The next time you’re in Ybor City for a dinner at the Columbia, night out on 7th avenue, or picking up gifts to mail out to non-Floridians from Arturo Fuente, you’ll probably turn on 22nd Second Street and make your way to the I-275 on ramp that plants you in the civil engineering miracle known to many as “Dysfunction Junction” in a brave attempt to return to whatever corner of Tampa Bay you call home. Maybe you check Google Maps and, in a car, full of tired partygoers, the dark red line that stretches from the Selmon Expressway to the marriage of I-275 and I-4 that happens to include no less than five on ramps and exits within 5,280 feet is simply not worth it tonight. Your only option is to continue North on 22nd street and catch 275 at one of the next ramps or choose to find a one-way street that leads back to Ybor and deal with backseat drivers asking you, “Where are we going?” as soon as your tires hit one of the cobblestone roads that are characteristic of the national historic landmark district. You venture a mile North, and one roundabout later you’ll be in the heart of East Tampa. Driving past signs that name the neighborhoods divided by grided streets Rainbow Heights, College Heights, and Belmont Heights, you assure the backseat that you’re about to be in Seminole Heights where you went to that award winning restaurant that one time and had lunch at that popular ramen place another time. Although Seminole Heights is really around the next major street over on Florida Ave, it’s easy to get lost in the numbered streets cut in half by MLK Blvd, and you wouldn’t be the first to drive past Cyrus Greene Park without giving a second thought to the chain link fence surrounding a baseball field that produced major leaguers and little league world series champs, and the school half a mile down the street is just as easy to miss. After all, George S. Middleton High School is the smallest public high school in the seventh largest school district in the nation and sits on a plot of land that used to be a trailer park. The original Middleton High School was turned into a junior high in 1971 when the county adopted a plan to bus the kids attending the two historically black high schools, Middleton and Blake, to previously white only schools. Things remained the same for thirty years until Hillsborough County reopened Blake and Middleton as magnet high schools in which half the population of the school would be sourced from the surrounding neighborhoods as traditional high schools do, and the rest of the students could apply to attend the school for its magnet programs. Blake boasts award winning performing arts programs, and for eight hours a day, 182 days a year, for the past four years, Pranay Prasanna has chosen the road less taken and opted to attend Middleton High School for its grueling STEM programs. Middleton offers specializations in video game design, biomedical sciences, engineering, as well as smaller programs devoted to computer sciences and informational technology, building construction, and even barbering. On paper Middleton High School is a C ranked school and labeled “Secondary Renaissance” in terms of financial needs as over 80% of the school qualifies for free or reduced lunch, but this doesn’t explain why the school consistently produces perfects scores on the SAT, world championship winning robotics teams, and more Ivy League acceptance letters in twenty years than the school down the street has produced in one hundred years of operation. Middleton is now one of the toughest schools in the state, but like a hockey player, you might need to go beneath the mask to find out the true story, and there may not be analogy more fitting to describe the Steinbrenner Warriors Defenseman who attends the school, Pranay Prasanna.
Courtesy of Cindy Eccles of Earth Life Studios
Pranay spent the last four years balancing college level science classes such as Microbiology and Genetics at a school where honors and AP classes are the minimum expectation of magnet students with an extracurricular load that is somehow more intimidating. A typical school day might include a 90-minute block where a single lesson involves memorizing the 27 steps of DNA Replication and the 12 enzymes associated with the process. That’s a lesson from Genetics, which is a sophomore level class by the way. Pranay manages to balance his academics with two competition-based clubs at school, HOSA (Health Occupation Students of America) and FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America). If he’s not beating down your teenager with his brains, he also has his brawn which he keeps in good shape due to playing hockey for Steinbrenner in the Lightning High School Hockey League and is a member of the Tampa Bay Juniors who play in the USPHL. Pranay previously played for the Tampa Bay Lightning Elite Development Program including the inaugural team his freshman year of high school and receives nothing but high praise from his coaches. Steinbrenner Head Coach Dan Bubley shared,” It has been my privilege to become acquainted with and coach Pranay for four years. Pranay defines being a student athlete. Yes, he is a very good high school hockey player, and additionally enjoys other extra circular activities like martial arts, robotics club, playing junior hockey, but more importantly, he is an academically gifted student. He has a high degree of organization skills. Quite frankly, this young man is seriously destined for great things.”
With news of his recent commitment to Georgia Tech, and the school year ending, it's easy to forget that even with how impressive of a resume Pranay has, he’s still an athlete that spends his time with other high schoolers in the locker room, and still has high school hobbies and high school friends. He was quick to tell me his favorite pregame meal was his mom’s spaghetti, and quick to advise that you shouldn’t eat a taco bell quesadilla before an important game. We talked about his favorite video games for close to ten minutes straight, and I was impressed with his story about his friend, @hypermald#9200, who he’s played Krunker with for years that came out and watched him play when TBJ went to Boston on a road trip. Pranay makes an impact on everyone he interacts with, and it’s clear that his kindheartedness is a constant source of positivity for those around him.
