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Alumni game scores gain from pain

Graduates of Gulf High will gather tonight to play in a football game to benefit the school's athletic programs.

By JAMAL THALJI

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 6, 2001


NEW PORT RICHEY -- Alert to local hospitals: The second annual Gulf High School alumni football game is 7:30 tonight at Des Little Stadium.

The aches and pains of last year's successful inaugural outing seem wasted on the alumni players, who donned helmets and shoulder pads once again to knock around old friends and former Buccaneer teammates for the first time in years.

Then again, that $7,800 they raised last year to benefit Gulf High's rebuilding athletics program might have something to do with the second edition.

That, and the fact that players had the time of their lives being Bucs once again.

"I tell you what, last year was tough because it was the first one and people didn't really know what to expect," said former Gulf High offensive line star Jim Watson, who went on to play at the University of Florida and organized last year's contest. "It was a hard-hitting, well-played football game.

"This year it almost ran itself. I made the initial phone calls and easily found more than enough interest to put together a game."

The alumni divided up again into Green and White teams, and have spent the past few weeks practicing for their coming clash. But the real purpose of the game has been to help the revitalization of Gulf High athletics.

Many of the school's programs were on the wane, but a new crop of Bucs coaches and the alumni game are helping generate interest on campus and providing athletic teams with cash for new equipment. Admission to tonight's game costs $4.

"After last year, I don't think (a goal of) $10,000 is shooting too high," said Watson, a 1989 Gulf graduate.

Football coach Keith Newton, himself an institution at Gulf High who helped coach most of the alumni players, said the game is becoming an invaluable service to the school. And a lot of fun, too.

"It's a great asset," Newton said. "It brings these alumni around and it's great because socially you haven't seen these kids in a long time. It's like a reunion.

"I also think it's good for the kids to see these guys coming back and interested in raising money for the program."

Last year about 50 alums turned out, and the White team handily defeated the Green team 41-10. No surprise, Watson coached the White team to victory, employing the wide-open passing scheme he learned under Florida coach Steve Spurrier.

This year 58 players will participate. Watson will coach the Green team and has installed the run-and-shoot offense, which uses four receivers and the shotgun snap.

The Green will be coached by Police Athletic League coach Gerry McCormick, Class of '90. His team will be running that staple of Bucs team of the past: The run-oriented Wing-T offense, which features three running backs lined up behind the quarterback.

One new face on the roster this season is Gulf's new baseball coach, Shaun Wiemer, Class of '87. And he's already paying the price for his enthusiasm: Pain in his groin muscle and left calf from practice.

Said Watson: "I do know Shaun has a massage therapy session scheduled for the next day" after the game.

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