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Tough Loss, Fond Memories for Brandon Parents With Armwood Ties

The Brandon High Eagles lost 55-0 in its Sept. 1 season opener against the Armwood Hawks. In the stands were many parents with ties to both schools. Armwood opened to relieve Brandon, which at the time was on double sessions looking at three.

 

It was a tough night on the Lyle Flagg Field at Armwood High School for the Eagles from Brandon, who under first-year head football coach Dean Eychner bowed to the Hawks 55-0.

A local newspaper called it "a new era" for Brandon and for Armwood, "the same old story." Indeed, Brandon players and fans knew what they were getting into: a Sept. 1 season opener against the perennial powerhouse Armwood football team, which this year seems even more emboldened following this summer's sanctions from the Florida High School Athletic Association.

The FHSAA in June held the program accountable for using ineligible players and then stripped the team of its 2011 Class 6A state championship. The Hawks' 2010 state runner-up status was negated as well.

According to a Forbes sports & leisure report, the school had to "send back the trophies associated with those appearances" and the FHSAA "also fine the school $12,743, and made it forfeit 26 wins."

But now, said an Armwood teacher on parking lot duty after the Sept. 1 game, "It's like they're playing even harder to prove who they are."

Both Brandon and Armwood went into Saturday night's game with preseason wins. Brandon defeated the Blake High School Yellow Jackets, 20-6. Armwood defeated Gibbs, 35-0, which means in their first two games back on the field since sanctions, the Hawks have amassed 90 points and given up none.

For Brandon parents with Armwood ties there were mixed emotions.

"I graduated from Armwood, I love Coach [Sean] Callahan, but I also love Brandon football and the new coach," said Stacy Lester, who graduated from Armwood win 1988. "It's nice to be back here, to see the school."

Her son, Darren, is a football player for Brandon, which this year is under the tutelage of first-year coach Eychner, who came to the Eagles from Hillsborough High School, where for 16 years he was an assistant coach to Earl Garcia. Eychner said at the time that he have lived in Brandon since 1990 and that "this community means something to me."

"We love him, his discipline and his organization," said Lester, a Brandon High booster. "His knowledge of the game and his concern for the students and his concern for the parents, he really takes time to explain everything to us."

Her mother, Wanda Turner, also was at the game, to cheer on her grandson's team, even though Darren Lester was injured and could not play. Turner sent Stacy Lester and her older sister Tammy Dawn Burnet to Armwood; Burnet graduated in 1986, with the school's first class of seniors.

Turner sent her two older children, Bill Turner ('81) and Cindy Turner Melrose ('83), to Brandon, which before Armwood opened was on double sessions because of a burgeoning student enrollment.

Indeed, to avoid triple sessions taxpayers approved a bond referendum to build Armwood.

"I wanted to send my kids to Armwood, it was too crowded at Brandon," Wanda Turner said. "I wanted to send them to Armwood because it was a smaller school."

As for the field's namesake, Turner heaped a whole lot of praise on Lyle Flagg, Armwood's charter principal.

"Love the man," Turner said. "He was the best hands-on principal that I've ever known. He went around to every class every day just to see how things were going. He was fine man. There'll never be another principal like him."

Turner said she volunteered at Armwood to help students find and apply for financial aid for college. Like her daughter Stacy, she, too, said she "loved Coach Callahan," the head coach for Armwood.

But when it came to the Armwood-Brandon game?

"Mixed emotions," said Turner, who nevertheless wore maroon and white, the colors of Brandon.

"It had to be Brandon I cheered for," she said, "because that's the team my grandson plays for."

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