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Warhawk football is the talk of Seminole

A second straight drive to the region final is top of mind as Seminole prepares for another packed house.

By NEGAR TEKEEI
© St. Petersburg Times,
published November 21, 2001


SEMINOLE -- They say the stadium was packed.

Several thousand students, parents, alumni and neighbors in green and gold turned out Friday at Seminole High School to watch their Warhawks beat Bradenton Manatee, a longtime powerhouse, in a football playoff game.

With three seconds remaining, Seminole kicked a field goal to win 19-16.

The beat goes on Friday night, a regional final game at home against Naples. A win means a berth in the state final four and a shot at the unthinkable: No Pinellas school has won a state football title.

While the team practices, the city prepares, too.

In the back office of Allen Sports Center, a sports equipment and apparel store at 6585 Seminole Blvd., owner Don Bates holds a T-shirt that honors the Warhawks' consecutive district football titles. Illustrated with two Seminole players in football jerseys, the shirt says: "Back to Back. We did yesterday what others wouldn't so today we stand."

Without making a prediction, Bates seems positive.

"The kids are playing the hardest they ever have," Bates said. "It seems like the coaching staff has sold the kids on what they need to do."

Bates is one of many people who attend the games even though his children already have graduated from Seminole High School. Some people at the games, he said, may have no affiliation with the school, but they still come to cheer for the home team.

After the football team won at the district level last year and the baseball team won its state title, the town experienced a surge of school pride.

One restaurant manager has seen the difference in the wearing of green and gold and in the number of pizzas he can sell on a football Friday.'

Steve Whitcomb, manager of Joto's Pizza Pub, 13050 Park Blvd. N, can seat nearly 100 people in his restaurant on any given day. On a Friday before and after the game, people pour out the doors waiting to be seated.

"Everybody talks about the team," he said. "And if we win, a few hundred will come in by the end of the night."

Whitcomb, whose family has owned and operated Joto's for 25 years, says the pizza joint has become the pregame destination for the football players.

"It's very different to see the kids come in here painted in green warpaint," he said. "It's the first year I've seen this."

Whitcomb put up a sign last year wishing the Warhawks good luck in the state quarterfinals for 5A schools, the second-largest classification. The team lost and so this year, he said, superstition keeps him and others from outward signs of well-wishing.

"People are kind of holding their breath with this game," said Seminole Mayor Dottie Reeder. "It's such a big game and it's really nice to see the community get excited about this."

Reeder, a Seminole alumna, said the recent success of the athletic teams is partly a result of the community's involvement in the school system. Since the fire department's barbecue fundraisers for a stadium in the 1960s, Reeder said, school pride is not new to Seminole.

"Seminole has always been a community that has supported the schools and the kids -- it's how Seminole has evolved," she said. "For a team to be so successful has heightened the excitement."

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