In celebration of the ‘football issue’ of the News, we bring you a glimpse of historical ZHS football with a delightful twist that captures a local celebrity and our very own ‘mermaid.’ We think you will enjoy the great stories!
To set the stage, let’s talk about the origins of Zephyrhills football!
ZHS fielded its first football team in 1941 and Thomas Burch Cornelius, ZHS Principal, was coach with W.W. Jackson as assistant. That first football team was composed of 15 players and they concluded a 10-game season with a perfect record—that is no wins! The team was suspended for a few years during World War II.
The focus of our story is on one of the players on an early post-war team, Frank ‘Bunt’ Massey and his wife, Mary Lou ‘Cookie’ Richards Massey. Bunt has the distinction of being the first ZHS player to score a touchdown against rival, Dade City, in the school’s history. His wife, Mary Lou Richards Massey, was a Mermaid starring at Weeki Wachee—the only young local lady to have this honor!
‘Bunt’ received his name because of his baseball prowess—he could bunt a baseball and soon after arriving at ZHS, he was given the name by his fellow players. Bunt was born in 1932 in a home near the Zephyr airport. His mother died when he was 9 and as he recounted the stories of growing up in the community; it was evident that school played an important role in his development. Bunt disclosed that he regularly chewed tobacco in class (usually overlooked by his teachers), sometimes played hooky by crawling under the school building and very proudly represented the school in baseball, basketball and football. He remembered fondly his days in Future Farmers of America as well. Describing early football, he said the team practiced on a field near the school and played games during the daytime—there were no lights to illuminate an evening field. His wife, Mary Lou related that she remembered standing at the school’s archways and gazing out to watch the players. Bunt mentioned playing for Coach Clements. Scoring the first touchdown against Pasco put him in the record books for ZHS and he proudly recalled the event. In his junior year—1949, Bunt led the Bulldogs to four victories. He also remembered an assorted number of injuries including breaking his finger in a game against Turkey Creek High School.
We asked Bunt to tell us about the differences in football then and now. He shared that the helmets were interchangeable. They had just enough helmets for the players on the field so when the teams came in and out, the players exchanged their helmets. He also said that a smaller number of players in his day caused the athletes to play every down. He reminisced about good friends, Hap Cherry, Lonnie and Eddie White and others. For recreation outside of school, Bunt said a swim in Zephyr Lake was just the thing. He served in the U.S. Army and worked for Kerr’s Ice Plant, Hercules Powder Plant, and Zephyr Egg.
While reviewing a wonderful assortment of family photographs, a 1953 prom photo was uncovered. Mary Lou was dressed in a beautiful red gown and paired with a handsome fellow (not Bunt). Bunt piped in jokingly, ‘we ought to burn that photo!’ Mary Lou teased that Roger Whitworth was a beau prior to Bunt! Not to be outdone, Bunt shared some tales of his various girlfriends at ZHS as well.
And this brings us to the other half of this fascinating duo, Mary Lou Richards.
Mary Lou Richards, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. C.A. Richards, moved to Zephyrhills at age 11. She was active at ZHS and attended UF. As a young woman, she responded to an advertisement in the newspaper and the rest is history. She became a legendary Weeki Wachee Mermaid—the only gal in the Zephyrhills area to hold this title. The program pamphlet from 1954-55 had a profile of the mermaids at the attraction and stated: “Weeki Wachee Proudly Presents an Underwater Fantasy”. The flier further explained that the show took place at 70 feet below the surface and put the mermaids in a dangerous pressurized water situation.
A local News article from the period further chronicled that Richards had learned the difficult underwater ballet routine below 70 feet of water in a month’s time. Before becoming a mermaid, Mary Lou served as a lifeguard at the Zephyr pool and credits Marianne Simons for teaching her how to swim—a lifelong sport. She continues as a strong promoter of a school swimming team and has recently advocated for the continuation of a swimming program at ZHS. Mary Lou Richards Massey, known locally as ‘Cookie’ worked in the area schools and retired from Pasco County Schools as a school lunchroom manager.
We thoroughly enjoyed talking with Bunt and Mary Lou who are both an example of wonderful folks who have contributed to our community. As the ZHS football season gets into full swing, we know that the fellowship and camaraderie that will be evident at the games in 2009-2010 will reflect the long tradition that dates back to the first teams and personalities of early sports history.
Thanks Bunt and Mary Lou and the many others who have contributed to the colorful tapestry that makes up our community.
All rights reserved. Photos © Madonna Jervis Wise