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Perseverance propels Gibbs High to first championship since 1969

Mark Parker



The Gibbs High School boys' basketball team recently secured the St. Petersburg school's first state championship in 55 years. Photos: Pinellas County Schools.

A third consecutive trip to the final four proved a charm for the Gibbs High School boys’ basketball team, who recently secured their first state title in 55 years.

The Gladiators defeated Jacksonville’s Andrew Jackson High School 49-43 March 2 to claim the class 4A championship. The RP Funding Center in Lakeland hosted the matchup.

While the championship is the St. Petersburg institution’s fifth overall, it is the first since 1969, when Richard Nixon was president. Gibbs became the city’s first African American high school in 1927 and desegregated in 1971.

The Gladiators (27-5) avenged an early January loss to Andrew Jackson (26-4) in the title game. Longtime coach Larry Murphy called it a “great feeling” to take the final step after nearly reaching the pinnacle of high school sports the previous two seasons.

“It was just a testament to the work we’ve put in the last three years,” Murphy told the Catalyst. “We played a challenging schedule to prepare us for those moments. All of it kind of came together and paid off for us.”

The championship was anything but a lock as Andrew Jackson led 30-25 late in the third quarter. Momentum shifted when Bobby Crawford turned a no-look pass from Jacob Daniels into an emphatic slam dunk.

Murphy credited a difficult schedule and previous trips to the finals for bolstering his “battle-tested” team’s resiliency. He thought the team could compete for a championship throughout the season yet strived to take a “one game at a time” approach.

However, Murphy noted Gibbs dropped two overtime games in the Pinellas County Athletic Conference (PCAC) tournament before embarking on the title run. Daniels, who led all scorers with 22 points, said the team “needed those two losses.”

“At the time, we were on a winning streak, and we were getting too comfortable and big-headed,” Daniels added. “What those losses did is help us get back on track and stay focused.”

The team will look to make a fourth-straight final four in 2025.

Murphy said he expected a defensive battle after the team’s 52-48 loss to Andrew Jackson in the regular season. He said shutting down offenses is a source of team pride and thought keeping the score around 50 would provide a chance to win.

As the team’s point guard, Daniels said he worked to keep himself and his teammates focused as the game came down to the wire. When asked what went through his mind as the final buzzer sounded, he said, “That we finally got over the hump.”

Daniels, a junior, has made the state finals every year of his high school career. He and his coach believe their storybook success has another chapter.

The Gladiators return every starter from their championship squad, an almost unheard-of feat. “The whole team is back,” Murphy said with a laugh. “It’s a nice feeling.”

For now, the team is relishing the completion of a historic season. Pinellas County Schools officials honored them Monday afternoon with a pep rally that featured the band, cheerleaders, Superintendent Kevin Hendrick and school board members Caprice Edmonds, a Gibbs alum, and Laura Hine.

Principal and assistant coach Barry Brown welcomed each player to the gymnasium’s center court, where they hoisted the championship trophy. “I think the grit and determination that was displayed all year is just an example of our school …,” Brown said in a prepared statement.

Mayor Ken Welch, a Lakewood High School alum and vocal supporter, congratulated the inter-city rival on social media. Lakewood won the district’s last state championship in 2005.

Murphy called the title great for St. Petersburg, Gibbs, its students and their parents. “It’s real exciting to see a whole city, a whole community, behind you and celebrate the kids and all the hard work they put in,” he added.





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  1. Avatar

    Donna Kostreva

    March 6, 2024at10:10 pm

    Congratulations men! Your efforts put the T in TEAM garnering honor for our city, your coaches, school, families, and open the door for great futures for each of you. Keep up the awesome efforts in all you do. Continue to do great things. We are so proud of you!

  2. Avatar

    Bettye M

    March 6, 2024at8:48 pm

    Congrats State Champs.👏🏽👏🏽
    We are so proud of you!
    Gibbs Alumni C/O 1968.

  3. Avatar

    Mirela S.

    March 6, 2024at4:33 pm

    Go Gibbs!!! Congratulations!

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