Braden River High School observes 10th anniversary

EAST MANATEE -- Even before Braden River High School opened 10 years ago in the midst of one of the worst hurricane seasons in memory, the site at the corner of Caruso Road and State Road 70 had a long history.

For 75 years, the University of Florida operated an agricultural research facility there. After the university closed the facility and moved it to southern Hillsborough County, the school district bought the 195-acre property for $11.9 million.

Before construction for Braden River High could begin, crews removed 1,200 tons of contaminated soil, left behind by years of farm research.

Ground was broken for the $38 million school on April 14, 2003, and two years later, the first students walked the halls of Braden River High School, Manatee County's sixth public high school.

Ironically, those students were from King Middle School, who were bused from west Bradenton to East Manatee while their school was demolished and rebuilt.

In August 2005, Braden River High officially opened with 650 freshmen and 10 sophomores, and 900 King Middle School students, in a school built for an enrollment of 2,000. "I remember the way that the community and students from Lakewood Ranch and Southeast high schools blended and came together as a family," said Jim Pauley, who served as Braden River principal from 2004 to 2012.

Even though it was a young school, Braden River was one of the first in the United States to develop "wall-to-wall academies," Pauley said.

"We opened with a vision. There was a lot of hard work, and pulling together by the staff and community," Pauley said.

This year's seniors are collecting items for a time capsule, which will be placed under a concrete plate near the flagpole at the front of the school, said Don French, an assistant principal who has been with Braden River since it opened.

"There is a lot of buzz about what is going into the time capsule," said Zachary Ali, senior class president.

Among items being collected are notes to be read at the opening in 20 or 25 years, a school yearbook, and T-shirts from the many school clubs and organizations, Ali said.

The anniversary is being marked with the Braden River prom on May 16. "Decade of Diamonds" is the theme of the black-and-white tie event, French said.

Braden River has now been open long enough to produce a local celebrity who achieved national notice, musician Sam Woolf, who made a spirited run on "American Idol."

Sadly, it also lost one of its former students, Patrick Lay, who was killed by an improvised explosive device while serving with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan in 2011.

Among the firsts at Braden River:

The Pirate mascot was chosen in February 2003 by a 2-to-1 margin over other contenders, including Gators, Eagles and Barracudas.

In June of 2005, 19 cheerleaders were already practicing, and the school was signing up students for the marching band.

The school opened several times during its first year as a storm shelter, including in October as Hurricane Wilma approached.

Braden River scored its first touchdown in August 2005 with four minutes, 50 seconds left in the game when T. J. Yannotti hit Krisztian Pasztor with a 15-yard pass. The score was in Braden River's inaugural game, which the Pirate freshmen lost to Southeast 33-6. The Pirates have since come a long way. This school year the Braden River football team was undefeated in the regular season and advanced into the playoffs.

Construction crews who worked on the school auditorium nicknamed it the "U.S.S. Enterprise," a "Star Trek" reference, because of its futuristic, high-tech look.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter@jajones1.