Zephyrhills High School’s roots date back 100 years
By B.C. Manion
When students and alumni of Zephyrhills High celebrate homecoming this week – they will be marking 100 years of public education in a place that prides itself on strong ties between the community and its schools.
The homecoming game and its festivities, dubbed “A celebration of the generations,” promise to offer opportunities not only for current faculty and students at Zephyrhills High but also for decades of alumni and former school staff to create new memories and demonstrate school pride.
The roots of today’s Zephyrhills High go back a century, when small nearby schools closed and a new school opened in 1910 to accommodate children in grades one through 11.
Madonna Jervis Wise has chronicled the city’s history in “Images of America, Zephyrhills” published by Arcadia Publishing. She also gathered memories about the school in “Zephyrhills – An Anthology of its History Through Education.”
In “Images of America, Zephyrhills,” Wise described the first public school in the city: “It had four rooms on the first floor with a wide hall and stairway leading to the second floor.”
That structure was built behind the present-day Clock restaurant, Wise said, during a recent interview with Wise, Ron Cherry, Clereen Morrill Brunty and Caroline Marlette, all members of the ZHS 100 Centennial Committee.
As homecoming festivities kick into high gear, many alumni will be sharing fond memories of the good old days at Zephyrhills High.
While it began as a school for students in grades one through 11, the school went through many changes over the years.
The original two-story wooden school burned down and was replaced by a two-story stucco school. That school also had a fire, which caused extensive damage and forced students to be split up and taught at a bakery, a hotel, a grocery store, City Hall and a schoolhouse annex until repairs were completed through the Works Progress Administration.
Wise marvels at how the city banded together to make sure students had places to learn while awaiting the revamped school.
“Can you imagine a city – all those businesses — to show that kind of love and support?” Wise asked.
The school moved to its current location in 1975, with the former high school building becoming Stewart Middle School.
Ron Cherry has spent the better portion of his life walking the corridors of Zephyrhills schools. He spent a combined total of more than 48 years as a teacher, student and assistant principal.
He recalls when Pasco County had just three high schools, and those attending Zephyrhills High came from an area roughly bounded by Greer Hill and the Pasco County line, the Cypress Creek area and the Polk County line.
Cherry played on the high school’s basketball team during its glory days. He recalls basking in the glow of the community’s love when he and his teammates won the state championship in 1964.
As the team was heading back home, it was greeted by sheriff’s deputies at the county line and given an escort into the city where nearly half of the town was there to celebrate.
“We thought we were heroes,” Cherry said.
Cherry also remembers the introduction of technology into Zephyrhills High. The mathematics teachers were ecstatic when they learned they were getting a half-dozen calculators made by Texas Instruments, he said.
But the school quickly became a leader in technology, said Caroline Marlette, bragging how Zephyrhills High was the first school in Pasco County to have its own computer network.
Clereen Brunty, of the school’s alumni association, said thousands of people have attended Zephyrhills High through the years. She said there’s roughly 11,000 names of alumni in a database and she’s still looking for more.
Brunty is excited about the upcoming festivities, where old friends, classmates and faculty members will have a chance to mingle and share memories.
Unlike many homecoming dances, which are exclusively for current students, Zephyrhills High will have two dances this year.
The students’ dance will be in the school’s activity center, while the ZHS 100 Social and Dance will be in the school’s commons area.
A photographer will be on hand, too, to capture the event in photos.
If the past is any indication, this will be just one more time when special memories are made during a century of public education in Zephyrhills.
Schedule of Events
Friday, Oct. 22: Homecoming Game
Zephyrhills High Bulldogs vs. Wesley Chapel High Wildcats
Bulldog Stadium at Zephyrhills High, 6335 12th St., Zephyrhills
6:30 p.m.: Gates open
7 p.m.: Pre-game float parade
7:30 p.m. Game time
$2 parking; $5 admission
Arrive early to get a good seat. Special announcements and recognitions will be made during this celebration of Zephyrhills’ 100 years of education. There will be the usual coronation at half-time and a spectacular surprise at the end of the game.
Saturday, Oct. 23: Alumni Social and Dance
7 p.m.: Commons Area, at Zephyrhills High
A dressy, casual affair for anyone who attended, taught or worked at Zephyrhills School. Refreshments will be provided and a photographer will take pictures. “Blast from the past” mum corsages can be ordered for $12 from Chalet Florist by calling (813) 788-2874. Memorabilia and old photographs will be on display and centennial T-shirts and coffee mugs will be sold. Chance drawings also will be held for a 50-inch HDTV and also on two handmade quilts donated by Judy Norris, the high school school’s media specialist. [The student homecoming dance is that same night elsewhere on campus]
For information contact Clereen Morrill Brunty at or www.zhsalumninews.websiteanimal.com
Historic dates to remember
1910: Zephyrhills School opens in a two-story wooden building.
1913: First official graduation from Zephyrhills High.
1926: A fire destroys the first Zephyrhills School.
1931: There is a diphtheria outbreak and one student dies; school is closed for two weeks.
1933: The new Zephyrhills School building is damaged by fire.
1935-37: Students are taught in classes held at an old bakery, the New England Hotel, the grocery store, city hall and the school house annex.
1937: The revamped school opens, with the help of Works Progress Administration funding.
1941: The school’s first football team is formed.
1948: Betty Jo Turner wins $5 in a contest to name the school yearbook. The name selected: Zephilsco – which combines the Zeph from Zephyrhills with Hilsco, an abbreviated form of Hillsborough County.
1949: The band gets its first uniforms – which it got second-hand from Lakeland High.
1961-1966: Zephyrhills’ basketball team is a dynasty, winning a pair of state championships in 1962 and 1964.
1967: The first community gymnasium is built, after athletes played winter sports for decades on an outdoor court.
1968: Nineteen Zephyrhills teachers walk out during a strike by the Florida Education Association.
1970: Full integration begins in Zephyrhills schools.
1973-1977: Students go on a 45-15 extended year schedule, attending classes for 45 days and being off for 15, in a year-round school year.
1975: The current high school building opens at 6335 12th St.
1979: The new stadium opens.
1995: The football team has a 10-0 record.
2002: Zephyrhills High alumni Ryan Pickett plays in the Super Bowl.
2010: Zephyrhills High alumni Dave Eiland is the pitching coach of the New York Yankees, the remaining American League teams in the hunt to compete in the 2010 World Series. He was their pitching coach when they won the World Series in 2009.
2010: Zephyrhills celebrates 100 years of public education.
Sources: “Tapestry: Honoring the 100th Anniversary of Zephyrhills High School,” by Madonna Jervis Wise and “Images of America: Zephyrhills,” Madonna Jervis Wise