Gladiators past and present celebrate Homecoming pageantry

Gladiators, Gibbs High School, featured

BY ALLEN A. BUCHANAN, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG –Gibbs alumni classes kicked off the evening’s events at Gibbs High School’s annual Home Coming game with a tailgate party.  Alumni from the class of 1952 to the class of 2017 showed up to display their Gladiator pride, which spilled out onto the football field where the blue and gold reigned 28-14.

Several alumni spoke about the powerful connection of the blue and gold that have kept them coming back year after year to share their life stories through the years.

“The Gibbs Class of ’63 was the first class to graduate from the new Gibbs,” Bob Perry said proudly about his class.

“We had great teachers. Corrine Young [taught] algebra. Mr. [Emmanuel] Stewart was the principal. Alvin Benton was the vice principal and Charlie Williams was the great French/ Spanish teacher,” he said.

Perry said the alumni works hard to raise money for deserving students each year.

“One of the most precious gifts we’ve given is scholarships so the young people can go on to college.”

Six months after Perry’s graduation, his class would see the first of several heinous political assassinations in the United States starting with John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963.

Melvin H. Williams, class of ’65, was a sophomore when Perry graduated. He experienced the same drive from his teachers for academic excellence and camaraderie.

“We had quite a big group at that time to migrate out to St. Pete Junior College and truly integrate that school.”

Williams talked about the scholarships given out yearly, how the alumni help feed the football team, how they have raised money to buy radios so the team can communicate while on the field and how they’ve donated enough money to send business students off to compete at statewide events.

“It is our honor to do so and give back to our community,” said Williams.

Gibbs was a home away from home for Shirley Smith, class of 1963. “We were a close-knit and fun group of people.”

To Smith, the folks at Gibbs were her extended family.

“I loved school so much I’d go sick. School was fun for me. I had the greatest teachers, the best administrators. I had many mentors and because of them I was able to have a successful life.”

Smith passed the test to enter the Air Force but her parents wouldn’t let her go. Not wanting to be a domestic worker, she knew she needed higher education. She ended up getting a two-year scholarship to the junior college and worked at Allstate Insurance for some 30 years.

Lolita Brown, class of ‘66, graduated the year after the assassination of Malcolm X. She highlighted just how close the teachers were to the students and their parents.

“Our teachers lived in the same community as us, and so they could tell your momma in a hot minute: ‘Hey, they not doin’ right in school’ or they could tell your dad ‘OK you need to tighten up, he’s acting crazy!’”

Brown went to college outside of Florida and lived in several cities before moving back home to work in her brother’s real estate business. She eventually began her career as a college counselor at St. Petersburg Junior College for 26 years.

Reuben Hepburn, Gibbs High School Gladiators, featured

Current Principal Reuben Hepburn announced that Liberty Church is now partnering with the school. They will have church on the campus every Sunday morning and in turn, will provide school supplies for the students.

“They’ve purchased new equipment for our students and they’re making sure our students have the best educational experience possible right here at Gibbs High School,” said Hepburn.

One by one, a caravan of black Mercedes with the Homecoming participants on display started their engines and slowly drove onto the field. The band, cheerleaders and students joined up with the alumni midway in the parking lot and marched together into the field.

The atmosphere was electric as the alumni, parents and well-wishers filled the stands. Although Boca Ciega threatened to score in the first quarter, they did not make it into the in-zone until the final quarter of the game.

At the end of the first half, the crowd really soaked in the pageantry of the Homecoming Court as each couple with arms locked marched under an arch of raised swords.

Principal Hepburn and Dr. Cody L. Clark crowned the winners: Destiny McCullum, the 2017 Homecoming Queen and Anthony Harrell, the 2017 Homecoming King.

The 28-14 victory was the first win for the Gladiators this season making them 1-4. The coaches, as well as the players, are hoping that they have found their formula for future success.

Athletic Director Mike Machado praised two students for their hard work both on and off the field: Freshman No. 6 Josh McCrea and senior No. 50 Christopher Keith. He praised both students for their contributions to the team and for performing well academically.

Machado mentioned that Keith, who is also captain of the team, has a 3.6 grade point average and is being looked at by the University of Miami.

Every year, Gibbs’ Homecoming ceremonies bring together the past and the present. Celebrating 90 years of Gladiator pride, it remains to be seen if the ardent alumni spirit will continue with those who graduated after the era of school segregation.

To reach Allen Buchanan, email abuchanan@theweeklychallenger.com

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