Well, that’s that. Another high school sports season is in the books.
The one written about 2018-19 will be one worth the read.
As the guy bringing it to you — attending the games and events, writing the stories, shooting many of the photos, producing and laying it out for print, posting it for online — it feels like the book was heavy. And landed on my tired body a few times.
I got tired from needing to be in multiple places at once, because a lot of great things were happening at once. Multiple playoff berths. In multiple sports. Sometimes on the same night.
Let me pivot a moment and thank some of my freelance folks for basically bailing me out and giving the News-Gazette a presence where we needed to be: writers Dan Pearson (Heal that knee, buddy!) and Austin David and photographers Rob Herbert, Donald Lamb, Marty Maddock and Morgan Matheny. Our publisher says you can be one of two things at big events: conspicuously present, or conspicuously absent.
So wow what? Well, it will be the last week of July, when fall sports practices begin again, soon enough. (Doesn’t it seem crazy to have “fall sports” start in July, the smack-dab middle of the dog days of summer?) So no hurry there. I think we all deserve some vacation time. It will be taken.
But it doesn’t feel that long ago that the fall seasons — football, volleyball, golf, swimming and cross country — fired up. Athletes in all of the sports reached their regional, or in the case of a couple of swimmers, the St. Cloud boys and Harmony girls cross country teams, state meets. Osceola and Harmony’s football teams won districts, the first double since 2015, and made the playoffs along with Gateway, who earned a wild card. I prepped for somebody to make a long playoff run to the carpet of Camping World Stadium. They all lost their regional openers.
That’s what I get when I make a plan. I couldn’t have planned for what came next — the winter.
Harmony’s girls soccer and Celebration’s boys soccer teams have a lineage of success, and they kept it up. The Longhorns won another district title and played in their rough regional, and the Storm powered their way to another Class 5A state semifinals. Poinciana’s boys also, for the first time in two decades, won a district title.
Soccer week turned into basketball month, or so it seemed. St. Cloud’s girls team won a district title based on destiny, then two regional playoff games on pure talent, then scored an unpredictable regional final win on the road at tall and talented Tampa Plant — those under-‘Dogs romped all the way to the state tournament in Lakeland, so the News-Gazette was able to continue its seemingly annual tradition of trekking to the HP Funding Center. I went last year, too, with City of Life. A fun bunch to watch play, shoot and defend ran into antiseptic juggernaut St. Thomas Aquinas in the Class 8A state semifinal, so that sucked some of the fun out of it. But it was fun hearing Coach Chad Ansbaugh channel ol’ Mac again.
Instead of waiting a year to return to Lakeland, I waited a week. Osceola sought a second Class 9A state title in three years. Yep, they seek-ed. And destroyed.
With a lineup that just came at opponents in waves — the Kowboys could have scored 100 points in their district championship against George Jenkins — they mowed through squads the MaxPreps rankings thought highly of.
No. 6 Vero Beach. No. 2 Oak Ridge. No. 1 South Miami. Finally, No. 7 Wellington, who got a full dose of forward Diwun Black in the final three quarters of the championship game, a 50-43 that’ll be remembered more for the How? than the How many?
A night after all the starters scored in double digits in the semifinal against South Miami, Black, who joined the squad in January once academically eligible, scored 33 of the Kowboys’ 36 points in the final three quarters in an individual effort unseen by anybody in the know in recent memory. It wasn’t the plan, it just … happened. It kept happening to Wellington every trip down the floor.
“Black 35; three others with 3,” Spectrum Sports’ post-game scoring summary read. “Rest of the team 5-for-32 shooting.” It’s not supposed to read like that when you win, but the Kowboys carried the big trophy out of the building nodding with approval that “it ain’t how, it’s how many.”
Oh, and on the same night, wrestler Malyke Hines earned his third consecutive state title, capping an impressive career while setting the stage for younger brother Jaekus, who already is a state runner-up twice as a sophomore. He’ll get two more kicks at that can while Malyke is wrestling at collegiate power Lehigh University next year.
At that point, reality set in that while the winter season was finally over, the spring season was … wait, you guys all started two weeks ago? I was caught totally flat-footed to get into baseball, softball, tennis, track and flag football seasons. At least the highlights came later in the year — when I was finally somewhat caught up.
Our county featured Central Florida’s top girls sprinter (Osceola’s Alliann Johnson) and jumper (Liberty’s Christelle Bonzil); watch out for them next year when they tear up the regional and state meets. Harmony’s flag football team reached the state semifinals in what seems to be tradition. Osceola won another baseball district title, as did its softball team; I choose to end the school year wrap-up with the Kowgirls because it also marked the 25-year coaching career of George Coffey, who helped raise the profile of the sport locally through the Kissimmee Klassic tournament. Hey George, when you sit in your fishing chair with a frosty beverage, think as fondly of us as we did of you.
Thank you, George, and from me, thank you to a lot of people. To the coaches who answer my calls and emails and do me favors to “help me help you.” To the athletic directors, and county AD Ryan Adams, who answer all my dumb questions about stuff I don’t have time to look up.
Thank you to the athletes who never stop impressing me — like I tell people: the older I get, the better I used to be. You kids have a great summer, make smart and sound decisions (I don't wanna cover bad news!) and I’ll see you again before we know it.
Thank you to the graduating seniors who will continue their playing careers in college on scholarship. You have laid a foundation for those who come after you that proves hard work does pay off.
Thank you to the parents and others who read this space and whisper tips into my ears that turn into stories. You make this daily grind in a journalism industry that may be on its last legs something I still want to get out of bed and do every day.
Thank you to my family, my wife Carrie, soon-to-be fifth grader Mckenzie and soon-to-be-VPKer Ian, for sharing Dad during the week. You’ll get plenty of me for a while, including the next 10 Friday nights.
Thank you, all of you, for reading, whether in print or on your computer, phone or tablet. I can’t wait to bring it to you again in August — or next week to keep up on all the summer stuff.
Ah yes, the summer stuff. I’m off to the Northeast in two weeks. After I return you’ll catch me in the Florida Fire Frogs press box, the first tee or at some summer camps.
And then the fall will start again — in the middle of the summer, but who really cares?