Brothers-in-law pump spirit into Lakewood Ranch High with their antics.
Brothers-in-law Tommy Cuervo and Thomas Bellantonio are often told by their wives that they’re “worse than the children.”
Their antics include wearing a conjoined ugly Christmas sweater to the family’s holiday get-together. Cuervo has even hung up an entire Christmas scene on his classroom door, using Bellantonio's face edited onto various images of elves, Santa and other characters, when they both taught at Buffalo Creek Middle School.
At Lakewood Ranch High School, they are now using their good-natured joking and appetite for friendly competition to bolster school spirit.
Bellantonio is a dean, and Cuervo teaches digital information technology and oversees on-the-job training.
For the school’s first pep rally this school year, they worked together on a routine for which Bellantonio dressed as a cowboy who reprimanded Cuervo, a pretend student, for dress code violations. The skit evolved into a dance to Blanco Brown’s “The Git Up,” with other teachers joining.
During Homecoming week, Bellantonio wore his clothes backward for “Wacky Wednesday” and put a cutout of Cuervo’s face on the back of his head. Cuervo also had some T-shirts with Bellantonio’s face made and
passed them out to students.
Although they take their responsibilities seriously, they say the good-natured fun helps build rapport and understanding between students and teachers.
“We’re a strong academic school here,” Cuervo said. “We want to show the kids it’s OK to have fun too.”
Lakewood Ranch High School senior Zack Weston said the pair have bolstered school spirit in ways not seen during his underclassmen days.
“They’re already attractions at the school,” Weston said. “Everybody knows about them. They make the environment more fun. They make being at school more fun, just because of who they are. It’s not just having more people out of the games. It's really having a love for Lakewood Ranch and all our friends and family in the area.”
Weston knew Cuervo and Bellantonio while a student at Buffalo Creek Middle School, where he witnessed their silly antics and camaraderie. He said his favorite prank was when Bellantonio printed out a blow-up of Cuervo’s high school yearbook picture and hung it in the cafeteria.
Bellantonio said that while attending Bayshore High School as a student, he gravitated toward teachers and coaches willing to look silly in front of others.
“They didn’t care,” Bellantonio said. “They were willing to entertain. Overall, the morale ties into how the kids feel in school.”
“School doesn’t have to be boring,” Cuervo said. “We try to make a good rapport with the kids. If they enjoy you as a person, they’re probably going to enjoy your class a little more.”
Cuervo is the adviser for Stampede, a school spirit club he has working to build. The goal is to bring in all students — but especially those who might not otherwise be involved in school extracurriculars — and get them excited about Lakewood Ranch High School.
Bellantonio said the pair’s rivalry creates a commonality for students. Students can align with either Cuervo or Bellantonio and have fellow students with whom to relate.
At pep rallies and sporting events, Cuervo and Bellantonio take turns leading chants they’ve created, some of which involve their names.
“We joke with the kids it’s Cuervantonio,” Bellantonio said.
Lakewood Ranch High School Athletic Director Kent Ringquist said the duo is changing dynamics at the school.
“They’re giving us a new energy about school spirit,” Ringquist said. “They’ve brought a lot of enthusiasm to the student population.”
Lakewood Ranch High School Principal Dustin Dahlquist is on board with the pair’s charades, even though it’s the first year at Lakewood Ranch High School for them both. Dahlquist worked with both Cuervo and Bellantonio at Buffalo Creek Middle School. Although he worked with Bellantonio for only a few months before Bellantonio took another position, Dahlquist said he quickly realized the brothers-in-law had a special connection that benefited students. He was happy when he could hire them both this year and called them “the instant pot of school culture.”
“They’ve come in here and made an impact,” Dahlquist said. “When they’re around, especially together, you see a lot of laughter. You want kids to be hooked on school. The greater connection they have to the school, the greater success we believe they’ll have academically, personally, socially — all those aspects.”
Cuervo and Bellantonio say the fun has just begun and that more is planned. Cuervo had been holding back out of respect for Bellantonio’s new administrative role, but after Bellantonio’s antics during Homecoming week, he said that he’s ready to step up the rivalry.
At the next pep rally, they also plan to compete in an obstacle course much like that seen on the TV show “Double Dare.”