LAKELAND -- Paul Maechtle's retirement is nearing, and his days as Southeast's athletic director are numbered.
But there he was Saturday at The Lakeland Center, all smiles while handing out gold medals to members of Southeast's girls basketball team after their 52-35 win over Fort Walton Beach Choctawhatchee in the Class 5A state championship game.
Maechtle, who closed out his 33-year reign as Southeast's football coach in the fall, hired John Harder to coach the school's girls basketball team prior to the 1984-85 season.
Harder has since totaled more than 700 victories and now has won three state championships.
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"I'm going to miss him. ... He's a great guy," Harder said. "It's not just because we're Lutherans or we go to the same church. ... He interviewed me and accepted me for who I was."
Maechtle, who played college football at Valparaiso with Harder's brother, and Harder combined to win five state titles and together ran the Willie Clemons Holiday Classic, an annual girls basketball tournament Southeast hosts during the Christmas break.
"I love him to death," Harder said. "He's done everything I could ask for girls basketball. ... He's right there for girls. Great football coach, great AD -- but he's always helped me with my kids on my end of it. And I'm going to miss him so much."
Harder said he asked Maechtle to stick around for one more year.
"He just showed me the golf swing. He's ready to go," he said.
The respect is mutual.
"He gets the job done. ... He cares about (the players) and they care about him," Maechtle said Saturday.
When asked if Southeast's girls winning a state title just before he retired was all part of the plan, Maechtle laughed.
"That wasn't in the cards," he said. "But it is (a nice way to go out)."
Daniel Bradshaw, who has been at Southeast for 10 years, was named the school's new AD earlier this month. He was there for Southeast's semifinal and final Friday and Saturday.
Cool on the line
As well as she rebounded and shot the ball during the final four, Southeast forward Keshawna Robinson may have done her best work at the free-throw line.
A 60-percent shooter for most of the year, Robinson was 14-for-17 in the two games, hitting 10 of 13 attempts Saturday against the Indians.
"Free throws win games," said Robinson, who averaged 16 points and 8.5 rebounds in the two games in Lakeland. "I just practiced them. I practiced them in practice."
Harder staying put
Harder told his four seniors he would retire after they won a state basketball championship.
He just never said when.
So Harder, the team's coach for 30 years, will be back on the sideline next year.
"I told Mr. (Jim) Pauley, our principal, when I shook his hand I'm lucky to have this job and I'm grateful to be there," Harder said. "I might not be the best coach in America or the best teacher in America -- that's not what it's about. It's about being in the best place in America. I'm comfortable there; I'm very happy at Southeast. My blood is orange and I've been there long enough to coach (his players') parents. And there's no reason to stop now."
Harder's first state championship came during the 1984-85 season, his first at Southeast. So making this year his last would have made for a pretty sweet pair of bookends.
Harder, however, isn't ready to go anywhere.
"How do you win a state championship in your first year and your last year? It would have been an easy thing to say," he said. "But I've too many freshmen who are counting on me. ... There'll be a day. It's coming. But it's not tomorrow. Give me one more summer, at least."