NEW PORT RICHEY - Last weekend, the Gulf High School class of 1958 celebrated its 50th reunion. With just 39 seniors, it was one of the smallest graduating classes in the state. The high school, which included students from grades 7-12, had an enrollment that rarely exceeded 300. It was located at Grand Boulevard and Gulf Drive, currently home to the Schwettman Education Center.
The football team had only 14 players on its roster, which meant that nearly every player played on offense, defense and special teams. What the Buccaneers lacked in size, they made up in heart.
Just ask Tom Chittum. Originally from Peru, Ind., Chittum played every down on both the offensive and defensive lines. Standing 6-foot tall and weighing 165 pounds, he was one of the biggest players on the team.
"We had no equipment, no trainers, nothing like today's players have. We played through injuries. Unless it was a broken bone, the coach taped us up and sent us back in," Chittum said.
Lineman Tommie Boyd agreed. At 135 pounds, Boyd played guard on offense and tackle on defense.
"We came home bandaged up like a bunch of war veterans. But, even though we lost more games than we won, we played our hardest and held our heads high. Having a victory was important, but having character was just as important," he said.
Playing against schools with 50-plus players, the team lost every game during their freshman and sophomore years. In their junior year, they defeated Admiral Farragut 26-6 for their only victory of the season. Their senior year, the Buccaneers won three games.
One of the team's leaders was running back Orville Williamson. In addition to being Gulf's leading scorer, Williamson played all positions on offense and linebacker on defense.
"Back then, if the coach told you to snap the ball, you did it. There was no talking back."
The practices were often endurance tests.
"We practiced four, five hours without a water break. You were called a sissy if you drank water," Williamson said.
During one after-school practice, the coach told Williamson to run laps around the field in full equipment. Four hours later, he was still running.
An Odessa native, Williamson walked and sometimes ran to and from school.
"Hardly anyone had a car, so getting a ride was out of the question. Plus, if you saw a bear or a bobcat in the woods, you'd double-time it. Williamson later played college football at the University of Southern Mississippi.
"Orville had heart. He was just tough," teammate Udell Hatcher said.
Organized sports for girls were nonexistent.
"For females, sports were only available in PE class. We were either cheerleaders, majorettes or played in the band," Barbara Cooper recalls. "Like most folks in town, I never missed a football, baseball or basketball game."
Jane Livingston Baillie agreed.
"You went to all the games, because that's all there was to do in town."
After the games, the teens often went to Sims Park, which had a building that included a jukebox for dancing.
Barbara Brunner was the homecoming queen and a member of the school band.
"We'd support the cheerleaders during timeouts. One of my favorite cheers was:
We're the team
From New Port Richey.'"
Brunner reflected on her time at Gulf High.
"We were the first generation of girls who went to college for a career, although the options were mostly limited to nursing or education," said Brunner, who taught elementary school for 36 years.
"Plus, U.S. Highway 19 was built while we were in high school," she said.