Monday, December 5, 2011

'Where the heck is Manatee County?'

Imagine this happening last Friday night.
Minutes into their euphoria over advancing to the FHSAA state semifinals, players at both Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer and Miami Norland probably asked their coaches, teammates and parents:
"Where is Manatee County?"
"What is Bradenton Manatee?"
"Isn't Palmetto High in South Dade?"
Oh, yeah.
Bet that happened a lot last Friday night after Dwyer's Panthers beat St. Thomas Aquinas in their region final in Palm Beach Gardens.
Ditto for Norland after the Vikings stunned unbeaten Glades Central on the powerful Raiders home field in Belle Glade.
And now they're coming here.
Welcome, y'all.
Dwyer's upperclassmen may be a bit more familiar with this side of the state, having played Plant and Armwood in the playoffs in years past.
They've probably made that long road trip across SR 60 a few times.
This trip will be a little different.
Come Friday they'll probably bus up SR 710 out of Palm Beach County, hang a left on SR 70 in Okeechobee and keep on going west.
Right at that flashing light at Brighton, they might see the sign that reads:
Bradenton 97 miles.
As their team buses barrel across SR 70 --- watch out for the state troopers in Highlands County! -- those kids will see all that Old Florida country we love and wonder, where in the heck are we going?
Norland's team will probably come across Alligator Alley then turn north on I-75 and wonder the same thing.
I really doubt if any of the Vikings have ever even been to these parts.
They'll be coming to a place where high school football is rock-ribbed and still holds sway over our lives every fall.
I spent 23 years on that other coast and after 14 years here, I still love telling people who ask me what Bradenton and Manatee County is like:
It's the kind of place where the high school football game is still the big deal on Friday nights.
None are bigger than this Friday night with two state semifinals at stadiums 15 minutes apart.
Here's hoping for two good games and another week of football for Manatee and Palmetto.
And thanks to Dwyer and Norland for visiting.
After Manatee's region final win at Hawkins Stadium, I shook hands with a lot of the Fort Pierce Central fans and wished them all a safe trip home.
I look forward to doing it again this Friday night.

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