65 years later, their spirit remains

By ALEXANDRA ZAYAS, Times Staff Writer
Published October 19, 2007

WEST TAMPA - Jefferson High School students busted out the Dragon blue and gold this week for homecoming. But after 65 years, the oldest alums are proving just how long school spirit can burn.

In 1939, Tampa was growing, and so was its high school population. Plant and Hillsborough just weren't big enough. So Jefferson kept its junior high students and added a grade each year until they became the school's first graduating senior high class of 1942.

That class still reunites - monthly. The third Monday at La Teresita, the large group shares Cuban coffee, jokes and lots of memories.

Some of their memories

Lena Cannella Macaluso, 82

I was a cheerleader, and my father was so strict with me, I could not attend too many games. But I did. My mother finally convinced him to let me go. I just had a great time. ... Go, Dragons, Go! That's all I remember.

Russell, 84, and Mary Carter Southwick, 82

Where did we go on our first date? Probably to an ROTC function. We had a great time in high school, but World War II hurried up our marriage. Everybody we knew was going in the service. I remember Russell getting on a bus to go to Camp Blanding, to be processed. I thought I was going to die.

Bob Reed, 82

For the first dance of the year, I was going to dance with Irene Fernandez, but I didn't have the guts. My dad decided he was going to give me a haircut. It looked like a bowl. When I looked at myself in the mirror, you could hear me scream down the street. I got to the dance and everybody made fun of me, called me Nubbins from the comic strip.

Reed, on Calvin Baker, 83

(Baker) finally got in a game. The coach got him in. After one play, he was so excited, he couldn't stop jumping. The referee expelled him from the game for unnecessary roughness. So he's been known throughout the years as "One Play" Baker.

Baker, on Reed

No, that's a lie. When (Reed) played, he took the ball and always made three yards - backwards.

Raymond Otero, 85

The kids from West Tampa grouped together. We didn't get to know the rest of the kids. We were isolated. Most of them were Latin kids. You didn't want to mix with the other kids, because you were afraid to be rejected. We would sit there and look at the blond, blue-eyed girls, and say, Ay, que linda (Oh, how pretty). But we were afraid to talk to them.

Louis Matassini, 84

We had a terrible football team! We said, "Whoever wants to play football, come out." Nobody had ever played football, except maybe sandlot. I sat on the bench most of the time. I only weighed about 130 pounds, and I was 5-11.

Donald Britt, 83

Our coach scheduled a double-header in football. We played Avon Park on Friday night, stayed in a hotel, didn't sleep, and then got on a bus to play Miami Beach on Saturday at 2 p.m. We got there late. We lost both games. We lost the first one by a point, but Miami beat the crap out of us. I was so tired.

Matassini, on that game

The regulars were coming to the sidelines and asking, "Coach, take me out." I was happy as hell I got to play!

* * *

When tostada crumbs were all that remained on their plates, 83-year-old Buddy Branch clutched his cane and told a joke, then invited everyone back to his house for more coffee. Before they left, they all stood and sang their alma mater.

For there never was a high school just like you / And to your gold and blue we'll be forever true.

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

Did you know?

The first Jefferson High School closed its doors in 1967 and reopened at its larger Cypress Street campus in 1973. Now, the old Jefferson campus is the D.W. Waters Memorial Center, a vocational school named after Jefferson High's first principal.

Alums can visit a museum of the old high school memorabilia at the first campus at 2704 N Highland Ave. in Tampa Heights.