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Columns

Tonight, a school will show its true colors

By ERNEST HOOPER ehooper@sptimes.com
Published December 1, 2006


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H.B. Plant High School is defined by its affluence as much as its academic excellence.

Approximately 97 percent of its graduates go on to college. In past years, it has earned the Blue Ribbon School of Excellence award and has been recognized as one of America's 100 best high schools by Newsweek magazine.

Yet mention Plant to some, and they're as apt to note the student parking lot full of luxury vehicles as they are the hallway full of honor students. Consider this: 15 of this year's 23 elite Ye Mystic Krewe debutantes are Plant High graduates.

The school's most recent athletic triumphs have come in the so-called country club sports: golf, tennis, swimming. It also enjoys success in cross country, volleyball, baseball and basketball.

But football? In the last decade, that's been a different story.

Sure, legendary coach Roland Acosta had his moments guiding the Panthers from 1973 to 1994, but even he struggled in his final two years, going 4-16.

His successors didn't fare any better. From 1995 to 2003, Plant never finished above .500 and made only one playoff appearance.

It's a generalization, but a lot of prep football observers were beginning to think Plant's blue blood just didn't mix with the blue collar game of football.

In steps new coach Bob Weiner, who took over in 2004 and dealt with Plant's supposed silver spoon complex with a brilliant approach: He didn't buy into the stereotype.

As a college student, Weiner decided to write a dissertation contrasting the kids at a Massachusetts juvenile center where he volunteered with the kids from affluent Needham High in suburban Boston. After 30 pages, he threw the research paper away.

"The fact of the matter is that kids are kids," Weiner said. "They want to do well, they want to put their best foot forward, they want structure, and they want discipline. It doesn't matter what economic background they come from."

When Weiner had his first organizational meeting, he didn't talk about football at all. He talked about character, community service and classroom success. He was convinced if he focused on intangibles, football would take care of itself.

"It's such a gut-level game that you have to work on what's in your heart and what makes up the moral fiber of your team," Weiner said.

Weiner focused on socializing instead of social status. He cultivated an atmosphere of caring among the players. In 2004, Plant went from 1-9 to 3-7. Last year: nine victories, including a playoff.

Tonight, the unbeaten Panthers 13-0 play Miami Washington in a state championship semifinal. Plant may not be a football school (yet), but it's clear that when the Panthers take the field at Dad's Stadium, every player will bleed the same color.

And it won't be blue.

"It doesn't matter if you're rich, poor, white, African-American, Hispanic, big, small or even if you're good," Weiner said. "When you're holding hands with that person in the huddle, you realize you have to fight for that guy just like he has to fight for you."

Listen to Weiner, and you want to suit up and play.

Somebody get me a helmet.

That's all I'm saying.

Ernest Hooper can be reached at (813) 226-306 or hooper@sptimes.com.

[Last modified December 1, 2006, 05:48:26]


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