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Mr. School Spirit retires after 38 years

BRADENTON — He supported the high school’s fight song being played over the loudspeaker between class changes Fridays.

During football season, he made weekly videos taunting rival high schools’ mascots.

He was the weatherman, the media man and most memorably, students and faculty say, the spirit man.

After 38 years of service in the Manatee County School District, Southeast High School teacher Ken Washio retired this week from his position as media specialist at the school.

“I never expected I’d be a teacher and here I am 38 years later,” Washio said Tuesday, just prior to his family throwing him a retirement bash at his home — complete with 38 bottles of wine, one for each year teaching.

Originally from Loraine, Ohio, Washio, 61, earned his degree from Kent State and in 1972 was hired into the Manatee school district.

He first taught history at Palmetto High School, where he remained for 19 years. He later transferred to Manatee High, where he spent the next 14 years, also teaching. Then five years ago he took on the media specialist position at Southeast.

Southeast graduate Mark Nanney on Tuesday recalled the first time he caught glimpse of Washio. It was during Nanney’s freshman year in 2006.

“It was the day of the first-of-the-season football game against Palmetto, and he was on the morning SETV announcements wrestling a car tire,” said Nanney, 18. “He’d always find a way to spoof the name of other schools’ mascots. It’s interesting to see a teacher willing to put himself out there and get the school pumped.”

Alan Ramos, an assistant principal at Southeast, called Washio a dedicated team player full of enthusiasm.

“I’ve rarely met a person that has more school spirit. I can’t imagine Southeast next year without him. Whether it’s football games, pep rallies or the morning announcements. School spirit just oozes from him.”

Washio said he’ll miss creating those morning announcements, which he referred to as spirit videos. At the end of each segment, he’d always close with his trademark statement, “Go ’Noles.”

The phrase was catchy.

Just last week Southeast graduates nominated Washio to speak on behalf of the faculty during their 2010 commencement. As Washio ended his speech, he began to send them off with his “Go ’Noles” declaration. But the graduates intervened when they jumped to their feet and beat him to the punch.

“It was awesome,” Washio said. “It was really something.”

Freshman Chelsea Kammerer said she is grateful for Washio’s instruction.

“Earlier this year I had trouble with the computer, so I asked him for help and with his help I got an A on my computers and technology project,” said Kammerer, 15.

Sue Frey, a Southeast media library clerk, said she is sad to see her colleague go.

“When you enjoy who you’re working with, it’s not work,” said Frey, who has worked along side him for four years. “It’s been a pleasure and I hate to see him retire. He’s just a great guy.”

For those teachers who remain behind, and to those entering the field, Washio had this to say:

“Stick to it, stick with it. You have a lot to give your students,” he said. “America needs you now more than ever.”