A half-century after the original baseball team at Crooms Academy played its final inning, eager young players are bringing baseball back to Seminole County’s most historic high school
After a 50-year absence, America’s pastime is back at Crooms Academy of Information Technology, and a brand-new team at one of the district’s oldest institutions is ready to join the ranks of high-school baseball teams across Central Florida.
Crooms teacher Gerard Kinler is the new manager and head coach of the Crooms Panthers baseball team. He’s been eager to get the baseball program started since he first suggested the idea to his principal last school year. After granting her approval, then-principal Demetria Faison made it official and purchased uniforms for the team.
Coach Kinler is excited not only for the upcoming season, but for the many ways this sport will impact the students and community.
“Many students came to me asking about other activities that would help them stay involved in school,” Coach Kinler says. “This team is another motivating factor and a leadership opportunity for many of our kids.”
Sixty students tried out for the new team, and Coach Kinler selected a roster of 18. The Panthers began practicing in late January, kicked off a preseason tournament on February 13, and played their first official game on February 19. Since the team does not yet have its own baseball facility on campus, the Panthers have been practicing at Boombah Sports Complex in Sanford, and they will play their seven home games at Historic Sanford Memorial Stadium.
“It’s neat that we’re bringing baseball back,” says Coach Kinler, who hopes this will open the door for even more athletic opportunities at Crooms. “It’s also nice to let potential students know that we do have a team, and they can play baseball here now.”
The last time Crooms fielded a baseball team was in 1968. William Lockhart, a Crooms alum and current long-term substitute teacher, remembers his days playing baseball, football, and basketball at Crooms in the 1960s. He was part of the baseball team that won the state championship in 1962.
“We had a really good team,” William remembers. “We didn’t lose many games and played for the championship just about every year when I was there. I think starting a new baseball program is great. It is part of our legacy. We’d like to see it go far, and we support it 100 percent.”
Although there is excitement among the Crooms family, alumni, and community, Coach Kinler says they still have a long way to go with the brand-new program, and there are still many needs which they are trying to fulfill through several fundraisers and partnerships. He is grateful for those who have stepped up and helped donate to the program, including members of the Crooms AoIT Alumni Association.
For now, Coach Kinler is looking forward to a great season.
“We just want to be competitive and play our best baseball,” he says. “We are going to put in the effort and see how things work out.”
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