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Why do they call it that? Plant High School Dad's Stadium joins football and fathers

9:03 AM, Jun 20, 2012   |    comments
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What could be a better combination: dads and football? How about the high school in Tampa Bay that has a football stadium named Dad's Stadium?

Why do they call it Dad's Stadium?

Scores aren't the only thing that are sometimes lopsided on the field at Plant High School. The whole darn stadium is crooked.

It doesn't run north-south or east-west -- instead, it's wedged in at an angle to fit onto the 85-year-old South Tampa campus. And then there's the track.

"Most high schools, you'll have the football field, then the track around the football field, and then the stadium -- both sides of the [stands] -- outside the track," explained Plant High teacher Alan Bell.

"Ours is unique in that our home side [grandstand] is inside the track and the track runs behind it," he added.

"So, in the old days, whenever we had track meets here, you'd have to send a spotter up there to make sure all the kids stayed in their lane, nobody pushed or shoved" when the runners were out of view behind the stands, Bell said with a smile.

Bell knows every odd angle and alcove at Dad's Stadium. He coached boys track here for 21 years, and coached and played football here, too.

"The grandstands were -- from what I've been told by some of the old-timers -- started out as a race track grandstand out in North Tampa somewhere," Bell said.

"I guess they dismantled it, moved it down here, put it back together and there you have Dad's Stadium."

It's likely that massive grandstand move got help from the school's football booster club.

"Back in the early days, the booster club was called the Dads Club, and they had a lot of active dads that were very involved," Bell said.

Those fathers figured so prominently in Plant's sports programs, the stadium was named in their honor.

Over the years, this stadium has been the site of huge showdowns. Games that filled these stands so full -- even Yankees owner George Steinbrenner was once told there's no room.

"He saw the crowd and pulled in and wanted to go into the game. The business manager said he couldn't come in," Bell said.

"[Steinbrenner] said, 'Look, I can get anywhere I want. I can go to Yankee Stadium, the Super Bowl, I can get into the Soviet Union. And you're telling me I can't come into the stadium for the last three minutes of this game?'"

"And the old, crusty business manager said, 'Sir, I think Robinson [High School] is having their opening night of their basketball season down there -- I'm sure they'd be happy to have you.'"

"I guess he turned around and stormed away."

Oh man, I wish somebody had recorded that on camera. Another time, a camera crew was rolling when they pranked a student in an episode of the TV show Candid Camera.

"They had a track meet there and they started the race," Bell said. "And everybody knew about it except one kid. He got out in front. And then the kids behind the stands all turned around and ran the other way."

"They filmed him coming down the front straight -- got his expression when he saw that either he was running the wrong way or they were running the wrong way."

Some of the Bay area's most incredible athletes played in this place. So many stories -- defeats and triumphs.

But for Coach Bell, there may be one moment at Dad's Stadium that can top them all. A friend had set him up on a blind date.

"Before she was gonna go out with me, she wanted to get a peek to see what she was going out with," Bell remembered. "So I'm at track practice, at the end of the day, and I've got one more kid, and we're getting ready to come in."

"I look at the end of the stadium and here's this woman peeking around the corner of the stands to see what I look like before she committed to anything. I guess that's how we met."

She definitely liked what she saw.

That mystery woman married Coach Bell. They're about to celebrate their 25th anniversary.

Why do they call it that? Now you know.

We feature new "Why do they call it that?" stories each Wednesday on 10 News starting at 5 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Check out previous editions of the Emmy-nominated series at our "Why do they call it that?" website: wtsp.com/callitthat.

Grayson Kamm, 10 News

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