High School Sports

Despite loss, Manatee High tradition grows

BRADENTON — “They came back.”

Manatee High School added another chapter to its tradition-laden history Friday by making a game of the 5A state football championship just when it appeared the Hurricanes would be blown away.

The buzz around town Saturday? It was one of pride after the Canes’ oh-so-close 21-14 defeat to Tampa Plant at the Citrus Bowl.

“I am proud of them because they made a good game of it,” said Jim Athens, a fan who was rehashing the game over lunch at Robin’s Downtown.

“How many teams could spot another team 21 in a state championship, then come back and shut them out?” Athens said.

Over at the Shake Pit, Canes fan Roger Lawson was munching one of the 400 hamburgers sold this weekend at the Canes hang-out on Manatee Avenue West.

“We have nothing to be ashamed of. It was a good game,” said Lawson, who married 1967 Manatee High graduate Celeste McLean and is the father of 1998 Cane graduate Joel Lawson. Talk about tradition.

Over at the school, workers with Creative Contractors Inc. of Clearwater were readying construction on another piece of Manatee High tradition — the Davis Building — and, you guessed it, talking football.

“Manatee went into the locker room at the half and made the necessary corrections, which is high-level high school football,” said Frank Sparks, construction superintendent and Canes fan. “You don’t see that everyday.”

Added senior project manager Van Mitchell: “Plant is a talented team. I think the Canes represented themselves well, especially in the second half.”

And added to the school’s tradition in the process.

More than a building

The Davis Building is a testament to the richness of tradition at Manatee High.

The $16.5 million project to replace it starts Monday and is expected to be complete in July 2011, Mitchell said.

When students come back from Christmas vacation in two weeks, they’ll see a fence around the Davis Building and their classes will be in portables.

The final classes in the old building were last week.

“I learned how passionate people are about Manatee High,” Mitchell said when asked to describe the 18 months of workshops and meetings he went through concerning the Davis Building.

Some of those meetings were spearheaded by school board member Harry Kinnan, brother of the Canes football coach, Mitchell said.

Here was a building that is roughly 80 years old, but is such a part of Manatee High tradition that people could not bear to see it replaced with a modern edifice, Mitchell said.

“Sweethearts met on the steps of the Davis Building and marriage was proposed,” Mitchell said. “The building we are planning will be identical, right down to the white columns, the different color brown bricks and the shape of the windows.”

Remember the Mud Bowl

Athens, 73, can speak to Manatee High tradition.

The 1954 graduate of the school can rattle off names of old-school Canes football players from memory.

“The ’53 team had Bobby Davis and Hank Aldrich at quarterback,” he said. “Bobby could throw his perfect spirals. Hank could run. But Bobby could run, too. Coach Leath used Huey Toler, our little running back, discreetly.”

He continued: “Halfback George Henderson may have been the greatest Cane ever. He was Mr. Everything in 1956.”

The ’53 team had a single loss, a 6-0 defeat in the rain that become known as the Mud Bowl, Athens said.

Athens claims coach Wheeler Leath started Manatee’s tradition of football excellence.

One could say he had an impact on Friday night’s game, as well.

In Leath’s last year as coach, Joe Kinnan played on the line, Athens said.

Related stories from Bradenton Herald