TAMPA — The annual Middleton-Blake Heritage Classic rivalry football game, scheduled for tonight at 7:30 at Middleton, will mark the 10th year of the renewed rivalry between Tampa's former all-black high schools during segregation.
Abe Brown Stadium at Middleton, the 3,500-seat facility named after the former coach, housed the first new Blake-Middleton varsity game in 2003, which drew nearly 6,000 fans.
Middleton had won five of the first six meetings since the rivalry was renewed in 2002, when Middleton reopened, following a 31-year hiatus. Blake reopened in 1997.
In 2002, the school's junior varsity teams played at Chamberlain High, with Middleton not able to field a varsity team its first year.
Since 2004, Middleton is 6-3 against Blake, though the Yellow Jackets have won the past two meetings.
“They know what's at stake,” said second-year Blake coach Darryl Gordon. “It's about bragging rights and holding that trophy.”
Before integration, Blake-Middleton was among the state's biggest rivalries, until the schools were closed by desegregation court order in 1971.
The games were played at the University of Tampa's Phillips Field and would attract nearly 15,000 annually.
The renewed matchup was played before capacity crowds at the high schools for three years before moving to Raymond James Stadium in 2005.
Eight-thousand people attended the Blake-Middleton game in 2007, a decrease from the 9,000 that attended in 2006. In 2005, 12,000 attended the first game at Raymond James. In 2010, the game was moved back to the high schools because of low attendance.
“You try to get those kids to really understand what the game means to them,” said third-year Middleton coach Alonzo Ashwood. “I tell them 'It should mean more to you because you're playing in it.' I tell them you have to carry on that legacy.”
Bulls have eye on playoffs
After nearly upsetting Plant and defeating Alonso, Bloomingdale has quickly regained respect as a formidable opponent in Hillsborough County.
The team's 24-21 win against Alonso last week was Bloomingdale's first district win since 2010. The Bulls (3-2) play at East Bay (4-2) tonight.
Not since 2008, when the team finished 6-5 for the program's first winning season and the first playoff berth in the 26-year history of the school, has Bloomingdale enjoyed such a season.
With remaining district games against Riverview, Newsome and Wharton, the Bulls are confident they have a chance to make the postseason.
“Right now, we hold the keys to where we want to go,” said Bloomingdale coach John Booth, now in his fifth season.
Typically a running team the last few years, Booth had to adjust the team's offense after the graduation of running back Eugene Baker, who rushed for 791 yards with 10 touchdowns in 2012.
“We knew we couldn't have that kind of production this year, so we went with more bubble screens and perimeter throws,” Booth said.
The offensive leader for Bloomingdale has been sophomore quarterback Isaiah McIntyre, who has passed for 890 yards with seven touchdowns and rushed for 309 yards and seven touchdowns.
“It really hypes us up going into practice, the fact that we still have a great opportunity to make it to the playoffs,” McIntyre said.