

Some children got into friendly classroom disagreements about whether defensive back John Lynch is No. 55 (that would be linebacker Derrick Brooks) or No. 47 and why Chucky dolls were not welcome at the team's welcome home party.

Some schools even used the Bucs' long journey to the Super Bowl to show kids they can succeed on the upcoming Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

"I'm using what the Bucs did to encourage the third-, fourth- and fifth-graders that we have high expectations for the FCAT just like the coaches had for the Bucs," said Fontaine Marion, principal of Grady Elementary in Tampa.

At West Tampa Elementary, a D school in the state grading system, principal Betty Torres said all of the teachers are using the slogan, "The Bucs believed it. West Tampa can achieve it," to boost children's confidence.

On Monday, Vicky Nickols, a teacher for 31 years, pulled out sections of the newspaper to reinforce her fourth-graders' reading skills at West Tampa Elementary.

She asked them about an article listing the score of every game the Bucs have played, from their first loss against the Houston Oilers in 1976 to the Super Bowl's 48-21 score.

"What is this about?" Nickols asked.

"About how in the beginning they s----- and they got better and better," replied Jacob Frix, 10.

"I don't like that word," Nickols told the boy.

"Okay," he said. "About how they stank and then got better."

-- Times staff writers Monique Fields and Michele Miller contributed to this report. Melanie Ave can be reached at (813) 226-3400 or .

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