tampabay.com

The new pride of Tampa

Plant High's football team gets another day to glory in its first championship.

By Alexandra Zayas
Published December 12, 2006


TAMPA - It was the first day back at H.B. Plant High School after the football team won its only state championship in history.

Monday afternoon, the band played, the cheerleaders ruffled black and gold pompoms, students packed the stands and the football players gathered on the home field for recognition.

And 8-year-old Bryan Bartlett clutched a black marker, collecting autographs. Bryan's dreams of one day playing football for his big brother's school were only magnified after Saturday's suspenseful game and last-minute touchdown for a 25-21 victory.

"It was exciting and scary," Bryan said.

Bryan stopped senior offensive guard Brian Bennett just before the pep rally started and asked him to sign the back of his T-shirt.

Bennett doesn't have the most glamorous position on the team. He blocks. "That was my first autograph ever. It felt awesome," he said, and grinned as he followed his teammates onto the field.

The crowd roared.

Mayor Pam Iorio proclaimed the day Plant High Panthers Day. She called Saturday's victory her "proudest moment" as a mayor. National Football Foundation officials called coach Robert Weiner "the man that turned Plant High Football around," and gave him his second coach of the year award.

"We have state champions all over the school. They're not all just on the field," he said. "We're talking about a state championship for South Tampa."

Moms took pictures. Alums remembered the alma mater. And students poured out into the parking lot when the school day was over, honking and hollering in cars painted with Panther paws. They drove down Dale Mabry Highway, past business marquees that said "Go Plant."

But Bryan didn't have enough autographs. He stopped senior receiver Thompson Brandes, who is still amazed by the attention.

"When we came back at 1 a.m. Sunday, people stayed up late to greet us," Brandes said. "The parking lot was full of cars."

Brandes once dreamed of playing for Plant, when he was a kid like Bryan who played backyard football with his friends. Now, many of them are on his championship team, like the redheaded Martin brothers.

Cam Martin is a senior, but Luke still has a year left. Does he think his team will make history repeat itself next year?

"I'm pretty sure we can," Luke Martin said.

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at 226-3354 or azayas@sptimes.com.