Walking in each other's shoes

Published February 2, 2007

It started when Tyler Brewer began walking the halls of Armwood High School with a pair of loafers.

You know, shoes.

Adam Sollazzo spotted them and told his friend Tyler he had to have a pair. Brennan Bates soon followed and, as funny as it sounds, the friendship began to flourish.

Must be the shoes.

They began hanging out on weekends and talking about the drama of the day, usually girls, sports, grades or some combination of the three.

Eventually, they got together, rented a bus and attended the Armwood homecoming dance together. They thought it would be a lavish party bus, but Sollazzo says it was more like a Bloodmobile.

Still, when you're a teenager, it's the kind of event that creates a bond between friends.

"All of a sudden, it started catching on because we're really having a good time," Sollazzo said.

Jared Paul, a longtime Sollazzo friend who attends Brandon High, joined in and they started joking that they were a crew.

And this is how the Loafer Crew - or the "LC" as they are known - came to life in fall 2005. Flash forward to now and you find an LC MySpace page with a cool logo, 10 full-fledged guy members, and one Brittany Adams, who is lobbying to become the first girl.

"We're still debating that," Paul says with a wry smile while Brittany looks on in mock disbelief.

Friends teased about the name, because "The Loafer Crew" doesn't sound too intimidating when you have kids their age proclaiming to be members of the Bloods, Crips and Latin Kings. When they get a chance to chill with the LC, however, it's a different story.

"When they hang with us, they're like, 'It's awesome, man,' " Paul said. "They see that it's pretty cool."

The LC works in part because of its simplicity. There is no great initiation, no membership fees and no requirements, beyond looking out for each other.

"They have each other's backs," Adams said.

In fact, Adams says there are a lot of differences between the guys. Some are laid back, some are hyper, but differences are appreciated.

If there is a commonality, it's a desire to succeed in life. Sollazzo, who plays basketball for Armwood, says they're goal-oriented and most hope to attend college.

"My dad has a group of friends from high school who still get together at the beach every year and hang out," Sollazzo said. "I could see us doing that."

For now, they don't do much more than get together at one of the members' homes, and they insist that the fun center on fellowship and conversation, not alcohol or drugs.

The primary topic tends to be the perils of romance. Paul, who plays on the Brandon High basketball team, says he won't even date during the season because he doesn't want a girl to mess up his game.

"Girls don't know what they want," Sollazzo said. "Girls are so weird nowadays."

Nowadays? I didn't have the heart to tell Sollazzo that's the way it's always been and that's the way it always will be.

Adams offered something of a defense, explaining that, "Girls want to be friends with everybody, and sometimes guys want more."

The descriptions of high school romance resonated because even though it's been 25 years since I graduated from Amos P. Godby High School in Tallahassee, those statements easily could describe high school dating in the early '80s. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

I happened upon these three teens by chance, but I was drawn to the story of the LC. When Sollazzo and Paul tell me they wish they could stay in high school forever, I know exactly how they feel. My yearbook is one of my prized possessions and I still know the words to the alma mater. Seriously.

My friends and I had a Dairy Queen tradition. Mike Cobb and Martin Mayhew always had ice cream cones. Reggie Lawyer and Ron Sneed always ordered banana splits. I always got the Peanut Buster Parfait.

We didn't have a cool name - I guess "Loafer Crew" is cool - or a Web page, but we had a lot of good times. Three decades later, we still have each other.

Next year, my son Matthew starts at Armwood and between what I see on MTV and what I often read in the newspaper, I get anxious about what high school will hold for him. The LC reminds me there are still kids out there making good decisions, looking out for each other and developing friendships that will last a lifetime.

I wish that for Matthew, and for everyone who has to walk the hallways of a high school.

That's all I'm saying.