COMMENTARY | New Year brings fresh resolve for Manatee sports

January 3, 2014 

Contrary to popular belief, no one gets a "clean slate" or the chance to make a "fresh start" just because that big ball in Times Square decided 2014 began at the stroke of midnight Jan. 1.

Credit card debts don't reset to zero. Neither does the bathroom scale. And you still smoke and you still bite your nails, just as you did at 11:59 p.m., Dec. 31.

But a new year does bring with it fresh opportunity and a chance to change or resolve some things that were set in motion the 12 months prior.

So here are some questions looking for answers as we open a blank calendar:

WHO'S COACHING THE SEMINOLES?: When Southeast's football team heads out for its first official spring practice in May, it will be doing so without Paul Maechtle for the first time since 1980 after the legendary head coach hung up his headset for good following the 2013 season.

A committee has been appointed to select the new coach -- the new athletic director will be a separate hire -- and charged with the decision to either stay internal and appoint someone familiar with the program and is players; or go outside the walls and find someone with a complete different approach.

Southeast may not be what it was in the 1980s and 90s, when it made five appearances in the state championship game, won a pair of titles and found itself sitting atop USA Today's national rankings heading into the 1994 season. But there is still some talent and a whole heap of tradition inside John Kiker Memorial Stadium, and it will be interesting to see who will be selected to lead it.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO MANATEE'S BASEBALL TEAM?: Corey Sobers, a spokesman with the Florida High School Athletic Association, said the FHSAA has received the internal investigation the school district conducted on Manatee's troubled baseball program and will allow Manatee its due process before handing down a decision, and if necessary, a punishment.

According to the findings the district released last month, former principal Robert Gagnon and former athletic director and current football coach Joe Kinnan teamed with Dwayne Strong, the Hurricanes' former baseball coach, to steer school funds to support Strong's The Sandlot @5Tools baseball facility. Rick Mills, the district's superintendent, recommended Gagnon and Kinnan face 10-day suspensions - Gagnon has formally requested an administrative hearing to appeal the findings; Kinnan said he plans on doing so, well - while Strong resigned Oct. 31.

Curious to see if the FHSAA agrees, and if so, how it will deal with a team that had state championship aspirations just two years ago.

WILL SOUTHEAST KEEP THIS UP?: The longtime class of girls basketball in the area, the Seminoles closed 2013 on a flourish - clinching coach John Harder's 700th victory at the expense of district rival St. Petersburg Lakewood; going on the road to beat surging Lakewood Ranch; winning the Willie Clemons Holiday Classic in convincing fashion.

The Seminoles have gone two years without winning a district championship, which feels more like two decades for a program as accustomed to titles as Southeast. If they keep playing as well as they closed 2013 - and if the four seniors in the starting lineup stay healthy - the Seminoles will be playing crucial basketball in February again.

A STATE SOCCER CHAMPION?: Manatee County has come close the last few years, with the Lakewood Ranch's girls, Saint Stephen's boys (who have won a state title when the Falcons played soccer in the fall) and Palmetto boys have made recent final four trips, but have fallen short of the ultimate prize.

All three have been impressive this season and have been known to get hot in tournament play.

Will one - or all three? - be hoisting a championship trophy at Eastern Florida State College when the season ends in early February?

We're about to find out.

It's a new year. Time for some new answers.

John Lembo, prep sports writer, can be reached at 745-7057. Follow him on Twitter@JohnLembo1878.

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