Gulfport's Boca Ciega High to celebrate its golden run

Boca Ciega High alumni are invited to celebrate the Gulfport school's 50th anniversary this weekend.

Published May 19, 2004


GULFPORT - It was a school that emerged from a virtual swamp a half-century ago.

Boca Ciega High School lore, some of it documented, says students paddled canoes to get around the 58th Street S school grounds after a heavy rain.

"The entire campus of the unfinished school was a miniature lake," according to a Times photo caption published in September 1953.

Earlier that year, controversy swirled around the new school's name. Sun City High School was one suggestion that did not make the cut.

Students at first wanted "Rebels" for a nickname. School Board members didn't like it and neither did Richard L. Jones, the first principal. "Pirates" eventually carried the vote.

Almost 51 years later, Boca Ciega boasts an estimated 25,000 graduates. It has made its mark in scholarship, athletics and the arts. Among its alumni are physicians, judges, state lawmakers, actors, educators and athletes - not to mention thousands of grads who have gone about their lives in constructive, workaday ways that don't often make headlines.

About 600 are expected to gather 7 to 11 p.m. Saturday at the St. Petersburg Coliseum to celebrate Boca Ciega's golden anniversary with a dance featuring music from every decade. Classes from every year are invited. A slide show with 3,000 school history images will run continuously.

It costs $20 to attend. Checks should be made payable to the 50th Anniversary Dance and mailed to P.O. Box 40894, St. Petersburg, FL 33743. Cost at the door is $25. The Coliseum is at 535 Fourth Ave. N.

A mammoth Web site has been a successful tool in reaching old grads.

Situated at it includes photos, news clippings, scrapbooks, pages from the student newspaper Hi-Tide, alumni newsletters and information on classmates. It claims to be the world's largest school Web site, with 30,000 pages.

Web master Andy Prichard, Class of 1971, has worked on it for 3 1/2 years.

He got started after suggesting to the alumni committee that it would a great idea to have such a Web site - and, as idea people often are, was tapped for the job. Now he's looking for ways to make the site bigger by recruiting more people to work on it.

A couple of years ago, the Web site helped return a class ring (1981) to its owner.

Prichard received an e-mail from an H. Martin explaining he had found in a Houston airport a silver Boca Ciega ring with the initials E.C. and a football player engraved on it.

Prichard used data from the Web site ascertaining that only two males bearing those initials had graduated in 1981. One was not a football player, and little was known about him other than that he had joined the Navy after graduation.

The other was Earnest Crumbley Sr. - now the basketball coach at St. Petersburg College. And it was his ring. He said its discovery stunned him.

Boca Ciega has produced a number of grads whose names have become famous locally and, now and then, nationally. Actor Angela Bassett, Olympic sailor Ed Baird, baseball figure Hal Lanier, Florida Senate President Jim King and County Commissioner Barbara Sheen Todd come to mind as a few among many.

But if one person, whether student or faculty, were to be chosen as a Boca Ciega icon, it likely would be Christine Baker, who directed the choir from 1953 until 1971.

"She was just a little short thing, but she'd get right at a 6-foot-7 football player," said Prichard, who was a choir member and sang such songs as Lida Rose in the school's barbershop quartet.

Baker supervised several singing groups, most notably the Baker's Dozen, a special corps of excellent vocalists whose 1964 ensemble performed at the New York World's Fair.

"I was the president of the choir and the first student director, and there's no question that being part of that and working with Miss Baker was my most memorable (school experience)," said Currie Patton, Class of 1954, the alumni association president.

When the new music building was constructed during a period of massive renovation from 1990 to 1993, there was talk about for whom the hall should be named.

An avalanche of mail supporting Baker removed doubt, if ever there were any.

"We got over 1,000 letters," Prichard said.

Baker's legacy, he said, was "the fact she had discipline and she insisted on discipline.

"She helped you grow up and see what was important."


A few Boca Ciega dates to remember

December 1952 - Ground broken in Gulfport for a $1.34-million high school.

July 1953 - School Board chooses Boca Ciega as the new school's name. Board members consider several names, including Gulfport, Sunshine City, Central and Gulf Coast. Prospective students choose gold and white as the school colors and "Rebels" as the nickname.

September 1953 - Boca Ciega High School opens with 964 students in grades 9-12. Richard L. Jones is named the first principal. Jones declares there will be no "Rebels" at his school, nixing the nickname. In another vote, students choose "Pirates." In their inaugural football game, the Pirates defeat Gulf High of New Port Richey 24-6.

January 1954 - In the first athletic meeting between the two schools, St. Petersburg High beats Boca Ciega 43-39 in basketball as 2,100 fans pack St. Pete's gym.

March 13, 1954 - Choir director Christine Baker directs the first spring concert.

1964 - Choir sings at the New York World's Fair after raising $12,000 to make the trip.

1968 - Gordon Young takes over as principal.

1970 - Band visits Bogota, Colombia.

1971 - Court-ordered desegregation takes place.

1973 - Hugh B. Kriever becomes principal.

1976 - John C. Demps is named principal.

1980 - Drainage renovations are completed, improving swampy conditions on campus.

March 1986 - Boys basketball team wins its first state championship.

January 1987 - Barbara Paonessa becomes the first female principal.

November 1987 - Football stadium is dedicated to the memory of Charles C. Beauchamp, who was hurt in 1967 while playing baseball for Boca Ciega and died of his injuries.

1988 - ROTC program is established.

1990-93 - School undergoes massive renovation. A new music building goes up. Gymnasium is remodeled, administration building is restructured and central air conditioning is installed. Classrooms are restored. Asbestos tile floors are removed and carpet installed. Inside of auditorium and library are updated.

October 1992 - New music building is dedicated to the memory of Christine J. Baker, the first choir director and molder of the school's early reputation for excellence in choral music.

December 1993 - Sports Hall of Fame is established.

March 1994 - Boys basketball team wins state championship, 63-62 over Hallandale.

February 1995 - Girls basketball team wins its first state title, 46-43 over Cape Coral Mariner.

Fall 1997 - The 20,000-square-foot Center for Wellness and Medical Professions medical magnet opens.

August 2003 - John Leanes becomes the sixth principal. School opens with about 2,124 students enrolled.

May 18, 2004 - On graduation day, 386 seniors received diplomas.

[Last modified May 19, 2004, 01:00:42]