Even in victory, county all-stars learn lesson
By STEVE LEE
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 1, 2001
NEW PORT RICHEY -- Eight former Florida football players entered Gulf's gym Friday night to play basketball and tell kids to keep a clean slate.
Let's hope their message sunk in, because they sure didn't show much on the court.
Last year, the Florida Swamp Shooters stomped a group of county All-Stars 90-72 in the inaugural exhibition. This time, the high school seniors made sure the blowout was on the other end.
Apparently taking the ex-Gators' message on intestinal fortitude to heart -- "Work hard. Set goals," said Chicago Bears quarterback Shane Matthews -- the All-Stars put on a clinic in a 109-53 win.
"It's a good team with a lot of talent and they showed it," said Gulf coach Steve Feldman, who selected and coached the All-Stars for the second consecutive year. "We were a little more focused this year."
"They had something to prove and they proved it," said Greg Armstrong, past president of the Pasco County Gators Club who helped organize the event. "(Feldman) took it a little more serious than I thought."
Of greater importance, however, was how kids received the inspiring words of several former Gators. The players spoke between quarters and involved the members of a crowd of approximately 200 in several basketball and football contests.
Lauren Gardiner, 10, said she learned, "to try hard and not give up."
"Go for your dreams," is what 15-year-old Curtis Martin heard from the Gators alumni.
Brian Bishop, 8, seemed more interested in the game, saying, "I want (the Swamp Shooters) to win, because they won last year."
Bishop, like several other youngsters, was disappointed Tampa Bay Buccaneers receivers Jacquez Green and Reidel Anthony were no-shows for the second year in a row, though Armstrong doubted either would be available.
"I thought the Bucs were going to be here," Bishop said.
"Stay in School" and "Say No to Drugs" are the catch phrases of a program instituted six years ago by former Florida quarterbacks Kerwin Bell, who plays for the Canadian Football League's Toronto Argonauts, and Matthews. Bell said he and his teammates offer proof that those who strive for goals can obtain them.
And, Bell added, "We wouldn't be where we are if we didn't listen to our parents, coaches and teachers."
"We couldn't be doing what we're doing if we were messing around with drugs," said James Bates, a linebacker for the 1996 national championship team who has acted in movies and is a broadcaster for the Sunshine Network.
Billy Rousos, a Ridgewood senior, cheered for Ridgewood's Donny Lotz and Joe Anders as they led the All-Stars to victory. But Rousos realized Friday night's event was about more than a game.
"It's good that (the Swamp Shooters are) looking out for people that aren't as lucky as they are," Rousos said.
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