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Steinbrenner: 'enormous honor'
"The Boss" expresses gratitude that a new high school in Lutz will bear his name.
By AMBER MOBLEY, Times Staff Writer
Published December 17, 2007
LUTZ - Most Hillsborough County schools are named after people, but they're usually educators - poor-pocketed regular folks - and not billionaire businessmen.
Not people like New York Yankees owner and philanthropist George Steinbrenner, whose name was chosen last week for the long-awaited high school in Lutz.
Don't worry, it's not Wisconsin or Indiana, where school naming rights are for sale; or Marion County, where they're considering the practice.
No, school officials here said they simply wanted to honor Steinbrenner: "the Boss," brassy with a heart of gold.
Steinbrenner, 77, made the following statement via his spokesman Howard J. Rubenstein: "I am thankful and gratified with this enormous honor, and I'll continue to help the youth of our community as best I can, because they're the future for us and for the nation."
The groundbreaking for the nearly $60-million Steinbrenner High on Lutz-Lake Fern Road is scheduled for January. The school is set to open in 2009.
Besides owning the Yankees, Steinbrenner has an extensive list of charitable contributions and acts in the Tampa Bay area since the 1980s, including:
- Providing lighting systems for Little League Baseball fields and fields for the University of South Florida, University of Florida and Florida State;
- Founding and funding the Hillsborough County coaches foundation, which honors public and private high school coaches and their wives;
- Financing middle school sports in Hillsborough County public schools, saving them from budget cuts;
- Underwriting the Florida Orchestra Children's Christmas concerts for thousands of children in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties;
- Paying college expenses for needy and deserving students.
"With all he's done for this area, if you're going to name a school after anybody in Tampa, it should be him," said Yankee captain Derek Jeter.
That's one man's opinion.
But what if the Yankees aren't your team?
"I like the Red Sox, but it's not a big deal," said Lori Kalita, who has a child attending Martinez Middle School, which will share property with Steinbrenner. As far as she's concerned, as long as the high school stays on its construction schedule, "I'm happy."
The School Board approved the Steinbrenner name without first asking the community for suggestions, a move that is "not unprecedented, but unusual," said school district spokesman Steve Hegarty. "We didn't know we'd be naming this school this early."
Steinbrenner's contributions haven't always brought him accolades. In 1972, a donation to Richard Nixon's re-election campaign turned out to be illegal. In 1974 he pleaded guilty to two felony counts and was fined $15,000.
But that was more than 25 years ago, and Lutz parents are more worried about the here and now.
"Boundaries," said Martinez parent Bob Donaghy, who was indifferent about the name. "I want to know who's going to be going to this school."
He'll have to wait. The school district must first adopt boundaries for a planned middle school in Citrus Park, which is being named for the late Sgt. Paul Smith, a Medal of Honor winner.
News researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Amber Mobley can be reached at email@example.com or 813 269-5311.