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Booker T. Washington has a familiar obstacle in its path to a state final shot - Armwood.
By DAVID MURPHY
Published December 5, 2007
MIAMI - Franklin Brown has lived at various addresses in the Overtown section of this diverse city, but now he shares an apartment with his mom, sister and brother at 1117 NW Third Ave.
It isn't a bad place, he says. Outsiders might look at the run-down houses and grungy overpasses and beg to differ, but for 18 years this neighborhood has been the only home he has known.
"For an outsider, it's kind of rough," the safety says, "but for me, it's an everyday thing."
When Brown and his Booker T. Washington teammates host Armwood on Friday night in a Class 4A, state semifinal, they'll be looking to avoid their fourth playoff loss to the Hawks in five seasons. They'll also be looking to take the next step toward bringing a state title back to a community badly in need of glory.
"We have a chance to go down in history," said Brown, a senior safety who has scholarship offers from Florida A&M and Central Michigan, "and be something for this community to stand up and be proud of."
The history of Overtown runs deep: At one point, the traditionally black neighborhood earned the nickname "Harlem of the South." Opened in 1926, Booker T. is the second-oldest public high school in Miami-Dade County and the first in South Florida to graduate black students.
But in the 1960s the school was closed, converted to a junior high as part of desegregation efforts. There were other changes, including the construction of I-95, which cut a swath through the heart of Overtown.
The community deteriorated.
Today, more than 40 percent of the families who live in Booker's zip code live below the poverty level. The median household income is just over $15,000, according to census figures.
"Our community needs as much positive to happen to it as it can," Booker T. coach Tim Harris said.
The way he looks at it, football can be a large part of that. The school reopened in 1999, and the football team first made the playoffs in 2001. In 2002, it won its first postseason game.
The rise to statewide relevance occurred shortly after Harris was hired in 2003. At the time, he was an assistant coach at national power Miami Northwestern, a school whose resume includes three Class 6A titles.
Harris and his oldest son, Tim, a senior quarterback who now runs track at Miami, led the Tornadoes to the first of four straight state semifinal appearances in 2003. Booker T. lost to Armwood 34-14. The next three seasons, the Tornadoes would see their season end at the hands of a Hillsborough County opponent - twice more to Armwood, then to Plant.
A team's toughness
This year Booker T. is convinced it has its best chance of hurdling the Hillsborough hump and landing in its first state title game.
"This is our strongest senior class we have," said Brandon Harris, now a senior cornerback entertaining offers from, among others, Florida, Miami and Ohio State. "Our seniors are focused."
Personal pride is a big part of that focus. Tim Harris estimates a third of his playoff roster will play in college. Many have legitimate shots at Division I scholarships, including Brown, Brandon Harris, receiver Thearon Collier committed to Miami and Davon Johnson (Miami). But the Tornadoes are also playing for their fledgling school, and the surrounding community.
"We feel like we can bring more pride to this community by winning a state championship," Brandon Harris said. "It's bigger than us."