kicking it old school
March 30, 2015
There is a popular rumor that Hillsborough High School started out as a livery stable in 1885. It sounds romantic, as if the first students learned arithmetic and spelling among snorting, sweating horses and plenty of old-timey carriage traffic. Hillsborough actually began as a part of Tampa School No. 1 in 1882, under the guidance of Principal Marietta Cuscaden. With 133 years of history, it has seen more change than most.
The “livery stable” was actually Hillsborough’s fifth home, and the current building is its eighth. Most of Hillsborough’s history, now organized and researched constantly by alumni historian Rex Gordon (Class of 1984), was foggy until 2003. It was then that the Rosetta Stone of Big Red history was uncovered: literally, it was a stone, the cornerstone of a building on Highland that over the years had been the home of many schools, including Jefferson High School and now D.W. Waters Career Center. The stone contained a time capsule, written in 1911 by a girl named Doris Hill. “People don’t believe the story,” Gordon said. “I just wanted to take pictures of the school, and I saw that and I was like, ‘Can I read it?’ And it was just too accurate.”
The time capsule demystified the early years of the school. Contemporary history, however, is equally hard to track. “History just gets messed up,” Gordon said. New facts are always coming to light, and Gordon’s book, “History of Hillsborough High School” is a constant work in progress. It may be cliché to say “the only constant is change,” but the phrase certainly applies to the Big Red.
Plenty of high school students wear their letterman jackets, team sweatshirts and other clothing items with school logos on them, outside of school. Usually, only HHS students will be approached by random strangers, be they sweet old ladies or young adults, because the strangers want to tell them that they went to the same high school,
10 or 50 years earlier, and they loved their time here.
“I was so happy here,” Gordon said about his memory of high school.
”The school looks very much the same,” said Alumni Association board member and former president Charles Harkness (Class of 1960). “It really takes you back. When you go into a class, or when the bell rings, it’s very much the same. [It is]a little louder [now], but still very chaotic. Well, we didn’t yell across the hall.”
Today, every classroom has a computer in it or a cabinet full of laptops. One of the clearest memories for Gordon was taking “computer math” and keyboarding classes on enormous, slow computers. “The rise of technology was this big thing for us … What was cool was, we could see [the technology of today] coming. Kids can see the future in a way, their imagination is unlimited.” Gordon, now a jeweler, recalls arguing with a teacher about the future of computers.
“I wish I could tell him I was right!” he said jokingly.
Of course, the most universal Hillsborough High School memories are of football games.The first football game was played in 1907, when the game looked very different: players in leather helmets and the Terrier mascot had just been chosen.
Yvonne Rotolo, member of the Class of 1969 and current elementary school science teacher, recalled the Thanksgiving Day Hillsborough vs. Plant homecoming game.
“It was big event-boys dressed in suits and girls wore fancy dresses. Corsages were given and you mostly attended with a boy that asked you to the game. The night before, there was a huge bonfire and a huge pep rally and there was also an old car that the boys were given permission to smash.” Now, the homecoming game itself is not so formal — in fact, what today’s students normally wear everyday was what Rotolo wore on “Slop Day.”
“Everyone got to wear jeans, T-shirts, etc.,” she said. But that day for Rotolo was not memorable because she and other seniors were dressing down. It was also the day of her first encounter with the boy she would marry seven years later.
“As I was talking to one of the cheerleaders, Carol Berry, we noticed a group of rowdy boys, Larry Rotolo included, running with a huge trash can full of water right toward [us.] Well, the cheerleader had the skill of leaping over a hedge and did not get wet- I on the other hand got drenched and I had to go home and change since I wore a white T-shirt.”
The Rotolo name can still be seen today on the clock tower memorial plaque: Sam Rotolo, Larry’s cousin, is one of the young men who died fighting World War II to whom the tower is dedicated.
Member of the Class of 1986, Darlene Fabelo, who is now the second vice president and PR manager for the Alumni Association, noted a big difference between the games of 2015 and the games she remembers.
Spirit “was much more alive and exciting back then. I’m not saying that there isn’t school spirit now, it’s just that it seems like students seem less involved. The one thing that hasn’t changed is the band! The Big Red Band always delivers on the field.”
Harkness and Rotolo mentioned basketball games used to attract more students than they do now. Gordon offered a differing opinion on student activity. “I think [students] have more active groups now. You have more causes; we didn’t have big causes like Relay for Life.”
hillsborough in the future
“There are two types of people in the world: Terriers, and people who wish they were Terriers.”
This is a favorite saying of Harkness, and many Terriers would most likely agree that it’s true.
“We [the alumni] would like see more students embrace the legacy of the Big Red,” Harkness said. “We would like to see more students take advantage of the academics.”
Gordon hopes to one day have a display dedicated to the school’s history, and Fabelo hopes that one day IB and traditional students will be less divided.
All the alumni spoke about their alma mater with pride.
“We were proud to be a Terrier,” Rotolo said. “We lived our lives knowing we attended the most majestic high school in the world.”
Gordon spoke about tradition. “We’ve always had a sense of tradition here. Even when you can’t define what traditions there are. We’ve always been an ideal for excellence, we’ve always tried to be the best, and a lot of times we’re the first. To me, that’s what it’s all about. You strive to be the best, you don’t give up. And it’s never, ever been easy for Terriers.
“Terriers always want to be the best,” Gordon continued. “We usually are, too!”