When Bradentown High School was built in 1913, there were plans for tennis, basketball, a girl's athletic field on the west, a boy's athletic field on the east of the school building on Manatee Avenue and a baseball diamond -- but no mention of a football field. Baseball was the sport everyone played, townspeople and children alike.
Needless to say, 100 years ago football in Manatee County got off to a slow start. But a survey was conducted in 1914 of the high school's population of 100 students to see if there were boys interested in playing football. There were 11, enough to have a team.
There was no decent practice field and, more importantly, no treasury to furnish the needed "football paraphernalia" required to play the game. Local businessmen and friends of the high school gave donations ranging from 50 cents to $3 for a total of $50.50. A tackling dummy and line charger were made from the donations and Hines Field on Roesch Avenue, Ninth Street, was mowed.
The Maroons, as the Bradentown High School team was known, did well that football season. Under coaching by Professor Howard, they played much bigger schools as far away as Plant City, where the school drew crowds of 300 or more people. They played well enough in 1914 to be named the South Florida Champions and went on to play the All-Star team at Christmas. The newspaper mentioned the All-Stars outweighed the high school team, whose players' weight averaged 168 pounds. The Maroons lost by 6 to 2.
Professor Howard returned again for the 1915 season
as coach. At tryouts, players were asked to bring old clothes to practice because there were only 12 suits for distribution. They were also given the rules of the game and any rule changes for that year. The team was light in the backfield and end positions, making prospects for a championship season not as bright as the year before. The Manatee River Journal stated "under the leadership of Captain Gates and Coach Howard, a real football machine is slowly developing."
The Associated Press requested the Maroons' game results for national publication, and stated: "The athletic squad of Manatee County High School has done more than any other one thing during the year or two to put Bradentown and the Land of Manatee on the map."
The Maroon Eleven faced a variety of schools in their 1915 schedule: Southern College at Sutherland, Hillsborough, Gainesville, St Petersburg, Plant City high schools and Tampa Business College. Crowd control was needed at some games, requiring people to park their cars a reasonable distance from the sidelines. The team's final game was played at Gainesville in December.
The newspaper reported the group who traveled to Gainesville as: "Rood quarterback, Armstrong fullback, Gates left halfback, Knight right halfback, Johnson left end, Coarsey right end, Christopher left tackle, Wyatt right tackle, Amlong, left guard, Dye right guard, Tyler center, Taylor as a substitute." Two more people need to be mentioned, the cheerleaders: Julia Reasoner for the girls and Stacker McLemore for the boys.
The Maroons were declared State Champions because of Hillsborough High School's refusal to play them again citing field conditions referred to as" vagrant longhorn cow paths and razorback rutted ground." Our players promised to find "nice soft sand to fill the mythical cow paths." The ruling that the field was playable was upheld by the South Florida Athletic Association.
The Maroons had played nine games against the best teams in the state, rolling up a total score of 211 points to 0. That's right, no team scored against them.
With the Hurricanes being district champions this year, I thought it would be appropriate to look back on football's beginnings in the county. If the Hurricanes ever need additional inspiration, they can look back on that perfect season -- not just the wins, but the fact that no one scored against them. That fact should keep them going for many years.
Cindy Russell, librarian with Manatee's Historical Records Library, enjoys genealogy and puzzles of all kinds, needlework and sewing. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 941-741-4070