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    Sponger plays where his heart is

    After a yearlong residency battle with the school district, Roshawn Marshall gets to play where he and his mom wanted him to play.

    By JOHN SCHWARB

    © St. Petersburg Times, published September 29, 2000


    TARPON SPRINGS -- Roshawn Marshall can picture it in his mind, the opening sequence of the game on the turf he once called home.

    photo
    [Times photo: Brendan Fitterer]
    Tarpon Springs High's Roshawn Marshall pulls in a pass during practice Thursday.
    Clearwater kicks off, and the end-over-end floater reaches him at the 1-yard line. Catching the ball and tucking it away, Marshall begins his journey.

    The uniforms rushing toward him are familiar, but now, clad in Tarpon Springs maroon, he must dart away. Down the near sideline, past the man he once called "coach," Marshall runs. And runs.

    Ninety-nine yards later, the journey is complete. Touchdown.

    The six points will not erase the pain of an entire year, but for Marshall, every little bit helps when you are trying to make up for lost time.

    * * *

    Tonight, Tarpon Springs plays Clearwater, and although the game between the 4-0 Spongers and 0-4 Tornadoes hardly registers as significant on the county football radar, it's hard to ignore its significance for one junior.

    As a freshman, Marshall was a standout for Clearwater, starting every game at cornerback and setting a school record with nine interceptions. He was named to the Times' All-Suncoast Team, seemingly well on his way to four strong years with the Tornadoes.

    But the summer after his freshman year, Marshall returned to what had been home most of his life, Tarpon Springs. He had lived with his father in Belleair, but a disagreement between the two drove Marshall back to live with his mother and grandmother and attend Tarpon Springs High.

    Marshall had spent 13 of his 16 years in Tarpon Springs and had attended all three grades at Tarpon Springs Middle School, but to Pinellas County athletic officials, Marshall had violated the residency policy.

    A court had declared Roshawn's father, Joseph Marshall, as his primary residential parent, forcing Marshall to attend the school of his father's residence.

    Tarpon Springs was not that school, and although Marshall attended classes there last year as a sophomore, he was barred from participating in any extracurricular activities for the entire school year.

    "I had a call from Clearwater (High, at the beginning of the school year) that Roshawn was enrolled at Tarpon," said Bob Hosack, student activities director for Pinellas County. "They requested that I look into it, and I found that he should not have been at Tarpon Springs."

    The decision outraged Marshall and his mother, Inger Wright. There was also an underlying issue of whether Clearwater High brought the issue to light to ensure Tarpon Springs would not get the services of a top player.

    "It depends on who you talk to," said Tarpon Springs coach Don Davis. "You talk to people at Clearwater, they'll say one thing, you talk to the people at the county office, they'll say another thing, you talk to us, we'll say another thing.

    "What I saw was a kid that had something taken away from him for the wrong reasons, and they penalized him. He missed a year of football, he'll never get that back."

    Clearwater coach Tom Bostic stops short of saying his program played a part in notifying the county of Marshall's move, stating only that "it was sort of a mess," and "there were mistakes made here and there."

    Marshall carried a football to Tarpon Springs every day during the fall in protest, and he and Wright continued to fight the ruling even after football season. Marshall had planned on playing basketball and running track, but could do neither. A Tarpon Springs lawyer even took up Marshall's case in January, but to no avail.

    "That was the longest school year ever," Marshall said.

    That loss, though, was nothing compared to June 10, when Wright died after a battle with a rare blood disease.

    "All that hard work my mom put into it, and now she can't even see me play," Marshall said.

    * * *

    The 5-foot-8, 170-pound Marshall vowed he would dedicate this season to her and there have been plenty of highlights.

    Tarpon Springs is unbeaten, thanks in no small part to Marshall's scintillating play, which has included five touchdowns -- two on offense, two on defense and one on special teams.

    "You see what he means to a football team," said Davis. "And I don't think you've seen the best of Roshawn yet. Not even close."

    Tonight against Clearwater, there are the obvious story lines. Marshall admits it is a big game for him -- and that a 99-yard kickoff return would be sweet -- but he has largely gotten over any lingering hostilities toward his former team and school. The lost year hurt, but opponents pay for it between the lines.

    No other payback is necessary.

    "At first he was very bitter, but he has ironed that out," said Clara Montgomery, Marshall's grandmother. "He even verbalizes that he doesn't hold any resentment anymore. He used to use the word "hate,' but he doesn't hate the people that caused him to lose that year.

    "He said he's put it all behind him. I'm very proud. It's not easy to do."

    Tarpon Springs at Clearwater

    TIME: 7:30 tonight

    PLACE: Jack White Stadium, 540 S Hercules Ave.

    RECORDS: Spongers 4-0, Tornadoes 0-4

    OF NOTE: Clearwater won a year ago, 29-14 at Sponger Stadium. Though the Tornadoes are winless in 2000, two of their last three losses have been by single digits.

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