Six teams, including two from Pinellas County, will play their preseason games at Tropicana Field.
By JOHN C. COTEY
Published August 28, 2004
In 1994, after a seven-year absence, Rick Nafe helped bring high school football back to Tampa Stadium.
With financial help from George Steinbrenner, Nafe planned to have two dates a year and every public school in Hillsborough County play at least once every two years.
Ten years later, Nafe, now the vice president of operations for the Devil Rays, is developing similar plans in St. Petersburg.
At 1 p.m. today at Tropicana Field, Dunedin and St. Petersburg kick off the Battle of the Bay Kickoff Classic. Armwood, the defending Class 4A state champion, plays Chamberlain at 4, and five-time state champion Bradenton Manatee takes on Hillsborough at 7.
Put together with the help of Steve Berrey and Randy Younker, they will be the first indoor high school games in state history.
"Our kids are excited about it," Armwood coach Sean Callahan said. "They don't really know what to expect from it because I would say 90 percent of them have never been in a dome. They'll probably be wide-eyed when they walk in."
Younker, who runs Orlando's School Sports Marketing, and Berrey, a sports consultant and vice president of national sales for iHigh, a high school media and marketing company, hatched the plan earlier this year and called Nafe.
"It was kind of a stroke of luck," Nafe said. "It was something we've alway wanted to do."
Friday, workers put the finishing touches on the field, which will run down the rightfield line. There will be seating only along the first-base line with leftfield used as a warmup area for the teams playing next.
The field will extend over the infield, but that will be nothing new for fans used to watching running backs rumble over the dirt at some NFL venues. Because the Devil Rays are still playing, the teams will have to come dressed to play as the locker room will be unavailable.
And two weeks ago, coaches from the schools tested the artificial grass and gave it a thumbs up.
"It's great," Dunedin coach Mark Everett said. "I think the kids are really going to enjoy playing on it."
Today could be the start of something big. Nafe said he is already eyeing regular-season games, might try to land the Pinellas County Senior All-Star game and will consider looking into hosting the state championships.
"(Today) will answer a lot of questions," Nafe said. "We're very optimistic. We want to see how the overall operation goes.
"I want to to go out there and see it and feel it and see if we can be successful turning this into a vibrant high school football situation."