Embattled Manatee High baseball coach Strong resigns

Baseball coach steps down following pay-to-play allegations

jlembo@bradenton.comNovember 2, 2013 

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GRANT JEFFERIES/gjefferies@bradenton.com Manatee High School head coach Dwayne Strong talks with his team before practice Monday at G.T. Bray Park.

GRANT JEFFERIES — gjefferies@bradenton.com Buy Photo

BRADENTON -- Dwayne Strong's days as Manatee High's baseball coach, as well as a full-time employee at the school, are over.

The embattled Strong resigned from the School District of Manatee County on Thursday, according to a news release issued by the district Friday morning.

The Hurricanes' baseball coach since 2007, Strong also worked as an administrative parent liaison at Manatee since March 3, 2010.

He also worked as a substitute teacher at the school in '07.

Strong did not return a call seeking comment Friday.

"It's a tough situation, and I know it was wearing on him," said Josh Clemen, a former player of Strong's who graduated from Manatee in 2010. "It (stinks)."

Strong is under investigation by the Bradenton Police Department over alleged financial improprieties after Mary Murray, the district's executive director of high school management, sent a memo Oct. 3 to Manatee principal Don Sauer instructing Sauer to "freeze all MHS funds and accounts."

Strong was prohibited from interacting with any of the school's baseball players and could not represent the school as a coach.

The district conducted its own investigation before it was passed off to the police last week.

Manatee also reported the investigation to the Florida High School Athletic Association, whose investigation is still ongoing, said FHSAA spokesman Corey Sobers.

One allegation facing Strong is he implemented a pay-to-play system at Manatee, where players had to work out at his baseball facility, The Sandlot@5Tools, in order to see the field.

Dozens of supporters at an Oct. 14 school board meeting denied the claim, however, and Clemen echoed that sentiment Friday.

"I've been around The Sandlot when kids who were new to the program would show up and bring a check, and he'd say, 'No, I can't take your money,' " said Clemen, a senior at Tennessee Wesleyan College who also played American Legion and travel ball under Strong. "He'd be there after school, at 2:30 or 3 o'clock, until the kids wanted to leave.

"To be honest with you, Coach Strong gives his life to these kids, all day, every day. This is crazy. All these accusations are crazy."

Records filed with the district also showed that Strong coached the baseball team last year without the proper certification after his temporary certificate in physical education expired June 30, 2012, which is in violation of a state statute.

Strong's tenure at Manatee was a successful one that included four consecutive trips to the regional playoffs and a state semifinal appearance in 2010.

It was the furthest a Manatee team had gone since 1963.

Two of his players, Correlle Prime (Colorado Rockies) and Cord Sandberg (Philadelphia Phillies), became major-league draft picks who went on to sign pro contracts. Seven others signed to play at State College of Florida, home to one of the best junior college baseball programs in the country.

"The No. 1 thing he focuses on, the thing he instills into his players is character and integrity," Clemen said. "He'd say, 'Right now, we're playing baseball. But everything we do is about character and integrity.' "

A Manatee alum who also played and coached at SCF when it was known as Manatee Community College, Strong won a state championship in 2007 while serving as an assistant at Sarasota High and worked with Kirby Stewart Post 24's American Legion team for over 20 years.

Strong also worked as an assistant at Booker before returning to Manatee to coach the Canes.

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