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Skatin' to state

As Chamberlain coach Billy Turner enters the twilight of his career, he's doing it in style by dancing all the way to tonight's Class 5A title game.

By SCOTT PURKS
© St. Petersburg Times,
published December 7, 2001


TAMPA -- Smack dab in the middle of Chamberlain's dingy locker room, coach Billy Turner did a jig called "The Skate," and at that moment -- just minutes after the Chiefs defeated Hillsborough 26-23 in quadruple overtime -- the dance became legend.

There is nothing particularly special about "The Skate," which involves shuffling feet and waving hands, but when the 64-year-old Turner does it, teenagers scream and grown-ups get misty.

"Seeing it gives me the tingles," Chamberlain athletic director Danny Pickern said, watching Turner Skate in front of 1,800 at Thursday morning's pep rally. "He's a rare man, and rare men do special things. I mean, when he does that dance and everybody gets all excited, well, it's a special thing."

It might be understandable when one considers history.

Before this fall, Turner had been a head coach for 30 years, and though he owns the county's all-time victory total with a 199-122-1 record, he was 0-8 in playoff games.

Then came this group of young men for the 2001 season, a group that is -- and there really is no other word to describe it -- magical.

Magical because it is talented and plays hard, and magical because it came together for Turner in the twilight of his career.

"We know how special it is, and we wouldn't trade our coach or our team for anything," Chamberlain's hulking defensive lineman Broderick Bunkley said. "Yeah, Coach is a little crazy, doing the Skate and all that. But he's always been crazy, and we like him that way.

"We also know we wouldn't be here without our coach. ... When you stop and think about it, it has been an unbelievable season. I mean it really has."

It started with two losses followed by 12 victories, including that quadruple-overtime thriller against Hillsborough on Oct. 26. Defeating the Terriers sealed the district title, and, at the coaxing of his players, launched the beginning of Turner's Skate. Since then, Turner has Skated after every victory, including a second one against Hillsborough (28-21 in the playoffs), followed by another at Kissimmee Osceola (31-18) and at last week's state semifinal at Springfield Rutherford (23-17).

The only thing that would make it perfect is a victory in tonight's Class 5A state final against Naples (11-2) at Tallahassee's Doak Campbell Stadium.

Is it possible? Can these Chiefs become the first county team since 1969 to win a state football championship? Can Chamberlain and Turner make this a storybook finish for the ages?

It sure felt that way during the pep rally Thursday morning at Chamberlain's stadium. As the players and Turner boarded the buses bound for Tallahassee, it felt a lot like destiny.

"I want to Skate one more time," Turner said. "I want to Skate at Doak Campbell."

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