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Alumni madness runs rampant

By Times staff writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 8, 2001

NEW PORT RICHEY -- Shaun Wiemer dreamed of a day like this.

Friday afternoon at the Gulf faculty-student softball game, the Bucs' baseball coach went 4-for-4, belting two home runs, a double and a triple in the faculty's 29-9 win.

Wiemer was now primed for Friday night's Gulf Alumni Football Game. He boasted beforehand about all the heads he was going to knock in the second annual event. He was true to his word, running around like an 18-year-old defensive end again, recording two tackles and a sack in the first quarter.

Minutes later, he was another winded middle-aged guy on the sideline, ice wrapped around his right calf, the pain telling him his playing days were over. Age did not spare him, and neither did the P.A. announcer.

"Coach Wiemer, a special message from your baseball team," blared the speakers. "Bone up and find a way."

Wiemer closed his eyes and laughed painfully. His teammates chuckled. Students chanted his name from the stands. The golf cart waited to take him to the locker room.

"If I get on that," he said, "I'll never hear the end of it."

For Wiemer, the physical pain was as bad as the mental.

Because the truth is, he would have crawled back out there if he could have.

Like the 55 other alums in Friday night's 21-0 Green team win over the White at Des Little Stadium, Wiemer was as thrilled as all the others to relive his glory days.

Nostalgia is a powerful and addictive drug. One hit and you're hooked.

"Did you see what a wild game this was, the turnovers, the interceptions, the fumbles, the jubilation when we scored?" said Green coach Jim Watson, Class of '89, who helped organize the game. "Listen to me, I'm hoarse. And that's what brings it all back. That's a drug, and you need that. You want the camaraderie of the players, you want the feeling of adulation when you score.

"For a lot of guys and myself it's enough to bring you back."

And keep coming back, again and again, as alumni madness sweeps the county. The Ridgewood alumni game is April 19 at Ram Booster Stadium. The former Rams were in the stands Friday, scouting the opposition for a planned Gulf-Ridgewood game.

Both want Hudson alumni to form a team. There's talk of an alumni jamboree. Sponsored by which HMO?

What's next, alumni districts? The playoffs? An all-alumni team? A junior varsity? What's the tiebreaker, a team's combined 401(k)?

When will alumni madness end? Probably as soon as the first Pasco alumni team is formed. But until then, the excitement is running rampant.

Gulf football coach Keith Newton knows what drives his former players:

"There's an old saying and it goes, "Don't be in a rush to get out of high school, because when you do you're going to find out you're going to miss it.'

"I've been telling that since I was 22, and they all say the same thing, they all come back and say, "I didn't think I would miss it, but this is fun."'

He's right, of course. Watching them go at it made me want to suit up and play again. But I didn't have to. In its own way, Friday night's game reminded me of my old high school football days. (I didn't get to play and women shunned me afterward.)

Wiemer was certainly hooked, and he had no intention of seeking help.

"It was just the pure enjoyment of being around the old alumni," he said. "I just missed the game, I missed being around it."

Last year's 41-10 blowout was quickly forgotten. Watson's run-and-shoot attack was stifled by White coach Gerry McCormick's defense. The Green team won thanks to three big plays -- Guy Wemer's 4-yard scoring plunge, Mike Welch's 35-yard touchdown bomb to Bryan Boyce and Welch's 25-yard scoring pass to Kevin Adler. The game was a rousing success, again, both on and off the field. The organizers hope to raise about $10,000 for Gulf athletics and boost interest in sports among students. More than 700 fans attended the game, doubling last year's crowd.

But there was clearly something else at work Friday night.

"It's like a fantasy camp," Newton said. "It's something you want to do but you can't. You can play flag football, maybe you can play on a semi-pro team, but it's fun to play football with all your old buds again and some hitting."

Alumni madness, will it ever end?

"It's not, brother," Watson said. "It's never going to end."

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