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Principal recalls football memories

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  • | 4:00 a.m. August 10, 2011
  • East County
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RIVER CLUB — There was nothing Randy Petrilla enjoyed more in high school than looking up into the stands on a Friday night in the fall and seeing his family and friends cheering him on.

The Braden River Middle School principal spent four years playing quarterback for Sarasota High School in the early-to-mid ‘70s, and it was on the field where Petrilla and his Sailors teammates made great plays and vied for district championships.

But Petrilla will be the first one to tell you that sometimes your most memorable moments on the field are the ones you would most like to forget.

Such was the case for Petrilla.

During his junior year, Sarasota was playing rival Riverview in the coveted Turkey Bowl on Thanksgiving Day. It was the biggest game of the year, and the Sailors were trailing by two points.

Petrilla simply was trying to get the offense into field goal range; the Sailors had one of the best field-goal kickers in the area standing on the sideline. Petrilla lined up under center and called an audible — only the play didn’t happen the way Petrilla had hoped as he went one way and all of his teammates went the other way.

Petrilla fumbled the ball, and the Rams recovered it, securing the victory.

“I don’t think I came out of my room for three days after that,” Petrilla said.

Later, Petrilla redeemed himself, as he led Sarasota to victory the following year in the final Turkey Bowl to be played on Thanksgiving Day.

“It was huge,” Petrilla said of the Turkey Bowl. “So many people came out that they actually turned it into a bowl game.”

A native of Iowa, Petrilla moved to Florida when he was 11 years old. He started seventh grade at Brookside Junior High in Sarasota, where Petrilla joined the football team.

The multi-sport athlete also joined Brookside’s basketball and track teams and also played baseball for Babe Ruth Little League.

“I really liked playing for my friends and family,” Petrilla said. “Playing back then, when you looked up into the stands you could see your friends cheering you on. That was pretty neat.”

Petrilla didn’t set out to play quarterback; but after doing some initial agility workouts, his coaches decided to put him under center.

Petrilla played quarterback for Brookside before moving on to Sarasota. Petrilla continued to play football and basketball and run track in high school, lettering in all three sports.

Initially, Petrilla wanted to play tennis, but he was told to run track instead.

“I really wanted to play tennis, but football players ran track,” Petrilla said. “It was so they could keep track of you.”

During his time under center, Petrilla helped Sarasota contend for district titles every year and also led the Sailors to perhaps their biggest upset in school history — defeating nationally ranked Merritt Island on their home field.

“After the game, their quarterback came into the locker room and congratulated us as a team,” Petrilla said. “That was pretty gutsy as a quarterback to come in and do that.”

At the time, there weren’t as many schools to play, so Petrilla and his teammates often played Southeast and Manatee, along with schools from as far away as Tampa Plant.

Upon graduation, Petrilla had offers to play football at the next level, but he chose to not pursue collegiate athletics.

“I had opportunities to play after high school, but it became like a business,” Petrilla said. “I played for fun, and in the college ranks it’s about winning at all costs.”

Petrilla went on to work in construction and as a chef at Café L’Europe and the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort before eventually pursuing a career in education.

Now as Braden River Middle’s principal, Petrilla spends his free time watching his Panthers excel on the athletic field. In addition, Petrilla also enjoys watching college football, especially the Florida Gators, and attends the Turkey Bowl and some of the other local rivalry games.

“There are a lot of great college sports in Florida,” Petrilla said.

And when he’s not busy working or watching sports, Petrilla enjoys getting out on the tennis court with his wife, Kim.

“I think athletics teaches you a lot about the type of person you are,” Petrilla said. “It’s not all about winning. It’s also about building character. You can learn as much from losing as you do from winning.

“I like the team piece,” Petrilla said. “It’s not all about you. Everyone is working hard for the same goal.”

Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected]


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