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Hurricanes give county something to believe in

The economy isn’t experiencing a meteoric rise because Manatee is playing for a state football championship again.

Those lost in the senseless acts of violence that marred our community this year can’t be brought back because the Hurricanes found a way to bottle up the No. 1 team in the nation last week.

A spot tonight in the Florida Citrus Bowl won’t take a hatchet to the employment rate.

But finally, the city has something to rally around. The Hurricanes head to Orlando tonight to play Tampa Plant for the Class 5A title, a feat that has had the community buzzing ever since Mike Blakely ran out the clock during last Friday’s stunning semifinal win over national powerhouse Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas.

Is there a better way to cap what has been a difficult year for Bradentonians?

Suddenly, there is this football team, made up of high school kids, coached by a legend, that has gotten better and grown closer with each passing week.

Talk to the players. The bickering that derailed the ’08 Hurricanes is gone now.

Playing for a state championship has galvanized the team, similar to how it has galvanized the community around it.

Everyone is talking about the Hurricanes. Even the hardest of Manatee detractors had to soften a little last week, when the entire home side of Hawkins Stadium emptied on to Joe Kinnan Field and waved banners and took pictures and honed in on players on-camera interviews.

It was harmonious. People were smiling and hugging. Old players were hugging current ones. Mothers were hugging sons.

For one night, the talk of the town was positive.

The talk of the town was the Hurricanes.

Sports is better than the best reality television show. Sports isn’t scripted, especially at this level.

Sports makes us believe that anything can happen, that the No. 1 team in the country, deemed a national championship last season, could be upended by a hungrier foe.

Keep in mind, the Hurricanes aren’t Hoosiers. This is a team with Division I talent that’s fueled by a storied legacy.

Cinderella never looked THIS good.

But at its core, throughout all the expansion, Bradenton is still a small town. And small towns rally around their high school athletic teams. And this is for everyone. This is Manatee County’s team, too, which is why Manatee quarterback Brion Carnes has received countless e-mails from players all over the county.

“They say they’re rooting for us, and they’re behind us 100 percent,” he said. “And that’s great coming from Manatee County, period, where during the season, we’re enemies, and then, when one of the best teams gets to play for the state championship, they’re with you all the way.

It’s a great opportunity and privilege to have Manatee County behind you.”

That’s why offensive lineman Brandon Persinger got congratulatory hugs Friday from his friends at Bayshore and Southeast.

“They came up, shook my hand an hugged me,” he said. “They said, ‘Good luck — we want you to bring it back to Bradenton.’

“It’s pretty awesome.”

All isn’t right with the world just because Manatee is playing for a state championship.

But for the past week, the Hurricanes have made the county feel as if it is.

It’s been a great way to end the year. And hopefully, it’s a harbinger of a brighter tomorrow.

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