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True county champion to be crowned this fall

Barring the wake left by Reductiongate, 2009 will give us a true public school county football champion.

This isn’t the first time this happened — it’s just the first time with this group. The first time playing all of Manatee County takes up half of your schedule. The first time Braden River, Lakewood Ranch, Bayshore, Manatee, Southeast and Palmetto all clash in the regular season.

Let’s be honest — this was done to make money and save money. What better way to curb expenses than guarantee yourself at least five short road trips? And what better way to fatten the box office than playing your neighbor?

Good move, guys.

That, however, does nothing to diminish the fun. This fall will give us the first varsity football game pitting Manatee and Braden River. Two years ago, this may not have meant much. But this is 2009, a year after the Pirates made a spirited run to the second round of the regional playoffs, then capped an emotional spring by peppering Riverview at the Ram Bowl.

It will mean plenty.

And for the first time in five years, Manatee will play Palmetto in a game that counts.

Bragging rights won’t be the only thing on the line — Southeast’s games with Braden River and Bayshore will be district affairs. Ditto for Lakewood Ranch’s meeting with Palmetto.

Those are the games that really count and the games coaches really want. It’s nice to beat your backyard foe. It just isn’t as nice as playing into December.

But this fall, the mythical Manatee County championship will be played out on the field, leaving little to debate.

Of course, this all could be moot. In case you haven’t noticed, the Florida High School Athletic Association’s decision to pare down the varsity and subvarsity schedules hasn’t gone over all that well. And before the matter began making its way to a federal court, one of the possible solutions included eliminating two football games.

You can’t take away district games, leaving in-town rivalries on the chopping block.

Time will tell if this will come to pass. But for now, this fall is shaping up to be a memorable one, one in which every team will get a crack at proving itself as the best in the county.

There will be more important games this fall. Playoff games. Games with district championships and postseason berths hanging on every possession, the games that really mean something.

But around here, local games mean something too. Manatee County’s rich football tradition still resonates around the state, and to say you were the best team in Manatee County says plenty, especially since three of the six public schools — Braden River, Southeast and Palmetto — made the playoffs last year.

A lot can change between now and when the regular season kicks off Sept. 4, and no one knows how the football schedules — or any schedules — will look.

For now, the fall of 2009 promises to be exciting.

And it promises to crown a champion.