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Champions come home to surprise

When Manatee High School’s football team and band buses rolled into Bradenton during the wee hours last Saturday, they received a surprise welcome home.

Bradenton police cars lined Manatee Avenue West, blocking each intersection, with their lights going in salute of the new Class 7A state champions.

“Man, it was awesome,” said Master Patrol Officer Fredy Ordonez, who’s been the MHS resource officer for five years. “The kids deserved it.”

Before the big game at the Citrus Bowl, Ordonez and Officer Danny Bench, who escorted the band bus, were wishing players luck when one Hurricane made a remark that struck the lawmen.

The player recalled the team’s big sendoff for the 2009 state final against Tampa Plant, a 21-14 defeat in Orlando, then returning to empty streets.

“I told him you do your part and we’ll do ours,” Ordonez said.

So a couple of hours after Manatee’s 40-0 blowout against Jacksonville First Coast, when the buses exited Interstate 275 into north Palmetto, Bench reminded Ordonez, who radioed the idea to the night supervisor, Lt. Josh Cramer.

He liked it, rounded up the available manpower on duty and told Ordonez it was a go.

After Manatee’s championship convoy crossed the DeSoto Bridge and turned right on Manatee Avenue, they saw Bradenton’s finest at every intersection, squad car lights rotating in the darkness, with officers and supervisors giving the Hurricanes thumbs up as they rolled by.

“All the lights were green, too. A good sign,” Ordonez said. “It was the finishing touch to an incredible journey.”

n Speaking of honoring championship football teams, Palmetto High supporters need an assist for the Jan. 18 awards banquet at the Bradenton Yacht Club for the Class 5A state semifinalist and District 10 champion Tigers.

Call Chris Atkinson at 224-3478. Or Jim Amerson at 737-6600.

n Lauren Pierce, a Manatee School for the Arts junior and Heat dancer, is 17. Cheers from Lynn, Fred, Chris, Sherri, Sue and Jim.

n Oh, no! Janie Mo (Simpson) Ribley hit the Big 3-0!

Pepi, Jodie and Joey, Jennifer and Adam and Jane and Jim say, “You go, girl!”

n A deep bow to Carol, Diane, Lin, Lois, Phyllis and Sandy, the wonderful women who wrapped thousands of gifts over the last few weeks for us holiday shoppers at Beall’s, 6355 Manatee Ave. W.

n Olive Garden’s Will “Wonka” Schrader is 45. Cheers from wife Kathy.

n Enjoyed a good laugh with Paul Stander, who greeted each customer at the Palmetto Post Office on Seventh Street West with a kind word during the holiday crush.

When Stander spotted the addresses of the Christmas cards I was mailing -- both were going to Ireland -- he smiled.

“We happen to have a one-day special,” he said. “For $1,200 I’ll deliver them in person.”

Then I pointed out one card was going to a pub in County Kerry.

“That’s $50 off!” he joked.

n Army Sgt. Evan Eaton is 23 and home for Christmas. The Iraq veteran’s next deployment is Korea.

Cheers from mom Cec.

n Finally, Bob Gagnon spent his last official day as Manatee High’s principal on the Citrus Bowl sidelines, watching the Hurricanes win the school’s fifth state championship.

“What a way to go out,” said the Manatee School District’s new assistant superintendent.

Vin’s People, is by local columnist Vin Mannix. He can be reached at 941-745-7055, or