When Kevin Plummer ’89 started as head of Tampa Preparatory School, in 2007, he knew he had to take his passion as an educator beyond the classroom. And in a city where swashbuckling pirates take over once a year, he recognized underage drinking at that celebration presented a challenge where he could make a difference.
“Gasparilla” is a single-day civic event where “pirates” turn Tampa into a cross between a Pirates of the Caribbean movie and Mardi Gras. The parade, said to be the third largest in the country, attracts more than half a million visitors.
“It’s a great civic event. All of the people go for a good time, and that’s the unwritten story,” Plummer said. “But people don’t always make the best choices. There’s a lot of public poor behavior … and negative folks get the media coverage.”
While the pirate invasion is billed as a family-friendly affair, Plummer had concerns about its effects on youth. His first year, he noticed a high number of arrests for underage drinking. “They’re living life at the speed of light and they’re not necessarily connecting the dots. … You think to yourself: It’s just a matter of time until something happens,” he said. “As an educator, I wanted to create and be a part of the right partnership so that we [could] do something about underage drinking.”
Plummer spearheaded the Gasparilla Education Initiative, with more than 60 people representing schools, civic organizations, and even beer distributors and event planners. The group’s mission was to encourage healthy enjoyment of Gasparilla. The plan included calls to homes, educational assemblies, and campaigns to inform students about the risks of underage drinking at the event.
“I wanted to put students in a place where they can succeed,” Plummer said, “to create a cushion of support around the event.”
Results of a campaign called Responsibility Matters have been effective. Since the program started, five years ago, there have been zero underage drinking arrests among students exposed to the campaign. Tampa’s mayor said she couldn’t remember the community coming together over a cause that was not political, Plummer said.
Plummer earned recognition for the initiative from the Tampa Police Department, the Florida Office of Drug Control, and the Tampa Bay Business Journal. Since then he’s also been named Citizen of the Year by the Tampa Police Department for his efforts in assisting police and National Guard (they were based at Tampa Prep) in the city for the Republican National Convention last year. That’s in addition to his efforts to help boost the downtown and develop a river walk. “Anything that has to do with elevating Tampa and opportunities for families and kids—I’m totally into it,” Plummer said.
The city, he said, has given him opportunities to be a city leader and work on behalf of the community. “I can honestly say I have not worked a day in my life, because I love what I’m doing,” he said. “It’s as good as life gets.”
—Dash Wasserman ’12