Land O’ Lakes High honors ‘Voice of the Gators’

For Land O’ Lakes High School, this year’s ‘Butter Bowl’ will go down as one of the most historic, as the Gators football team finally cracked an eight-game losing streak to crosstown rival Sunlake High School, with a 35-24 home victory.

Matt Connor, top, and Meaghan Connor of Land O’ Lakes positioned Mike Connor on the sideline area for a dedication of the press box in his name. (Fred Bellet)

The most enduring moment of the evening, however, came right before kickoff.

That’s when a special dedication ceremony was held to honor longtime athletics booster Mike Connor. The press box space at John Benedetto Stadium was named the ‘Mike Connor Family Press Box.’

Connor, a volunteer at the school since 1989, was instrumental in building a sustainable athletic and football booster club.

He is noted for being a key part of the early successes of the Flapjack Festival and, later, in helping to create the Land O’ Lakes Swamp Fest. The Swamp Fest continues to benefit the high school and other local organizations.

Connor, too, served as the ‘Voice of the Gators,’ calling the action of every Friday night home game for nearly two decades, and creating catchphrases, such as ‘a gaggle of Gators.’

The dedication drew dozens of friends and family, as well as current and former Gators coaches, who showed their support and appreciation for Connor.

Kyle Leivas, No. 21 for Land O’ Lakes, pours on the speed as he’s pursued by the Sunlake defenders. The Gators came out on top.

At 69, Connor is restricted to a wheelchair and has been in declining health, battling cancer in recent years.

An area business owner, Connor operated Taco John’s on the corner of State Road 54 and U.S. 41, as well as Beef O’ Brady’s in Wilderness Lakes. He has been a Land O’ Lakes resident since 1982.

One of his sons, Mike Connor Jr., said his father no longer makes it out to many Gators games anymore, but “would not have missed (the dedication) for anything.”

“It’s huge for him,” the son said of the ceremony. “He’s loved this school so much.”

He noted that his father has had an undying passion for the Land O’ Lakes community and its local high school.

“He was really excited about doing everything for the students,” Mike Connor Jr., said.

The last name of Weatherford is synonymous with Land O’ Lakes Gator football. From left are John, Will, Stephen and Drew Weatherford, who paused for a snapshot prior to the start of the Butter Bowl. The Weatherford Family had six brothers play on Land O’ Lakes football team for 18 consecutive years. A helmet signed by all the brothers was auctioned and will be awarded during Homecoming.

When the Flapjack Festival flipped over to the Pasco County Fairgrounds in Dade City in 2008 and threatened to affect Land O’ Lakes’ fundraising, Connor spearheaded the idea for Swamp Fest.

“He put a lot, a lot of work into that,” his son said. “He was very proud of that and what it did for the community. It brings everyone together and that’s what he really liked.”

The press box dedication ceremony had been in the works since July, when the Pasco County School Board approved a request by Land O’ Lakes principal Ric Mellin to recognize the longtime volunteer.

Mellin credited Connor for raising “hundreds of thousands of dollars” toward the support of the school’s athletic programs, for the purchase of new equipment, uniforms, various facility upgrades and so on.

Connor’s efforts also helped established a yearly scholarship fund for a male and female at the high school.

Land O’ Lakes High School’s cheerleading coach Karlee Roach wears the Butter Bowl headband as she watches her squad get ready for the rival game against Sunlake High School last Friday night at home in the Swamp. The Gators won, 35-24.

“In many cases, he was like the lifeblood of this athletics program,” Mellin said. “So much of what we’ve been able to accomplish is because of him, and the amount of work and tireless efforts that he put forward.”

Another highlight of the 12th annual Butter Bowl came when another family synonymous with Land O’ Lakes High athletics was also recognized.

The Weatherford family and brothers John, Will, Stephen and Drew were named honorary team captains for the game.

In total, the Weatherford family had six brothers play Gators football for 18 consecutive years up until 2010, each of whom went on to play college football. A helmet signed by the brothers was auctioned and will be awarded during Homecoming on Sept. 21.

The press box overlooking The Swamp was dedicated to Mike Connor and his family. Connor was the voice of the Gators for 17 years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Butter Bowl series history

Sunlake leads 8-4

2018: Land O’ Lakes 35, Sunlake 24
2017: Sunlake 37, Land O’ Lakes 20
2016: Sunlake 21, Land O’ Lakes 3
2015: Sunlake 34, Land O’ Lakes 0
2014: Sunlake 42, Land O’ Lakes 14
2013: Sunlake 38, Land O’ Lakes 21
2012: Sunlake 18, Land O’ Lakes 6
2011: Sunlake (Land O’ Lakes forfeit due to recruiting violations)
2010: Sunlake 29, Land O’ Lakes 21
2009: Land O’ Lakes 42, Sunlake, 14
2008: Land O’ Lakes 28, Sunlake 0
2007: Land O’ Lakes 26, Sunlake 0

Published September 19, 2018

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