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Robinson girls team tops adversity

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 02:30 PM
SOUTH TAMPA -

Players on Robinson High School's girls basketball team rallied together, overcoming the adversity of teammate Kiara Brito's slaying and finishing 15-10 – their best record in years.

Now their efforts in a sportswear company's contest will allow them to dress like winners, too.

The girls' basketball team was a winner in Allen Sportswear's "Dress the Champions" contest. It will receive 15 home jerseys, 15 away jerseys and 15 warm-up shirts.

"It goes back to the old saying, 'You look good, you feel good, you play good,' " Coach Jessica Vitale said.

Robinson parent Ari Fitzgerald, who does not have children on the team, watched a game and thought the team would be a worthy nominee in the contest.

She wrote an essay about the squad, citing how it rose "above the obstacles of relative obscurity, lack of financial resources and tremendous sadness to post its best season the school has seen since 1996."

For the contest, the team also produced an online video saying why it deserved to win. Players said they were champions on the court, in the classroom and in the community. They said they had to believe in themselves and each other and play in Kiara's honor.

Kiara, who would have been a senior during the 2011-12 season, was shot to death in June 2011 in her home. Her brother Jeremi – a middle school student – also was slain. Charles Waits and Tavari Grant have each been charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the case; each has pleaded not guilty.

Kiara's death devastated the team, especially since she would have been its starting point guard.

"She was a hard worker," Vitale said. "She wasn't the most talented basketball player, but she always wanted to get better, she was always trying to improve. She was a great teammate to the girls."

Deliah Autry, a 16-year-old junior point guard/shooting guard, said she put in more effort every game last season because of what happened to Kiara.

"Every game last year we had her old jersey and we would bring it to every game we had and play for her," Autry said.

Kiara was hilarious, easygoing and lightened peoples' moods, Autry said. The teen's tragic death affected team chemistry.

"I feel like we're closer," Autry said of her teammates. "We're family now."

Beverly Devine, a 17-year-old junior, also said Robinson bonded more due to the death.

"We had to come together and be a team for her," Devine said.

Sheree Sweeney, an 18-year-old junior guard, said the new jerseys will mean a lot. The old ones, she said, "hurt your armpits. They're wrinkly. They're not comfortable at all."

New outfits will give Robinson more confidence and swagger, Sweeney said.

"When I found out we were getting them, I wanted to cry," she said.

Allen Sportswear, an Orlando company that produces team uniforms, created the contest because it knows "true champions are not just measured by their championship banners but more importantly by their championship hearts," the company's website states.

Dressing the winners in new uniforms will give players a mental edge, helping them rise to a new level, the website states.

Kiara would have appreciated winning the jerseys, Vitale said.

"She was very fashion-forward, so I find it ironic," Vitale said of the contest. "We're winning new, fashionable uniforms with her style."

To see Robinson's video and essay, visit http://www.allensportswear.com/DTC/.


jpoltilove@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7691

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