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Northeast High to honor its top athletes, coaches

Recognition will come first at Friday's basketball game. Then in January a Hall of Fame will celebrate 47 years of sports glory.

By BOB PUTNAM
© St. Petersburg Times,
published November 28, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- Bill Dudley was documenting the history of Northeast High a few years ago when he discovered something about the school's athletes.

"We had not done anything to honor them," said Dudley, who graduated from Northeast in 1963 and has coached the wrestling and cross country teams at his alma mater for more than two decades.

This week the athletes get their acclaim.

Northeast has invited the four boys basketball coaches and former players the school has had in its 47-year history to attend Friday's boys basketball game against city rival St. Petersburg High.

There will be a reception at 5 p.m. in the cafeteria, and the coaches and players will be introduced between the junior varsity and varsity games, all part of an open house celebration to mark the opening of the new gymnasium.

But the big news during the reunion is to announce the start of a sports Hall of Fame at the school. The first Hall of Fame class will be introduced at the home finale Jan. 25.

"It was a long time coming," Dudley said.

Northeast is the fourth-oldest public school in St. Petersburg, yet the only one without a Hall of Fame. Dudley broached the subject with principal Mike Miller, and they decided it was a good idea.

The only question was when to start it.

The campus underwent a facelift recently, including the renovation of the gymnasium. The project was completed this year, so Dudley and Miller figured now was the time.

"We were so involved with the construction here that the Hall of Fame was sort of put off," Miller said. "But with the construction complete, it was a perfect time to bring everyone back and get it started."

Initially, the school was going to announce the first Hall of Fame class on Friday, but Miller said it would be too much to cram into one night.

"This gives us a chance to introduce the idea to everybody and gives us more time to get organized," Miller said.

The nominees will have to meet five of the school's 10 criteria. Miller said the committee decided to have three members in the first class, a male athlete, a female athlete and a coach. There also will be a push to include some of the patriarchs of the school's athletic programs.

One of the early favorites to be nominated is Lee Benjamin, the first boys basketball coach and current chairman of the Pinellas County School Board. Others include Tom Muntz (basketball) and Merrill McKenzie (golf).

"There should be no problem finding enough quality athletes," Dudley said.

"When I was doing research on the school, I came across so many names it was amazing."

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