For the first time since 2004, Manatee and Southeast high schools aren’t playing each other in a football game in the fall.
The two storied programs, with the Hurricanes representing west Bradenton and the Seminoles representing east Bradenton, are not on either team’s fall schedules.
Officials with the programs, both or which are in transition, did not want to comment on the break or whether it would last longer than one season.
Manatee has a new coach, Yusuf Shakir, who has been on the ground for less than a month. Southeast has a coach, Rashad West, who is starting his second season, and a new athletic director, Allie Turley, who has not yet formally started.
It was a big thing that created a lot of enthusiasm throughout both communities.
Former longtime Southeast High head football coach Paul Maechtle
While the primary players are mum on the decision, those who have participated in the rivalry, or simply enjoyed it over the decades, are not.
“There’s a big difference in the size of the schools,” former longtime Manatee head coach Joe Kinnan said. “... In the ’80s, we were one classification apart in size. There was even a time in the ’90s where we were in the same district, because we were basically the same size. Right now, I think the enrollment is such that it puts Southeast at a decided disadvantage.”
In August 2016, Manatee reported 2,318 students enrolled and is a Class 8A program in football. Southeast had 1,731 enrolled and is a Class 5A program.
Manatee and Southeast first met in 1974, with the Hurricanes winning 13-6. The rivalry, though, didn’t take flight until 1985 when the Seminoles scored their first victory against Manatee on the field — Manatee forfeited the teams’ first meeting, after the fact, for using an ineligible player.
Manatee rebounded to win four straight — although the game was not played in 1987 or 1988 — before Southeast went on a run that doesn’t want to be remembered on the west side of Bradenton. The Seminoles won 12 of 14 meetings starting in 1992.
“It was a big thing that created a lot of enthusiasm throughout both communities,” former longtime Southeast High School head coach Paul Maechtle said. “It got to be a big social event that people wanted to attend. And on the football field itself, for many years it was a great competition. I remember when Manatee won the state championship in ’83, they kind of raised the bar to where you wanted to be and we were able to beat them in ’85 and start the ball rolling, so to speak.”
Manatee is on a 10-game winning streak in the rivalry, which was also part of the Great American Rivalry Series in recent years. Regardless of whichever school held the upper hand, the game went on.
“You’ve got to play each other,” former Southeast High School assistant and current Palmetto High head coach Dave Marino said. “It’s economics. We’re all struggling financially with budget cuts and state cuts that trickle down to the district. We need this local revenue and excitement about Friday night games.”
Some families could be divided over the years.
Take Matt Braselton. His mother’s side of the family were Manatee graduates. But when his parents divorced and his father moved east, young Braselton grew up ready to suit up for Maechtle at Southeast High.
Now a current Palmetto High assistant coach, who previously served on Maecthle’s staff after his playing career, Braselton played in the rivalry in the late 1990s.
“No matter what happened throughout the year, that Manatee-Southeast game was everything,” Braselton said. “You grow up watching it. You saw it on Paragon Cable, when they had the pay-per-view game. At least for my generation, my age group, we watched that and we watched the Peter Warricks, the John Reeves ... make plays and thinking in middle school or elementary school, ‘I can’t wait. I can’t wait. I can’t wait.’ And now not being able to play that game, it’s a travesty to have that taken away. I mean, Florida State-Florida, Florida State-Miami, they play every year. There’s certain games, to me, that you play. If you’re on a down cycle, so be it. You just deal with it, and it’ll get better. Either way, it’s a rivalry and it’s about the kids.”
Braselton said Palmetto’s football staff that were involved in the rivalry or played in the area end up discussing moments from the Manatee-Southeast games at least once a week.
Through the years there have been countless stars, whether it was Tommie Frazier and Tracy Sanders or Peter Warrick and Brian Poole. The game routinely featured players that later starred in college and the NFL, and crowds swelled to the 10,000 range in its heyday.
Simply put, Manatee-Southeast was the definitive must-watch game for many years.
“I grew up watching those games,” former Manatee star quarterback Cord Sandberg said. “It was always exciting. I think one of the best games I want to say it was (Manatee quarterback) Brion (Carnes’) senior year, it was a home game. You had (Southeast defensive back) Jonathan Dowling, he was playing both ways, and Brian Poole on the field and (quarterback) Dyron Speight. Just a lot of talent on the field on both sides of the ball.”
It was so big that in 2004, the two teams didn’t play because a hurricane washed away the game. A makeup date was attempted, but the game not being played proved one of the nails in then-Manatee coach Howie DeCristofaro’s coffin as the Hurricanes’ head coach. Following DeCristofaro’s dismissal, Kinnan returned to the sidelines in 2005 and coached against Maechtle once more.
But despite growing into a Class 6A, which at the time was the highest classification, program by 1998, Southeast’s enrollment fell after Lakewood Ranch High School opened in 1998 and Braden River High School opened in 2005.
With two new east Manatee County schools, Southeast’s enrollment dipped below 1,500 students, while Manatee stayed near the top of Florida’s classifications.
“When you’re sitting in the athletic director’s chair, you wanted to keep it going,” Maechtle said. “And then you also always thought you could get back there somehow. You didn’t realize just how great they had things going at the time, until you actually got out on the field and saw that they had a lot more kids on the field than we had on the field.”
Maechtle said the rivalry’s cyclical nature was due to the enrollment shifting up and down over the years.
And even though the Hurricanes owned the series the last 10 years, including an average victory margin of 47.67 points in Maechtle’s last three seasons with the Seminoles, the game’s removal from the schedule wasn’t a thought, because the financial aspect of drawing a huge gate was integral and beneficial to both programs. Even when the games were played at Manatee High, whose facility could hold more people, and the sides agreed to a revenue split.
It was a good money game. I know in talking with Paul that in some years they made more money at the (Manatee)-Southeast game than all the others put together.
Former longtime Manatee High head football coach Joe Kinnan
“That was as good as two home games,” Maechtle said.
Added Kinnan: “It was a good money game. I know in talking with Paul that in some years they made more money at the (Manatee)-Southeast game than all the others put together. ... So since all the schools are self-funded, they don’t get any help from the district, they’ve got to make it with gate receipts, and football is your biggest gate receipt provider.”
Manatee’s 2017 schedule features a daunting, three-game starting stretch with Lakeland, Palmetto and Braden River. Those three are non-district matchups, and the Hurricanes finish the non-district slate with the season-ending game against Venice.
Meanwhile, Southeast plays Palmetto, Sarasota, Lakewood Ranch, Cardinal Mooney and Harmony in its non-district schedule.
This is also the first year a power-points system is in place to
“They’ve got to do what’s best for their program,” Kinnan said. “When you’re in different districts, you may not be able to do that. I know we went through a period in the 90s where for two years we didn’t play Sarasota and that was the third-oldest rivalry in the state of Florida.”