Gaither Regains Athletic Footing in Hillsborough County
A roundup of the high school's athletic programs this year
Every school faces this scenario at some point: overcrowding leads to a new school being built, which leads to a big purge in enrollment, and the old school's athletics fall off the map for several years.
In 1997, Gaither High School, at 16200 N. Dale Mabry, was so overcrowded that it had to go to what was then called "double-session" by the administration.
Prior to 1997, high school in Hillsborough County was just grades 10, 11, and 12. Then you had "middle school" with grades 8 and 9. Double or "split" session at Gaither in 1997 meant that upper-classmen (juniors and seniors) went from red-eye classes morning to 12 or 1pm and the under-classmen (freshman and sophomores) went from 11am to deep into the afternoon.
The overcrowding was a result of a suburban population boom in the mid 1990's. In 1997 both Sickles High School in Westchase and Wharton High School in New Tampa were built. Both alleviated the overcrowding at Gaither, but left her athletic department in the lurch.
Fast forward five years, and things have balanced out. Aside from being a four-grade high school, its athletic teams are getting back on the map, even in the face of recent changes at area schools.
Freedom High School opened in 2002, and Steinbrenner opened in 2009 just 6.5 miles away from Gaither. That robbed Gaither of much of its athletic talent, and probably the best track coach the school ever had.
"When Ladd (Baldwin) left for Steinbrenner, a lot of the track athletes followed him," said Gaither Athletic Director Henry Strapp.
"It's tough looking across at the other dugout and seeing a lot of kids that would otherwise be on your team," said baseball coach Frank Permuy.
Every sport took a big hit with what has been loosely referred to by the Gaither administration as the "Steinbrenner purge."
However, Gaither athletics has rebounded in a way that seems almost unfathomable in such a short time.
Here's a look at the last two sports seasons:
Boys soccer: It has been in the capable hands of Tampa United manager Eric Sims for the last 11 years. While Sims admits that the, "Steinbrenner purge" did not have the effect on his soccer teams as it did with other sports, the boys soccer team has gone to back-to-back state semifinals.
"We knew we had a lot of good players two years ago," said Sims.
Then, Sims lost nine of his 11 starters for the 2011-2012 season.
But the players gelled and made the final four. The Cowboys soccer team is 40-9-3 over the last two seasons.
Football: The sport experienced a rebirth after Mark Kantor was dismissed after the 2010 season. Current head football coach Jason Stokes took over a 3-8 team that had not had a winning season in three years. In 2011, the Cowboys football team went 9-4 and made it to the regional finals.
Baseball: It took a hit when former Jesuit and state champion, coach John Crumbley, attracted a lot of talent to Steinbrenner. Yet, Cowboys baseball was able to make the state semifinals in 2011 and the regional finals in 2012, compiling a 35-18-1 record over that time.
"I don't remember a time when we had this many athletic programs doing this well," said Permuy.
Track and field: It had its first ever individual state champion 300m hurdler in Paul Barrett. Barrett contributed to the success of the football and soccer team as well, but his name will be forever etched in Gaither athletic history as the 2012 Class 3A 300m state champion. He is only the second male athlete to win an individual state title in the school's history. Barrett broke the school's 300m and 110m hurdle records in 2012.
He was one-upped by rising sophomore Samson Moore in the 110m hurdles as Moore broke Barrett's new record at the 2012 regionals. While Barrett graduates, Moore and rising senior Kiana Bryant will be the top athletes in 2013. Moore has already proved himself, and Strapp has pegged Bryant as "The Sleeping Giant."
Basketball and softball continue to struggle, but the Gaither athletic department continues to improve in one of the most competitive counties in the state of Florida.
"We've always said, if you build it, they will come," said Strapp. "That starts with building a good core of coaches that are positioned to succeed. The coaches build and develop a strong program, and the parents and kids buy into it."