Boca Ciega High School History
Boca Ciega High School was built in 1953 at a cost of $1.34 million. It was the first new high school to be built in the South Pinellas County area in 26 years. The facility was designed by Philip F. Kennard, and was built by Arnold Construction Company. The building was considered to be one of the most modern schools at the time, with spacious airy wings, which were laid out in order to take advantage of the Florida weather, providing a maximum amount of natural light and exposure for each classroom. One innovation was the first of all – electric kitchen in the home economics department.
Under the leadership of Principal Richard Jones, the school opened with 41 classrooms, an auditorium cafeteria, gymnasium and administration wing. The building housed 48 teachers, four administrators, and nearly 1,200 students. The original student body was drawn from Lealman and Disston Junior High School and from St. Petersburg Sr. High School. It was the only school at the time with grades nine through twelve in one building.
Located in a swampy, palmetto-covered scrubland on 58th Street South, near the riding stables of the Jim Denby Ranch, the school was often flooded during heavy rains. This peculiarity became one of the salient features of Boca Ciega, and remained so until major drainage renovations were completed in 1980. At times students could be seen canoeing between wings and fish could be observed swimming around the football field.
There was a great deal of controversy in the naming of the school. Originally, it was called the 58th Street School or Southwest St. Petersburg High School. The School Board finally settled upon Boca Ciega. The name means “Blind Mouth” in Spanish and was taken from the major geographical feature of the area, Boca Ciega Bay.
The school colors were gold for the sun and white for the sand, and over the years blue was unofficially adopted as a supplemental color. From a pool conducted by the St. Petersburg Times, “Rebels” was chosen as the name for the school mascot. Because of the School Board’s objection to the name, the student body was polled, and they selected “Pirates” instead. The student body further chose to name their annual The Treasure Chest, and, perhaps due to the heavy rain, they named their newspaper The Hi-Tide. The alma mater was written by English teacher, Kathryn Ludlam, and the school motto is “Deeds Are Ours – Results Are God’s.”
Administrators chosen along with Principal Jones were assistant principal Fred Goodrich, dean of women Dorothy Sellers, and registrar James Buell. Bob Gilbert was named head football coach; Nolan Hancock, basketball: Jerry Reulf swimming.
Christine Baker headed the choral department and the singing group,”Baker’s Dozen” was the first choral group in the city to perform for civic groups outside the school setting. Fred Bomonti coordinated the Drama Department, and Melvin Dean directed the “Golden Band,” which was universally recognized as one of the area’s premier bands.
In 1954, the first time the Boca Ciega band entered a competition; it won an excellent in concert and marching, and a superior in sight reading for the Florida High School State Band and Orchestra Contest. The band’s first spring concert set a high mark of excellence – “a distinctive, as well as a thoroughly professional, effort” – according to the St. Petersburg Times, March 17, 1954, Boca Ciega’s band again won top honors in a competition in Tampa sponsored by the Bandmaster’s Association.
It is interesting to note that from the original staff members, who opened the school, Dr. Joseph Anthony later became executive assistant superintendent, business services; Dr. Fred Hoffman served as assistant superintendent for student services; John Hudson became assistant superintendent of personnel; and Fred Goodrich served as principal of Dixie Hollins Evening High School.
Throughout the 1950’s and into the mid 1960’s there was an intense rivalry between Boca Ciega and St. Petersburg High Schools in both academics and athletics. Each school vied to outdo the other in maintaining their status as the number one high school in the city. Often the issue was settled at the traditional Thanksgiving Day football game between the two schools. With the addition of several new high schools in the city area, however, the traditional rivalry ended and new ones began.
These were exciting years for Boca Ciega High School during which time the American Field Service Program was bringing foreign students to the school on a regular basis.
The Miami Dolphins were training on the football field, and in attendance were such notables’ students as actress Barbara Bossen, former State Representative Roger Wilson, Sen. Jim King and professionals’ baseball player, and manager of the Houston Astros, Hal Lanier.
Also, the communities of Gulfport and the surrounding beaches were in a state of growth. The land was being developed and new families were moving into the Boca Ciega or “Bogie” zone. The high school was thriving with nearly 2,000 students in attendance when Jones retired in 1968.
Gordon Young became the school’s second principal and stayed in this capacity until he was promoted to a county position in 1973. These were very turbulent years for Bogie as Pinellas County experienced two major changes in the educational system with the advent of variable modular scheduling and court ordered desegregation. Unfortunately, the process was not a peaceful one for the school, and the years were difficult at best.
With Young’s promotion in 1973, Hugh B. Kriever, who is now the Area I Superintendent, stepped in as Bogie’s third principal. The enduring years were transitional, as the school and community sought to remedy the problems with which they had been faced.
The dynamics of Kriever’s leadership and the dedication of the staff served to stabilize the school and to begin the rebirth of academics and athletic excellence. The faculty, parents, and students worked together to build an atmosphere of “Pride” in yourself and Boca Ciega” by fixing-up, cleaning-up, and painting Boca Ciega High School.
In 1976 Kriever left Bogie in order to open a new high school. In his place came John C. Demps, who served as Boca Ciega’s fourth principal. Demps, a humanitarian administrator, took a personal interest in each student. He inaugurated the “Open Door” policy which has proven to be successful in encouraging better communication with both students and teachers. Barbara M. Paonessa, in January 1987 became Boca Ciega’s fifth principal. Over the years since the difficult days of the early 1970’s, Boca Ciega has made great strides in recapturing its place as one of the premier schools in Pinellas County.
Bogie has pioneered “Awareness Week” in which outside agencies and consultants are brought into the school to discuss problems common to all teenagers. It students are actively engaged in the pursuit of academic excellence, attending some of the most prestigious colleges and universities in the United States. In extracurricular activities, the Marching Bank is recognized as one of the best in the area, and the boy’s basketball team currently reigns as the State of Florida 3A Champions.
From those early beginnings when the palmetto scrubland was first cleared, Boca Ciega has had a proud heritage.
The school has grown with the surrounding community so that today a large portion of St. Petersburg and the beach area are now in the school zone. The plan now encompasses 40 acres of land with 75 classrooms and a staff of 104. To be continued into history……….
Research assistance provided by Pam Lanning, Dick Jones and Hugh B. Kriever.