Gladiators dominate: Homecoming pageantry then & now

By Allen A. Buchanan, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG — The legendary pageantry and elegance of the Gibbs High School Homecoming Court reigned supreme last Fri., Oct. 16 as fans watched D. J. Johnson run over 430 yards for five touchdowns. By the end of the night, the Gladiators derailed their archrivals the Lakewood Spartans 56-36 by exploding in the second half with over 30 points.

The bands and dance teams also battled for bringing on the funk. In a festive, electrically charged atmosphere, the Gibbs Homecoming Court was presented to a packed Gladiator grandstand of parents, friends, students and alumni.

During halftime, a group of alums gladly spoke about their days as Gladiators. Bob Perry and Olivia Holmes-Lambert of the Class of 1963 reflected on the homecoming tradition and historic significance of Gibbs High School in St. Pete.

They both graduated from Gibbs prior to the summer of the historic march on Washington spearheaded by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, and they both talked about the differences between homecoming now and back in the day.

“In ’63, I was on the football team and the games were played at Campbell Park because we didn’t have a stadium,” said Perry who mentioned he never saw a halftime show because he was too preoccupied with winning the game.

Holmes-Lambert never missed a halftime show because she was on the field playing the flute in the close to 100-member band under the direction of Reynold Davis.

Onlookers at the Gibbs Gladiator’s football games took great pride in the half-time performances. Under Davis’ direction, the Gibbs Gladiator band was the first organized African- American band to perform in the Festival of States parade.

“Yeah, Florida A&M were looking over their shoulders at us,” said alumnus Eugene Roberson.

Another alum, Jacob Fuller, remarked that the band members were collected from 16th Street Middle School. “When we got in eighth grade, Gibbs was looking at us. By ninth grade, they knew where we were.”

Before the old Gibbs High School was torn down and the current building erected, the football team had to trek across the street where Pinellas Technical College sits to practice because there was no football field at the old school.

“Coach Brown tried to get the school board to put up a traffic light to make it easier to go back and forth to practice but they never did. The locker rooms were on this side where the old school was, but we practiced across the street,” said Perry who admits that today’s team is better than the 1963 team, but explained that stands were packed nonetheless.

“Back then, most cities had one black high school. So you did more than represent the school you represented the black community! When Gibbs played all of St. Pete would come out. We’d have a couple thousand people at our football games…far more than now.”’

Roberson spoke of the camaraderie that existed with African-American athletes who visited from all over the state. They not only played football against Gibbs, but they also stayed in their homes when they were in town because segregation laws in St. Pete prohibited black people from staying in white-owned hotels.

This situation reflected a conflicting duality, community hospitality on one hand and the dark side of racism on the other.

Last week’s homecoming game definitely happened under brighter circumstances, and the pageantry is always a spectacle at Gibbs and last Friday the tradition continued as it has for almost a century.

Representing the freshman class was Miya Butler and Chance Bodden; the sophomore class, Ashanti Singletary and Elgin Newton Watkins; the juniors, L’Kherra Thomas and Ledrake Gamble and Rafil Hughes, Dal’shay Barnes, Raven Riggins, and Desiray Jenkins rounded out the senior class.

During the halftime presentation, Hughes and Jenkins were crowned King and Queen of the Homecoming Court of 2015.

Now back to the game.

The Gladiators were trailing by halftime, but their offense exploded in the second half. Their defense was also a force to be reckoned with. However, stealing the show and being a thorn in the side of Lakewood’s rugged offense was D.J. Johnson. He seemed to pop up out of nowhere.

If they can continue to dominate offensively and hold it down defensively, it’s possible Gibbs will make it to state this year. Under the direction of its new principal Reuben Hepburn, they are on point to have a championship season on the field as well as in the classroom and prove that schools in south St. Pete can rise above their monikers as “failure factories.”

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