A look back at my first year with The Plant City Observer.
There was a time when I knew very little about Plant City. Growing up in Temple Terrace, I knew of Plant City. I knew about the Strawberry Festival, I’d come to it a time or two. I knew that it was the small town you’d pass on the way to Orlando or that it had the high school with the bright colors that we’d make the trip over to meet every once in a while when I played baseball.
For a few years before joining the Plant City Observer as a full-time staff writer, I would occasionally help with an article or two in the spring, when the festival was in full swing and there was always a need for an extra hand to help tell the never-ending stories that it brings along.
While I knew of Plant City, that was really my first time getting to meet some of the community that makes Plant City so much more than just the city that hosts the Strawberry Festival, the one off the interstate on the way to Orlando.
The first thing that struck me was the strong sense of community. Even for a city with a small town feel, it felt unique and passionate. When speaking with people it was clear not just how much they cared about Plant City, but how many people truly cared that much. How many were willing to go out of their way to help and to volunteer and to go the extra mile.
Once I joined the Observer I started to realize a big reason for that was how deep the community ran within Plant City and how long many people and their family have lived here. I would meet more and more people who would tell me stories of when they went to Plant City High School, just like their children and sometimes their grandchildren. In some cases, I spoke to people whose grandparents and parents had attended the same middle school that they attended, only to see their children and grandchildren attend as well. And for the ones that were relative new-comers to Plant City? Well, it didn’t take them long to become invested as well.
When school rolled around and sports were back in full swing, that energy was brought along with it. Look no further than Claybo Varnum as an example. A third generation native of Pinecrest/Plant City himself, he grew up watching Durant football before spending four years as a player, over a decade working as an assistant coach, several years as a teacher and now serves as their newest head coach. His grandfather, Joe E. Newsome, is the namesake for Newsome High School and Durant’s Varnum Fieldhouse bears his last name, following the mark left by his family on the school before him.
When Plant City area teams face off the community shows up, especially for exciting local rivalries like the Redman Cup between Plant City and Durant or the Alafia River Rivalry between Durant and Newsome, filling the stands. In fact, the matchup between Durant and Newsome this football season brought enough traffic to keep me stuck on Fishhawk Blvd for 45 minutes, a level of energy I couldn’t have imagined when I was a high school athlete in Tampa and certainly a level of energy that I wish I could have predicted when I hit Fishhawk Blvd 30 minutes before kickoff.
In my relatively short time at the Observer I’ve had the opportunity to tell some incredible stories and meet some even more incredible people. I’ve had the opportunity to learn more about what makes Plant City so special and after less than a year with the Observer, I’m excited to leap into a new year and see what 2022 brings.