Courtesy of Amber Pruitt of A.Pruitt Photography
When you see a team like Steinbrenner make it to both the Lightning Cup Finals and SAHOF State Championship game within a few weeks, it’s natural to wonder how the team became so good, and in the case of Pranay Prasanna, I had the pleasure of getting a glimpse into how Pranay became the athlete that he’s become, and the journey he’s taken to become the person he is today, “I was born in Pittsburgh, and moved to Tampa in 2007. I used to miss the snow, so my dad would take me to TBSA in Oldsmar to play in the snow the Zamboni brought outside to melt. One day he asked if I wanted to go inside and think about getting on the ice and the rest is history.” From snowballs in the parking lot from suspicious looking snow to averaging more than a point a game as a defenseman his senior year is no easy feat, and Pranay credits it all to his parents, “My mom and dad have sacrificed so much for me. They are my complete inspiration. My dad was present in every step of my hockey journey, whether it was signing me up for rec league, or cheering me on every single game for TBJ. My mom and dad both emigrated to the US for college to look for better opportunities and they met at the University of Pittsburgh. They both happen to be from the same state, Tamil Nadu (Chennai), India but moved across the world for a better life and happened to meet. My dad always told me he wanted to be an athlete growing up. He wanted to be a cricket player but from where he was growing up it wasn’t possible. He knew he couldn’t play sports as a child, and he’s made it so that I can play one of the most expensive sports out there so it’s a testimony to his hard work. Some days I take it for granted but when I really look at it, it's amazing to see what my dad’s done and look at where he started to where he is now. My mom and dad split duties with me and where my dad is always helping me with sports, my mom spearheads my academics.”
Courtesy of Amber Pruitt of A.Pruitt Photography
I asked Pranay what some of the biggest lessons are he’s learned from playing hockey, “Hockey has taught me many great things, perhaps one of the biggest things is “bigger the failure, greater the learning.” That has definitely stayed true as my team lost the Lightning Cup in the finals, lost the SAHOF Championship Final, and TBJ didn’t make it out of pool play at nationals this year. Hopefully the teams channel that failure, learn from it, and I see them back in the national tournament next year. With the risks my parents took at my age, I’ve started to look at the world like I look at hockey, “If you want to score a goal, you have to take a shot” With taking shots comes missing shots and so there’s a tradition I try to live by, There’s a quote that I’ve adopted and taken close to my heart .Every time I get knocked over on the ice, I try to look up at the ceiling, because if you can look up, you can get up. You win some you lose some, that’s the story of life. Nothing else in my 18 years on this planet has taught me that lesson more than hockey. “
With the end of high school comes an end of a four-year journey, and the start of another four-year journey for those that decide to go to college. Pranay took a moment to share his goals for the next four years and to reflect on where he’s been the last four years, “Right now I know I’m going to Georgia Tech, and I’m still caught between pursuing a degree in Finance or Computer Science. I don’t have a dream job right now and I’m still trying to get over the last four years for a little while. My best moment in high school may not have been my biggest moment. It was not the Lightning Cup, but rather my senior year victory against East Lake at the end of the regular season in a fashionable 2 goal come back with 3 minutes left. We won 5-4. East Lake has always trashed us, and they beat us 5-0 earlier in the season. It was a huge win for the team and for those of us that have been there four years. Gavin Davis and Athan Bonavita, the 3 of us played under Coach Bubley since freshmen year, and they’ve been with me the longest. It’s the journey that made it special. On top of that, some of my other senior friends I met along the way like Conrad, Shane, Kolton, Marcus, some of the best teammates I could ever ask for.”
Seniors are usually sources of wisdom in the locker room to freshman and rookies to the team, and Pranay didn’t hesitate to share some of his, “Time flies man, you gotta enjoy it. These past 4 years have definitely been the most fun I’ve had playing hockey. Especially under those Friday night lights with your friends and family in the stands. Embrace it! Get people to come to the games! It’s not always fun times and positivity but there’s always support even where you don’t see it.”
To conclude Pranay revisited his gratitude for those that have supported him, “Thanks to my parents and coaches that have believed in me, and to all my friends. Shoutout to my friends from school that came out to cheer me on even if I wasn’t wearing a Middleton Jersey, and a special shoutout to my online friends from the Krunker Community who I met online and tuned into cheer me on during the Lightning Cup Final and specifically @hypermald#9200 for coming to see me play for TBJ in Boston and watching the Lightning Cup Final”
A story like Pranay’s isn’t common, and it’s easy to overlook how each individual has their own story when we all enjoy a sport where even the refs are covered head to toe in equipment. The next time the puck has dropped for the last time in a game and you walk out to the parking lot and see kids in flipflops trying to throw snow at each other outside the Zamboni doors, or you hear a kid is attending a school that you don't recognize, take a moment for Pranay’s sake and wonder where that kid will go and appreciate every player your kid plays with or against.