MANATEE -- The start of the school year was one they would never forget.
Not Oscar Sanders.
Not Eddie Shannon.
It was 1969 and integration had arrived for Manatee High School.
Sanders was a new assistant principal and Shannon, an assistant football and junior varsity basketball coach. Both African-American educators had come from Lincoln Memorial High School, which was phased out as part of the mainstreaming of minorities into Manatee High.
"When we got there, there was fighting all over campus," Shannon said. "But we had each other's back."
Now the revered coach's former colleague is gone.
Sanders passed Dec. 29.
He was 83.
A U.S. Army medic during the Korean War and a Florida A&M University graduate, Sanders was a longtime educator and administrator in Manatee County. He taught at Lincoln and was a dean of students there until 1969.
Then came integration.
"It was a difficult situation and Oscar was right in the middle of it," said former Manatee County Superintendent Gene Witt, then-director of secondary education. "But it worked out, a lot of it because of Oscar and Eddie."
Sanders, Witt said, "had a way of connecting with all people. He fit like a glove and people -- black and white -- respected him and Eddie."
Yavonka Sanders remembered her grandfather talking about those turbulent days, acknowledging he was the man for the challenge.
"He said they were very trying times, but he was strong-willed, fearless and believed in perseverence despite the odds," the Orlando resident said. "Even though he was uncertain he was not going to let students and teachers see that in him. The objective was integration and failure was not an option."
That urgency wasn't lost on Sanders and Shannon, whose collaboration saw them through their share of trials at school.
"It took four, five months before students stopped fighting and went to class, understanding what it was going to be like and it wasn't going to change," Shannon said. "We were going to have to learn how to get along with one another. I had the kids, he had the teachers and with both of us working together and understanding one another, things changed.
"It wouldn't have worked without him."
Sanders retired from Manatee High in 1991, yet his legacy endures.
Take it from Barbara Harvey, longtime school board member and community advocate.
"Oscar Sanders was a defi
nite bridge builder for not only education in Manatee County schools, not only integration in Manatee County, but also for relationships in Manatee County," she said.
"He was one anyone could call and address any problem, specifically problems dealing with students and staff as we integrated our schools and closed our minority schools and we addressed the concerns of integration. He was a leader in Manatee County we should revere and remember in our history."
Sanders is survived by wife Ruth Inez, sons Ernest and Karl, daughters Verna and Darlene, as well as seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Services were held Jan. 4 at Mount Raymond Full Gospel Baptist Church in Palmetto.
Interment was at Mansion Memorial Park in Ellenton.
Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix