ORANGE PARK – A lot can happen over two decades. The 2000-2001 Orange Park High School Boys Soccer team has moved on, grown up, and gone on with their lives. But for one night, last Thursday, they …
ORANGE PARK – A lot can happen over two decades. The 2000-2001 Orange Park High School Boys Soccer team has moved on, grown up, and gone on with their lives. But for one night, last Thursday, they were together again on the field where they earned their right to make history. That team won the only state soccer championship in school history as well as the lone team state title. The team was honored at halftime of the game between Orange Park and Bishop Snyder.
“I haven’t been in this stadium for quite a long time,” said Frank Pontore, former Head Coach of boys soccer at OPHS. “It doesn’t sink in how special these kids were when they played until you go on in years and you start to look back and realize, ‘hey, they were a bunch of special kids.’”
Many of the roster players were familiar with others, having played in advanced soccer leagues together. Three of the team’s senior members were named all First-Coast by the Florida Times-Union: Richard Blackburn, Brian Blackburn, and Jay D’Antonio. The team had lost in the semi-finals in the prior season. The state championship game played in Tampa that season was hard fought and came down to penalty kicks to decide the winner, remembers Janet D’Antonio, mother of Jay D’Antonio.
“It was a hard game,” she said. “The game came down to PKs. That was so nerve-wracking for us parents that some could not watch the PKs.”
With the victory, the team was the first and still lone team title for the school with weightlifting (Andrew Ratica (2014, 2015), Jacob Abdel (2014), Roger French 1984), Carlos Jefferson (2008), David Araujo (2019), Zykeim Sermons (2019) and wrestling (Corey Van Dorn, 2013) to soon add individual trophies.
“Tonight, I am very pleased that OPHS has finally recognized their achievement since they are the only team in school history to win a state championship,” said D’Antonio. “As a parent, I am thrilled for them. Now 20 years later, they are grown, productive working men, many with families who came here tonight. We hope to have another celebration for the 25th anniversary and have even more team members return.”
Brian Blackburn went on to play soccer at Jacksonville University after high school and now works in insurance. He lives in Jacksonville. “After graduating from JU, I moved out of Orange Park and into Jacksonville,” he said. “I don’t make it back to Orange Park very often, so it’s actually kind of surreal to be back here on the field. A few of the guys I still play soccer with, but some I haven’t seen in 20 years, so it’s a nice experience.”
Pontore has coached many teams at different schools but has a soft spot for this group. “They fought, they, kicked, scratched; they did whatever it took to win, but they played as a team the whole time. They had one goal, and they all had the same goal. That’s unusual nowadays to get a group of young men that had something in common, and they all want to fight to get to it. That just brings back great memories with these guys.”