The top of Joshua Booker’s head stood out inside Lakewood Ranch High School’s gymnasium, even as he was milling around behind the competition or taking a breather in the bleachers.
The tuft of hair atop his head was dyed half blue and half red, both shades fading into his black hair at the roots. Two weeks ago, he and his teammates on the Manatee wrestling team all got the same dye job before they competed at the Class 3A championship.
The Monday before the state wrestling tournament, Booker spent the day with weightlifting. He needed one more meet to be eligible for the weightlifting postseason, so he went to Braden River for a dual meet.
With that technicality out of the way, Booker was free to lift at Wednesday’s Class 2A-District 13 championship at Lakewood Ranch, and help the Hurricanes score 58 points as a team to win their third straight district title.
“(Head wrestling coach Andrew Gugliemini) was great. I said, Josh has a good shot to go to state for weightlifting. He’s raw, but he’s got a lot of talent,’” Hurricanes head coach Rich Lansky said. “It’s a testament to how the coaches at Manatee will work with each other.”
Busy, multi-sport stars like Booker are the foundation of Manatee’s latest district championship team. Jernard Porter, who won at 154 pounds, is also a wide receiver on the Hurricanes’ football team who has been lifting with Lansky for years. Seth Walter, who won at 238, is balancing competitive lifting with a quest for a state championship as a shot putter in track and field team.
It’s a testament to how the coaches at Manatee will work with each other.
Rich Lansky, Manatee head coach
Farther down the roster, Manatee heavyweight Jeremiah Bartholow also competes in shot put. Brian Ackles, who finished second at 119 pounds, had to leave before he could accept his medal — he had a baseball game to get to.
In all, the Hurricanes had 14 lifters earn the top-six finishes necessary to score and to advance to the Class 2A-Region 7 meet Wednesday in Punta Gorda. At least one lifter in each of the 10 weight classes advanced for Manatee.
“I think 13 is what I predicted,” Lansky said. “Overall, I was pleased with the effort. Now it’s a matter of balancing stress and still getting some training in before we go.”
Palmetto matched Manatee by sending 13 lifters on to the region meet and also finished with a meet-best four individual champions on the way to a tie for second with Sebring: Ricardo Ochoa (139), Nahum Guerrero (169), Andrew Duncan (199) and Corey Brady (unlimited) to help the Tigers score 47 and edge Lakewood Ranch by a single point.
Class 2A-District 13 champions 119: Blaze McMichael, Lakewood Ranch 139: Ricardo Ochoa, Palmetto 154: Jernard Porter, Manatee 169: Nahum Guerrero, Palmetto 183: Noah Ben-Ghuzzi, Lakewood Ranch 199: Andrew Duncan, Palmetto 219: Joshua Booker, Manatee 239: Seth Walter, Manatee Unlimited: Corey Brady, Palmetto
The Mustangs claimed a pair of championships Blaze McMichael (119) and Noah Ben-Ghuzzi (183) both winning gold. Braden River rounded out the field by scoring 12 points.
Palmetto’s bulky list of qualifiers and champions makes the Tigers something of a breakthrough, even after they finished as the runner-up in the district last season. Palmetto added two more region qualifiers and racked up three extra district champions compared to last season.
“Much better. We’re much improved,” Palmetto head coach Dave Marino said. “We were runner-up last year, just the competition was better and we were able to step up to that competition.”
Class 2A-Region 7
Who: Manatee, Lakewood Ranch, Palmetto, Braden River
When: March 22, 6 p.m.
Where: Punta Gorda
Class 1A-Region 8
Who: Southeast, Bayshore, Cardinal Mooney
When: March 25, 11 a.m.