HISTORY OF ZEPHYRHILLS HIGH SCHOOL
The First Decade of the 2000s — 2000-2010
It was the new millennium and ZHS anticipated it with the remainder of the country as a new era. With all the hope and excitement of beginning a new century, the first new century for ZHS to have been inaugurated—this was a time of celebration. The U.S. was responding to the prediction made by the technology gurus that the computer systems of which we had now become so dependent, would malfunction at the strike of midnight in 2000. This did not occur and all technology was in tack at ZHS and most of the rest of the country. It was an indication of the changes that had come about in information and education.
The decade of 2000-2010 in the United States was marked by September 11th. Not unlike the era of the 1940s or the era of the 1960s which were marked by life-altering events in which students remarked that they remembered “where they were” when they heard the news of John Kennedy’s assassination or the bombing of Pearl Harbor, so too in 2001, a generation of students remembered their disbelief at the events of the attack on the World Trade Center in New York City. The event was vividly etched in their memories perhaps because of the prevalence of technology. With a television network within the school, students watched this monumental tragedy in their classroom, unlike the other historical moments in which they were informed by their teachers or perhaps an announcement on the intercom.
The events of this distressing and tumultuous decade bound ZHS students together in many ways. Bulldogs learned that 9-11 ended the American sense of insulated safety in the world. They learned that when hurricanes devastate, folks can help and when a tsunami hits, teens care and act. In short ZHS, like the rest of the country woke up to a global generation, immersed in technology and keenly aware that they were not the center of the universe. 9-11 did bring a new schizophrenic-type awareness of human frailty and resulted to some extent in a heightened level of tolerance and understanding. The Tampa Tribune on May 22, 2005, said:
The Camp Anytown Project, funded by the National Conference for Community and Justice, trained a yearly group of ZHS students on tolerance and understanding. Lasting from 2000 throughout the decade, this was a valuable resource.
ZHS was impacted by the Iraq War. Several ZHS alums were war heroes. Sean Woods, 1998 ZHS football player, who enlisted a month before 9-11, was celebrated with a community party upon his return in 2004. Classmates, Mary Katherine Mason and Andrew Prilliman from the class of 2001, along with Aaron Guynn from the class of 2000, served together in areas of Iraq. Mary Katherine was a driver in Iraq and injured in the line of duty. Having been a local sports star at ZHS during her time as a student, Mary Katherine was the local hero/role model. Steven Orosz, President of ZHS Class of 2006, and Ryan Orosz, President of the Class of 2005, both served in Iraq.
A stellar example of service and community involvement was the 2005 donation of $200,000 from 1930’s ZHS graduate, Owen Gall, who set-up a scholarship fund. The Zephyrhills City Councilwoman, Cathi Compton, worked with the ZHS Government teacher, Bob Hatfield, to organize the first Zephyrhills City Council in 2001. Six students served and made presentations to the English classes and held a school forum to teach about local government (Chris Black, Vanessa Bowman, Jennifer Kriebel, Ashley Parsons, Maria Risavalto, and Mamie Wise). This innovation may have set the stage for a star of the decade, Danny Burgess, to emerge. A 2004 ZHS graduate, Danny ran for City Council just a few months after graduating and walloped the middle-aged incumbent. His platform was based to a large extent on youth involvement.
In the history of ZHS, only four ZHS students have been named Pasco County Student of the year and two of these were in the decade with Kristin Benedeni in 2002 and Mamie Wise in 2001. Mamie was the state president of 4-H, the largest youth organization in the state during her senior year and brought a great deal of acclaim to the county with her national service on the national technology corps and Colin Powell’s America’s Promise Team. Receiving the leadership award for her class at graduation, Mamie attended a youth service session in the oval office, gave service awards to the National Secretary of Agriculture and the then Secretary of State, Colin Powell in 2000 and presented a proclamation in Tallahassee directly to Governor Bush and Governor Crist.
Gerri Painter became ZHS Principal in November of 2004. Ms. Painter was the first ZHS female principal when she took over for James T. Davis when he was transferred to James Irvin Educational Center in Dade City. Ms. Painter was one of many woman pioneers in Zephyrhills administration in Zephyrhills however—Mrs. Bessie Barefield, principal of the Zephyrhills Black School at Krusen, holds that distinction of being the first female principal in Zephyrhills, and the date was 1949. Other women principals in the community included Jeannette McClelland Lovelace at West Zephyrhills in 1987, Fran McCrimmon who opened Chester Taylor Elementary in 1997; Madonna Wise at West Zephyrhills in 1997 (a former ZHS teacher); Emily Keene at West Zephyrhills in 2001; Eva Hunsberger at Chester Taylor in 2004 and Kimberly Poe at Woodland in 2005. Female leaders at ZHS also go back to the very first Assistant Principal of the school, Annie Gill in 1935. Jean Benham in the 1970s and Terry Turner who served as Assistant Principal beginning in 1981 (and served for over 20 years) impacted the school and community.
In curriculum, rigor was the name of the game. Advanced Placement and Dual Enrollment allowed students innumerable opportunities. Beginning in 1998, the FCAT test started in the State of Florida as a basis for accountability and particularly in this decade, FCAT-driven curriculum was the norm. Tenth graders had to pass the FCAT to graduate and this necessitated the teaching of the Sunshine State Standards. College-admission standards were also increasing each year, so honor students were stressed to achieve, achieve, achieve.
A new band director, Russell Schmidt, maintained the strong ZHS band tradition with new millennium flare. In 2003, he took the ZHS band to the Smokey Mountain Music Festival in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Jazz and Rock and Roll seem to be more greatly infused into the ZHS music of this decade. Some musical stars are featured in the news archives. Anna Merlack excelled with her oboe and had the opportunity to play with the Tampa Bay Youth Orchestra at Carnegie Hall. One of her selections was the William Tell Overture, and surely Zephyrhills could feel the triumphant beats of this music in their very collective soul—to have a ZHS student on this famous stage. Kristi Beinhauer was also a phenomenal opera protégé in 2002 and performed at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts and quite extensively locally.
There were quirky facts of the decade. One in 2004 stands out—the prom featured ZHS couple, Desiree D’Allesandro and date, Jon David, who created their prom gown and tux from duct tape as part of a national scholarship contest entitled, Stuck on Prom, and debuted at the prom and in the contest as finalists.
ZHS Sports continued to thrive. Two news stories stand-out to the author. The first is the 2000 State Baseball Championship game—the one in which Baseball America High School placed ZHS in the top 25 teams nationally—the first national ranking for a Pasco County baseball team. This team had a school record of 49 home runs and won 23 of their 24 games. It was an historic season for the community for their baseball team to be in the country’s top 25 and 2nd in the state. Danny Wardell, Junior outfielder was a stand-out and team member’s were Brad Howard, Mike Recine, Russell Hartley, John McClellan, Brooks Boyette, Jossie Aponte, Tyson Prickett, Jose Cuevas, Mike Stepp, Jeremy Farr, Danny Wardell, Michael Pittman, Jeremy Hinsz, Brett Cimorelli, Graham Taylor and Kyle Watson.
The second dominant item is the longevity and resourcefulness of Coach Tom Fisher. Not without controversy in years past, Tom Fisher had the stamina and character to have lasted 19 years as head football coach, the longest tenure of any coach, not withstanding patriarch, Johnny Clements. The Tampa Tribune put it eloquently and succinctly when reporter Chris Auman said on November 22, 2002:
Noteworthy football teams of the decade included the 2002 team that had a 10-2 season with tight-end, Paul Maxwell, and stars, James Adamo, Jamen Monbarren, Justin Cobb, and Derek Wallace. Fisher said himself of this team, “In 59 seasons of Bulldog Football, this group and their accomplishments will go down in history.”
The 2007 ZHS football team won the district championship. Sedderick Cunningham of the 2006 football team almost led a class 3A team to an undefeated regular season.
Other decade athletes that populate the news archives include Joe Daffau who in 2004 struck out 131 in 72 innings and of which veteran baseball coach, Bruce Cimorelli, stated, “was the best pitcher I ever coached.”
A strong boy’s golf team under Coach Bob Hatfield was dominant in 2000. Chris Black averaged 36 and his teammates, A.J. Blackstone, Kyle Pierson, and Mark Dunn were strong. The state qualifier from the previous year had been injured and limited their state contention.
Dee Dee Castro made a name for herself in Soccer. The 1999 Girls Volleyball Team was in the State final Four with the talent of Liz Torres, Ashley Tunker, Tracy Negoshian, Andrea Wardell, and Morgan Mander.