The Manatee Hurricanes wanted to try to knock off the No. 1 prep football team in the country for a second straight season.
They thought they had their chance.
Now, it appears they don’t.
The school announced Friday the Hurricanes’ Sept. 24 game at New Jersey powerhouse Don Bosco Prep, the 2009 prep national champion, has been canceled based on Bosco’s decision not to play.
The two schools agreed verbally in January on the logistics of the game — such as terms, dates and venue — and Manatee coach and athletic director Joe Kinnan said Bosco officials told him the deal was done, the contract was on its way, and Kinnan could announce the game to the media and the community.
Kinnan called Ironmen coach Greg Toal and asked him to bring the game contract to an Orlando coaches clinic in late February so they could both sign it. That’s when Toal told him the Ironmen had decided not to play.
“I was dumbfounded,” Kinnan said.
Toal said it was an administrative decision. The school was offered a chance to play Saint Ignatius High School out of Ohio — as well as a guaranteed $10,000 — on the same night the Ironmen were supposed to play Manatee.
“The administration chose (Ignatius),” Toal said when reached by phone Friday. “The thing is our athletic director recently left us for our rival school, so that has created some chaos. We’ve been in a state of flux.”
Wheels were put in motion in January, when Kinnan called Bosco Prep’s then-athletic director, Nunzio Campanile, to gauge interest in a game. Manatee had knocked off Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, which at the time was ranked No. 1 in the country, in the Class 5A state semifinals, and with many key players returning, Kinnan wanted to see how his Hurricanes matched up against the Ironmen, winners of four straight state championships and 12 overall.
Administrators at both schools approved the game in mid-January, and on Feb. 1, Manatee principal Robert Gagnon announced to Manatee’s advisory committee the game was going to happen, and the Hurricanes were going to dedicate it to longtime team doctor Owen McCarthy, who passed away in January.
Campanile left Don Bosco in mid-February, but Toal said finalizing the contract was a “top priority,” and Manatee had begun making reservations at a New Jersey hotel.
Now, it won’t happen. And after Bosco Prep principal John Stanczak returned a call Wednesday confirming the Ironmen would not be playing, Gagnon spent the better part of this past week calling Bosco officials, trying to renegotiate the terms of the game — including inviting the Ironmen to Florida and, in the words of Gagnon, “guarantee(ing) them a fee that would ensure they would not lose money” — but never got a response.
“They didn’t have the decency to return a phone call,” Kinnan said.
After turning down offers from other schools to play Sept. 24, Kinnan said he has been in contact with teams in states such as Texas and Colorado in an attempt to fill the open date.
In all his years of coaching, Kinnan said he has never dealt with anything like this. And while Toal didn’t rule out trying to schedule a game with Manatee in the future, Kinnan said certain concessions had to be made to avoid a similar fate.
“You’re only as good as your word,” he said.