I spent most of Friday night not watching the sixth game of the Blue Jays-Royals American League Championship Series, but watching something of a bit more personal interest to me: a football game between Largo and Clearwater on the local cable sports channel, Bright House Sports Network.
The two rival schools have been playing each other since 1932, but hadn’t met in a regular season game on the gridiron, for one reason or another, since 2006. Before I went to Largo from 1985 to 1989, this game was usually played Thanksgiving evening, but was always the last game of the regular season for both schools. That changed in the late 1990’s with districts being realigned either every two or four years.
Largo had a great run on top in the districts they were placed in. From 2005 to 2014, they had made the state playoffs every year (winning nine straight district titles from 2005-2013 on top of that), with the Packers one game away from the state championship in 2007 and 2008, losing each year to the very talented St. Thomas Aquinas High School out of Ft. Lauderdale. Some Aquinas alums you may have heard of: tennis legend Chris Evert, Brian Piccolo (of “Brian’s Song” fame), and some guy named Michael Irvin among a host of former athletes who’ve made it to the top levels of their respective sports.
Clearwater’s football program is on the rise, going 0-10 two years ago, coming into the game 6-1 on the year. A win by the Tornadoes put them in the playoffs, and would likely knock Largo out of the playoffs at the same time. Largo’s defense put up a tough fight, but with the offense completely bewildered by a much faster Clearwater defense, it was just a matter of time before the Tornadoes grounded and pounded the Packers into submission. After leading 3-0 at the half, Clearwater added a couple of touchdowns and claimed victory with a 17-0 win at Packer Stadium.
The final score really didn’t matter to me. I kind of thought Clearwater had the talent to win, and the desire and motivation to end their playoff drought which went back to 2003.
I wondered in the era of social media and the Internet if anyone cared about high school sports anymore, and if the new technologies had sort of given teenagers a “bunker mentality” when it came to school social functions. I was pleased to be wrong: BHSN showed the Largo bleachers early and often, showing a packed house until the outcome of the game was no longer in question.
Who says school spirit is dead?