The Florida High School Athletic Association unveiled the football classifications for the next two seasons Tuesday morning.
There was no change for county programs, but schools can petition to move up or down a classification based on increasing or decreasing enrollment numbers as stated by FHSAA Policy 12.2.8.
Manatee remains an 8A program in District 6, while Braden River, Lakewood Ranch and Palmetto are part of the six-team 7A-11, along with North Port, Sarasota and Venice.
“I think we’re going to stay put,” Braden River head coach Curt Bradley said. “I don’t think we have any plans to appeal. I think, obviously, with the new playoff format and stuff, we know we are going to play some good quality opponents in our district. And, obviously, go out and find some other teams to play some non-district.”
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Palmetto head coach Dave Marino said he hasn’t had a chance to talk with Tigers athletic director Kenny Ansbro about the FHSAA’s Tuesday announcement.
In 5A-11, Bayshore and Southeast stayed put.
“I don’t think we’re going anywhere,” Southeast head coach Rashad West said. “We anticipated staying put from what I understand. No one here on campus has approached me about us planning on appealing.”
The district assignments were set two years ago, and run on a four-year cycle.
The biggest change occurs in the lower classifications in lieu of the playoff format changing for 2017.
Under the new format, Class 4A-1A do not have districts. This was done to encourage independent programs to return to the FHSAA and free up scheduling for those teams.
The three private schools in the county - Bradenton Christian, IMG Academy and Saint Stephen's - remained independents. Additionally, Out-of-Door Academy remained an independent.
IMG plays a national schedule, while BCS, ODA and Saint Stephen's play in the Sunshine State Athletic Conference.
“The decision by the state hasn’t really affected us,” Saint Stephen’s head coach Tod Creneti said. “Our plan at this point is to stay with the conference. We feel like it’s been a good place for our kids and a good place for our program. And at this point, that’s where we’re planning on being.”
The Falcons captured the SSAC title with a Florida Bowl victory over Vero Beach Saint Edwards earlier this month. Saint Stephen’s became the first county program to join the SSAC, prior to BCS and ODA jumping to the conference after the 2015 season.
“It was never meant to be breaking away from the state,” Creneti said of the decision to join the SSAC. “There wasn’t anything going on there. We were looking for a place where we could play schools that we felt were like-minded, that we could be competitive and as the program has grown, it’s just been a really great place for our program.”
Meanwhile, Cardinal Mooney is still a 3A program and is in Region 3 with seven other programs, including old district mates' Clearwater Central Catholic, Clearwater Calvary Christian and St. Petersburg Catholic.
While districts went away for 4A-1A programs, those teams can petition to join a district through the FHSAA.
▪ Former Palmetto High assistant coach Nate Varnadore is returning to football. The 32-year-old Palmetto native was officially announced as Citrus High’s head coach on Tuesday. Previously, Varnadore left the Tigers to become the head coach at Crystal River in 2013. He resigned from that position last year, before joining the staff at Bellview High as a defensive coordinator last spring, but stepped down to spend this season with his family that includes his wife, Melissia and two children.
“This job opened up, we bought a house, we live in Citrus County, we love it up here,” said Varnadore in a phone interview. “And it was one of those, ‘You know what? Go for it. The worse they can tell you is no.’”
▪ It wasn’t just about football hirings on Tuesday as Saint Stephen’s announced the hiring of Jeff Cole as its boys lacrosse head coach. Cole played lacrosse and football at New York’s St. Lawrence University and most recently spent the past couple years leading the Manatee Lacrosse Club. During that span, Cole reversed a 2-13 first year in 2014 with a 13-2 mark in 2016. The Bradenton resident takes over a Falcons squad that finished 6-11 last spring and is entering its fifth season as an FHSAA-sanctioned lacrosse program.